What’s the trickiest part of carving a snow sculpture? It’s the weather.
“If it’s really, really, really cold and you wait too long to carve [the walls], then it turns into really hard, almost icy snow and it’s harder to work with,” says Courtney McKiel, carver and board member of the Snowking’s Winter Festival in Yellowknife. “And then if it’s too warm, then it tends to kind of like mush off the walls as you’re carving it and not really hold structure very well.”
Otherwise known as “Icepick Polly,” McKiel is just one of many volunteers and snowcarvers who have reimagined this year’s Snow Castle on Great Slave Lake—now known as the Snow Buddies Winter Garden. Throughout March the public toured the dinosaur-themed snow garden, complete with slides and a maze, as well as viewed the accompanying snow sculptures outside that were carved by teams of competitors who spent days sawing and shaping the frozen designs in Yellowknife’s chilly winter temperatures.
“I typically like to do the outline with a saw first then go in with a big chisel to remove big pieces of snow,” says McKiel. “Then I’ll go in with a smaller chisel to get the definition and a sander to smooth it out.” Other carvers use everything from old cheese graters, to bread knives and even drywall scrapers.
First, though, you have to get the snow to the site. All the building material is collected right from Great Slave Lake with a bobcat, which is then blown into wooden carving frames that measure eight by eight by eight feet. Staff and builders stomp on the snow to pack it down and reinforce the walls. Then they leave the snow blocks for a little while to firm up before starting their work. But not too long.
“You want to make sure that you’re working the snow within a couple of days of it being poured, cause the longer [you wait], the harder it gets to work,” says McKiel.
McKiel has been carving snow at the festival for a few years now and says what she enjoys most about is creating a space for the community to have fun outside in the sunlight.
“And to be interacting with the structure that we’ve created and poured a lot of heart into. So that’s what's really special for me… from a personal level, and from the level of being a part of the organization.”