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Snow sculptors get more room to show off

January 31, 2016

LAKE GENEVA -- Spectators at the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition will have a little bit more breathing room this year.

The snow sculpting competition, set for Wednesday through Saturday, will be held at two locations this year, the Dreihaus Plaza in front of the Riviera and at Flat Iron Park.

Donald Berg of WinterFun Productions, organizers for the snow sculpting contest, said a second location was needed because of the popularity of the event.

“We expanded the carving area. The last five years, there's been so many people. Even on a cold day, the crowds have been thick,” Berg said. “If you dropped a $20 bill, you would lose it because you wouldn't have been able to pick it up.

“There were concerns with safety, so to make it safer we decided to add a place where some of the carvings are taking place.”

Wen-D Kersten, marketing and communications manager for Visit Lake Geneva, said about 20,000 people attend the snow sculpting competition each year. She agreed that more space is needed for spectators and participants.

“This year, there will be more elbow room with sculptures being spread out over two viewing areas,” Kersten said in an email. “A portion of Wrigley Drive will be closed to allow everyone to walk safely and easily between the two locations.”

Fifteen teams from throughout the country are set to participate in this year's competition. Each team comes up with a sculpture design, Berg said.

“It's fascinating the different types of sculptures we get,” Berg said. “Some are abstract. Some are realistic. It takes three people to work on the sculpture. It's becoming a universal artform.”

Teams qualify by winning a state-level competition. Berg said they try to limit the competition to 15 teams.

“There's a number of teams that want to come,” Berg said. “Early on, we wanted to limit the number of teams. As time goes on and there's more state competitions, we're going to have to adjust accordingly.”

The teams work on their sculptures from Wednesday to Saturday, with judging to begin at 11 a.m. Saturday. The sculptures are judged by the participating teams. There's also a people's choice award.

Berg said he decided to have the teams judge the sculptures several years ago after some participants complained that their sculptures should have placed higher.

“Some carvers would complain to me that they thought their sculpture should have been ranked at a higher level, and that it was favoritism,” Berg said. “I flipped the coin on them and asked them to be the judges of the event. They just couldn't judge their own sculpture. We let them know it was their event. We were just providing a place for them to sculpt and choose their champion.”

The winning teams qualify to participate in international snow sculpting competitions.

“We've got wonderful carvers that represent the U.S.,” Berg said. “We give them no money for winning. What they're able to do is develop sponsorships for travel.”

Besides the competition, the event also includes a snow sculpting workshop for children.

“We introduce them to the experience of snow sculpting. ... We spend about a half hour talking to them about the aspects of snow sculpting. We then discuss how to plan a snow sculpture,” Berg said. “We teach them the aspect of teamwork and having a common goal. We talk to them about the tools they need to assemble a snow sculpture. There's a whole lot that kids get from an approach like this.”

The snow sculpting competition goes on with or without natural snowfall, Berg said.

“We've never missed a year in the 31 years I've been doing this,” Berg said. “The Grand Geneva Resort has the ski hills and snowmaking devices. If there's no snow, we will be the only place in the city with snow. (Grand Geneva Resort) has been our angels. They're very cooperative with us.

“It's one of the top attended events in Lake Geneva during the year.”

The U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition is one of several events that will be occurring as part of Winterfest, which will be held through Saturday, Feb. 13. Other activities include human dog sled races, the Cocoa Crawl and helicopter rides. Some of the new activities for this year's Winterfest include a chili cook-off at Hawk's View Golf Course, Super Tailgating-Bowl Party at Lake Geneva School of Cooking and pizza making at Oakfire.

“For the ultimate in wacky fun, the human dog sled races are the place to be, hosted by Lake Geneva Canopy Tours,” Kersten said. “For sheer spectacle, the winter carnival at The Mountain Top at Grand Geneva can't be beat.”

Kersten said Visit Lake Geneva plans activities for Winterfest throughout the year.

“Winterfest is a salute to winter in Lake Geneva,” Kersten said. “It combines all the best that Lake Geneva has to offer and brings visitors, young and old, to the area. (The festival) promotes Lake Geneva as a destination, bringing overnight guests to the hotels and customers into the stores. Everyone benefits from this bevy of activity and support for the community.”

For more information about Winterfest, go to