A block of snow is just that to some, it’s a palette to others

Kelly Casey works on one of their pieces, a teacup, Jan. 17 at Badger Park in Shorewood. (Sun Staff Photo by Chris Dillmann)
Kelly Casey works on one of their pieces, a teacup, Jan. 17 at Badger Park in Shorewood. (Sun Staff Photo by Chris Dillmann)


Opportunities occasionally come along that can open a new set of life experiences.

Snow sculpting happens to be one of those opportunities, at least for Kelly Casey and his team of snow sculptors. Casey and the “Texture Experts” of Minnesota Big Snow sculptors will be creating and displaying their masterpieces at Badger Park as part of the Arctic Fever Snow Sculpting Competition.

Worried their appearance in the snow-sculpting might hinder your chances of winning? Don’t fret, they are just sculpting for fun and say will use all unused blocks to showcase their work.

The opportunity to sit back and have fun doesn’t come along too often for Casey.

“We get to play,” Casey said. “We don’t get this chance very often.”

A ‘Sure, why not?’ start

Casey has been using snow as a medium for his creations since 1996 when the chance arose to sculpt at the Winter Carnival in St. Paul.

He wasn’t unfamiliar with turning the abundant Minnesota natural resource into works of art. After a stint sand-sculpting for the Minneapolis Aquatennial, Casey said it was an article in the newspaper that caught his eye.

Half way through the competition, they were easily spotted as the newbie’s with their polar bear sculpture. They finished the competition, and now had a taste for a new passion.

However, diving into a niche that’s not the most common (keep in mind this is snow sculpting), Casey says it’s a commitment. The tools as well take a bit of a creative mind to produce.

“It’s not like you can go to Snow Depot and get yourself some tools,” Casey said.

Planning begins early. Casey says the team meets in spring to discuss possible designs for the following season. Throughout the year, they collect images and ideas.

And when the time to actually put tool to snow arrives, it takes a team effort. His area of expertise is in the details, logistics of competing and texture. Others can take the big picture of a blank block of snow and dive, in he says.

The nature of the business is heavily dependent on weather, obviously.

“It’s the last variable any team has to deal with,” said sculptor Paul Diekoff, who has been sculpting with Casey for around 13 years, and says all those years have taught them to understand snow conditions.

Colder competitions and higher elevations give way to drier snow. Working in conditions that are anything but consistent, Diekoff says they’ve labored in the rain and in temps as cold as 30 below zero.

When it’s warm, Diekoff snow sculpters learn ways to keep things cold, such as building a fridge out of snow blocks to keep delicate pieces from melting.

“Lots of little mothers of invention,” he said.

What sets them apart

The art of turning snow into art is a lot like stone work, Casey says. Many snow sculptors are also stone carvers.

“Stone relates very well to snow, it’s a great media,” Casey said. “Start and slowly work in your shapes until you get to the center, and you finish it with detail.”

Unlike ice sculpting, snow takes many days to complete.

“The key with snow sculpting, which separates us significantly from ice carving, is we don’t use power tools,” Casey said.

Patience is a virtue.

“The first day is all the work and the least fun,” Casey said.

The attention to final details is what separates the best from the also-rans.

“It’s pushing it to that next step and going the extra step that gets you into an international market,” Casey said.

It’s also what has brought them to international acclaim through their frozen medium. Since their first polar bear sculpture at the Winter Carnival, they have placed third in China during one of the top five competitions in the world. They’ve placed numerous times in other competitions, including a first at Nationals and have competed across the U.S. and Canada.

Getting to that level Casey says comes down to commitment. Travel, dealing with the elements and costly out-of-pocket expenses leave only those who truly love it. To enter the especially prestigious competitions, Casey says selection is based on submittal of design, portfolio and resume.

“It’s a fun hobby, but not a real cheap hobby,” Casey said. “It’s usually coming out of your own pocket.”

Casey and the team have no sponsor, unlike many of the international teams.

Guys can just be guys

In spite of less glamorous aspects, snow sculpting allows for an experience that can’t be found elsewhere. More than just a team, the group are best friends and through snow sculpting they are able to form a camaraderie during their “guy time.”

“We’re really a misfit bunch,” Casey said.

They hope all the hard work translates into people enjoying what they do.

“Hopefully we’ll satisfy some desire to see some good art,” Casey said. “We’re just going to have a good time.”

Leaving no block unsculpted, you can see the work of Minnesota Big Snow at Badger Park as part of Arctic Fever.

To check out more of their work, visit msnbigsnow.com.

Contact Chris Dillmann at [email protected]