Snow doesn’t fall from the sky in 10-foot cubes — not even in Minnesota.
While that’s fortunate for the general public, it also means considerable work goes into preparing the massive blocks for participants in the World Snow Sculpting Championship in Stillwater.
A dozen, 1,000-cubic-foot slabs of the white stuff will await the 12 sculpting teams for the artistic extravaganza set for Jan. 18-22 in Lowell Park.
Creating the edifices is a collaborative effort between construction contractor Market & Johnson and Midstate Landscaping and Excavating. Ski resort Afton Alps meanwhile supplies the snow.
After Afton Alps has finished making the snow, the frozen powder is loaded into concrete forms built by Market & Johnson. The process occurs during the two days before the championship event kicks off.
“We create two sides to each of the blocks, with forms that are then interconnected to create the full block,” said James Hanke, business development director for Market & Johnson. “Then the real important aspect of it that comes into play is how you load the snow into those blocks.”
That’s where Midstate comes in.
The excavating company first hauls the freshly created snow to Lowell Park in a dump truck, according to Midstate’s Operations Manager Chris Klein. Its skid loaders then dig into the snow pile and transfer perfectly clean scoops of snow into the bucket of a wheel loader. The wheel loader finally dumps the snow into the concrete forms.
“They'll dump a bucket in and then the people are in there and they stop it down to get all the air voids out of it to ensure that it's nice and hard and there are no air voids,” Klein said.
The people he referred to are teams of six to eight volunteers from businesses and organizations in the community, some of which sponsor the sculpting championship.
They're using mostly their feet but also some other tools, and they're really making sure that snow is compact,” Hanke said. “When you're talking about 1000 cubic feet of snow, you're talking about 1000 cubic feet of snow with not a lot of air in between.”
According to Hanke, one team of stompers will be from First Resource Bank and the Stillwater fire and police departments will each field teams too. The latter two teams will compete to see which group can stomp down their snow the fastest.
“It's a lot of work to do, having done it and watching everyone do it last year,” Hanke said. “It's a lot of work, it's tiring but we try to make it as fun as possible and make sure everybody has a good time.”
Hanke and Klein anticipate building the blocks will go smoother than it did last year after having gone through the process once and learned from previous hiccups. In 2022, for instance, their companies initially attempted to transfer the snow into the concrete forms using a conveyor truck. When they realized that wouldn’t work, they switched to using wheel loaders.
Once the cube-creating crews found their groove with the wheel loaders last year, however, Klein said it took them just a little more than an hour to complete one block. The completed cubes will then be ready for the sculptors on Jan. 18.
“We want them to sit there at least overnight to harden up a little bit, but we don't want them to sit there too long because then they start getting a little icy,” Hanke said.
Klein noted that he and Midstate owner Jason Anderson donated their time and effort helping with the blocks last year, which wound up being about a 12-hour endeavor.
“We really enjoyed it. It was fun doing something in your own community and giving back,” Klein said.
Hanke echoed that sentiment and pointed out how Market & Johnson’s office in Stillwater only opened recently for the Eau Claire, Wisconsin-based company.
“We've been involved in a lot of community events over there, and when this opportunity was presented to us, we were pretty excited about it and thought it would be fun,” Hanke said.
“I’ve just been really impressed with the number of people who have been involved, the amount of effort that people are willing to put in and most importantly, the amount of fun they're willing to have in the process.”