The International Snow Sculpting Championships make a triumphant return this week

Rick Seeley works on “The Yeti” during the International Snow Sculpting Championships on January 20, 2020, in front of the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. The event returns this week after the coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2021 iteration.
Liz Copan Archive/Summit Daily News

The International Snow Sculpting Championships, one of Breckenridge’s most beloved annual events, are making a comeback after the pandemic put them on hold, as was the case with many other traditions.

This week, competitors from around the world can be found in the Tiger Dredge parking lot next to the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge, carving their own unique works of art into huge blocks of Breckenridge snow – each block is 12 feet tall and weighs about 25 tons. Nine teams are competing this year, including three from Wisconsin and one from Germany, Ecuador, Mexico and New York. There are also two teams from Colorado, one of which is from Breckenridge.

The carving began on Monday January 24 and will continue all week until 9am on Friday January 28. The awards ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. that day at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and proof of vaccination is required for indoor events at the center.

The grand illumination of the sculptures is scheduled for Friday from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., and the illuminations will continue every evening from 4:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. until the festival ends at 7:00 p.m. on February 2. Free reservations will be required for those looking to view the sculptures between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday, January 29, as this is usually the busiest viewing day. Reservations can be made at

The festival returns for the first time in two years. While the Breckenridge Visitor Center originally planned to scale down the event to 2021, it was ultimately canceled due to the pandemic.

Breckenridge City Council member Jeffrey Bergeron said it was one of the community’s signature events that residents and visitors alike looked forward to and that it had evolved along with the town.

Over the years, the snow sculptures moved from the Bell Tower Mall, which is now the site of the Main Street Station, to the Breckenridge Riverwalk Center. Breckenridge Ski Resort has always provided the snow for the sculptures.

Bergeron said that as someone without artistic skill, he is inspired by the dedication of snow carvers to their art under such extreme conditions. All artists are permitted to use hand tools only and can be seen working any hour of the night this week.

“They’re there at night, but there’s a sense of camaraderie and artistic sharing that’s just amazing,” Bergeron said. “I love it.”

Keith Martin is team captain for Breckenridge this year and has been involved in the competition since 2006, when he jumped to help Team Germany. His first time on the Breckenridge team was in 2010, and he’s been with them ever since, serving as captain most of those years.

Martin said not having the contest last year was unfortunate because it’s still his favorite snow sculpting event, but he was still able to make a variety of sculptures throughout the pandemic.

“It’s really just hanging out with a group of like-minded friends from around the world that you get along with really well,” Martin said. “It’s not so much the competition. While it’s nice to have bragging rights at the end, it’s really just wanting to be creative on that level, on that scale.

“You talk to people from other regions and get to know their cultures, and this international competition has led me to hundreds of friendships from all over the world.”

Ken Miller has been involved with the competition in various ways over the years, previously working for the Chamber of Breckenridge, the predecessor to the tourist board, as well as Breckenridge Creative Arts. He is now supporting the tourist board as a contractor for this year’s competition in his 36th year as a Breckenridge resident.

Miller said those who have always been involved in the event are thrilled to see the competition making a comeback. He said the unique nature of snow art is what makes the event so special for Breckenridge, and seeing its snow transformed by artists from around the world is one of the big hallmarks of the year.

“The event is so endearing to a lot of us. … That’s what really touches a lot of us to the core,” Miller said of the event’s return.

Martin said it’s hard to explain how magical snow sculptures are until you experience them for yourself.

“These are the kind of artworks that are just stunning, breathtaking and awe-inspiring,” Martin said. “They strike that emotional chord, and I’ve seen people come up and start crying because they hit them in such a way. I feel like there’s something cool about being able to do such big temporary art that affects people in such a big way.

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