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Snow sculpting success is as close as your imagination

Local snow carving artist Tim Young created this whimsical sledder out of a block of snow in Cloquet's Pinehurst Park to advertise the upcoming Winterfest Snow Carving Contest. Registration is now open for the contest, and work on sculptures can be started at any time. Wendy Johnson/

If you're thinking you might like to try your hand at snow carving for the upcoming Winterfest Snow Carving Contest, take heart. You don't have to be a professional artist to make a sculpture out of snow. In fact, snow is far more forgiving than most other sculpting mediums, and short of a total meltdown (temperature-wise, that is), most anyone should be able to create an impressive snow sculpture.

"Art is in the eye of the beholder," commented event organizer and snow sculptor Tim Young of Cloquet.

For first-time snow carvers needing a little guidance, Young had a few tips to offer.

Young suggested there are many designs available online for those in search of inspiration.

"If you have a picture you're trying to duplicate," he said, "it's a good idea to print it off and mount it inside a sheet of clear plastic to keep it from getting wet."

He further suggested duplicating the design in a 3x5-inch size and taping it on the inside of the forearm of your jacket, so you can check it frequently.

"You'll find that you have better perception of you're able to look at your design frequently," he said. "Otherwise, your recollection of the visual image doesn't last all that long when it comes to detail."

He suggested working from the top down on your snow sculpture.

"If you really want to get technical about it," he added, "you can work out the ratios of how each element of your design relates to the 8x8-foot size of the cube to determine the size and proportion of the head, legs, etc."

Young cautioned not to make your sculpture too top heavy and to use common sense when it comes to the weight of any appendages such as legs, wings or other delicate features.

"When mistakes do happen," he said, "don't get too excited about it. If you start early enough, there will likely be a warm day coming up where you can fix them."

Another option to make up for a mistake, he said, would be to reduce the size of the sculpture and start over.

Young said his tool of choice to rough in the subject of his sculpture is a Number 2 sand shovel, though snow shovels, hatchets, saws or pick axes can be used as well to rough in the shape and cut away the "negative" spaces, or unneeded portions, that won't be needed as part of the design itself.

To refine the design of the sculpture itself, Young said to "use your imagination" when it comes to appropriate tools. He suggested hand spades or garden tools.

Spoons or steak knives with serrated edges work well for carving the smaller details on your sculpture, though some prefer bread knives because of their longer length. As your snow sculpture starts to take shape, you can also mold parts of it with your hands, particularly for smoothing surfaces or molding corners and keeping each element packed as tightly as possible.

Young suggested a 12-inch pruning saw works well for cutting flat, smooth, straight surfaces.

If you wish to add color to your snow sculpture, mix food color with water and put it in a spray bottle to highlight specific areas of the sculpture. Young said he determines what colors he wants to use ahead of time and mixes them up in gallon plastic milk jugs. He cautioned to be sure to rinse out the sprayer bottle when switching colors.

When you're done carving your sculpture, the entire thing can be given a light misting of water to give it a shiny, icy finish and to make it last longer. Young said re-spraying it two to three times a week will help guarantee that the sculpture freezes really hard and lasts longer.


The Winterfest Snow Carving Contest is free of charge and open to all who wish to participate. The city of Cloquet has molded 8x8 cubes of packed snow in Pinehurst Park for the contest, and all you have to do to take part is register with Cloquet Community Education at 218-879-1261; Cloquet Parks and Recreation, 218-879-7762; or Young at 218-879-8788. Sculptures can be made any time between now and the 2 p.m. judging on Saturday, Jan. 22, during the Winterfest event itself, which runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and includes skating, sliding, a snow art area for children, hot chocolate and cookies and an Arco coffee sampling fundraiser for adults.