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World Snow Sculpting Championship brings frosty art to Stillwater

Adam Turner, Team Snow Cowboy, USA, looks at his sculpture during the inaugural World Snow Sculpture Championship in Stillwater, Minnesota on January 21, 2022.
Adam Turner, Team Snow Cowboy, USA, looks at his sculpture during the inaugural World Snow Sculpture Championship in Stillwater, Minnesota on January 21, 2022.KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images

by Luke Taylor and Mac Wilson

January 18, 2023

“It's hard to believe and imagine when there is a 10 by 10 by 10 block of snow, that in three days, it can transition into a beautiful piece of art,” says Robin Anthony of Stillwater, Minn.

Between Wednesday, Jan. 18, to Sunday, Jan. 22, attendees will be able to watch that transition as teams of sculptors from around the globe converge on Stillwater for the World Snow Sculpting Championship. Now enjoying the second year of hosting the global competition, Anthony, as president of the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce, has had a front-row seat to this one-of-a-kind artistic gathering. “It's an opportunity to bring people out, get people outside in the winter and get them walking around and doing some shopping and that type of thing,” Anthony says. “It really becomes a community event.”

And it’s a truly global event as well. The World Snow Sculpting Championship sees three United States teams competing — one from Minnesota, another from Wisconsin, plus an intrepid group of Floridians. Canada similarly has three teams, coming from Alberta, Quebec and the Northwest Territories. Teams are also flying in from Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, Turkey, Germany, and Finland.

The St. Paul Winter Carnival showcases ice sculpting, but what makes snow sculpting different? First of all, power tools are not permitted at the World Snow Sculpting Championship. Each team is provided a 10-cubic-foot block of compressed snow, donated by the local ski area Afton Alps. The snow is loaded into the 10x10x10 forms by a front-end loader, and volunteers with clean boots — the snow must be clean — take turns stomping and tamping down the snow until it is as dense as can be. Then the teams, using their hands, simple hand tools, water, and plenty of imagination, transform the giant frozen snow cubes into gallery-level works of art. “It’s the talent of people,” Anthony says. “It surprises me. It just amazes me really.”

Spectators watching artists at work outdoors, building sculptures in snow
Team Snow Cowboy, USA, carves a sculpture during the inaugural World Snow Sculpture Championship in Stillwater, Minnesota on January 21, 2022.
KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images

During the run of the competition, spectators can watch as the work progresses, and vote for the people’s choice award by using the official app. A warmed tent in Stillwater’s Lowell Park provides a place to warm up, refresh, and interact with artists and other attendees.

The traveling teams’ expenses, lodging, and food are covered by donations from Stillwater-area businesses. At last year’s competition, Anthony fondly recalls spending time with the teams from Germany and Turkey. “Getting to know their culture and their appreciation for America,” she says, “that is just so great. And this year, we have to have three interpreters because of the different languages. So that affords us to work with the schools as well.”

Through careful planning, Anthony says Stillwater has secured the World Snow Sculpture Championship “indefinitely,” so locals and visitors alike can expect this to be an annual event for years to come. “Stillwater is the birthplace of Minnesota; we have the historic Lift Bridge, it's got lights on it, and then having the valley, the beautiful background — we're really lucky, frankly. [This event] just really puts Stillwater on the map.”

If you go

Mac Wilson
Mac Wilson
Sara Fish for MPR

The Current’s Mac Wilson is a resident of Stillwater. Here are some of his suggestions on how to experience Stillwater like a local.

Perk up

There are any number of cute coffee spots downtown, but a unique offering is at Sara's Tipsy Pies, which uses a Costa Rican method very similar to pour-over to craft its coffee drinks, as well as an array of sweet and savory treats.

Nice nosh

On the upscale end, both hotel restaurants in downtown are great spots. Feller inside the Lora Hotel features what might be the most eye-popping cheeseburger in downtown, while Matchstick inside Hotel Crosby offers a rotating series of farm-to-table, fine-dining entrees.

For the kids

Art 'n Soul features a dizzying selection of gifts and trinkets, notably a large collection of rocks, minerals, fossils, and beads. It's easy to lose yourself looking for the right shark tooth or meteorite fragment.

Home brew

Lift Bridge has one of the first taprooms opened in the state after the passage of the Surly Bill in 2011, and it features a steady array of beers, as well as a packed event schedule all year long, so check out the website to see what they're up to on any given day. Meanwhile, the recently rebranded River Siren Brewing is in downtown Stillwater, within easy walking distance of other downtown spots, and it gives a great view of the river.

The World Snow Sculpting Championship takes place January 18 to 22 in Lowell Park in Stillwater, Minn. The event is free, all ages.

A collection of icons of winter clothing, food, recreation
The Current's 89 Days of Winter brings together highlights of the season for music, entertainment, and more.
Alexis Politz for MPR

This feature is part of The Current’s 89 Days series, helping you enjoy the best of the season with weekly guides to events, entertainment, and recreation in the Twin Cities.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.