Shapes of aliens, penguins, dragons and otters glistered in the sun on Sunday morning as carvers added the last touches to their snow sculptures.
As a part of the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous 2023, the Alaska State Snow Sculpture Competition started on Feb. 18 and brought together 21 carvers, as well as hundreds of people admiring the pieces of snow art along Ship Creek Avenue. With five divisions in the competition — individual, family, schools, corporate and three-person — there was a winner in each. But only the winning three-person team will go to the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship at Lake Geneva Winterfest in Wisconsin next year.
The 2022 champions, the Alaska Department of Snow, won first place in the three-person division this year as well. Artist Paul Hanis said that the team spent almost 80 hours carving their “Seward’s Icebox” sculpture — otters sitting on the ice and water slide.
After winning in 2022, the team went to the national competition, for the fifth time, and brought back second place two weeks ago.
On Sunday, despite only three hours of sleep the night before, the team worked smoothly, and there was a sense of flow in the carving process, Patrick Boonstra said.
“It felt like when you are carving it tells you where to go,” he said. “You get into the Zen, and you can just go without thinking too hard.”
Hundreds of spectators came to the event to admire the sculptures on Sunday alone, and over the week, it’s been thousands of people, said Scott Parker, one of the event’s coordinators.
The contestants enjoyed densely packed snow that allowed them “to do a lot with structure,” said George Hyde from Alaska Snow Cats, whose sculpture “Mr. Whoo” took second place in the family division.
The Frozen Kiwis team — the majority of whom are from New Zealand — carved the tallest sculpture on record: their “Super Maori-O Bros: Frozen Pipe Dream,” which also won in the family category. Tyler Best said his favorite part was putting the flag on top of the structure, which stands more than 17 feet tall.
Some teams have been carving together for tens of years, but for Kevin Hall from the Three Barons Renaissance Fair team this was the first year trying himself in the art form. He and his teammates won in the corporate division with their “Hilthelstan Battles the Beast” sculpture that tells a story of a fictitious hero who beats a beast to save a little town, Hall said.
“Turns out, it’s addictive,” Hall said about the competition while chiseling the final details on the hero’s leg right before 10 a.m. “It’s very fun, it’s very family-oriented, and anyone can do it.”
Eight kids from the Anchorage Waldorf School came up with the idea for the winning sculpture in the schools’ category, “The World Is In Our Hands” and carved hands holding planet Earth almost levitating above.
“One of my eighth graders came with the idea of the world,” class teacher Shenandoah Herda said. “The whole world is something that they are responsible for and will be responsible for as they grow older.”
During the awards ceremony, the Fur Rondy Royalty was cheering the winners.
“Because I am a sculptor myself, my favorite part is standing down here at 3 a.m. on Saturday before judging and hearing everybody complain about how they will never do it again,” said Princess Dakoma, or Dakoma Epperly-May. “And then they show up again next year after that, carving.
“You can feel the love of the sculpting family here.”
The public can vote for the People’s Choice Award until March 3, and the winners will be announced at the end of the Fur Rondy on March 5, Parker said. The sculptures will stay on display for the public until March 9.