Carving a New Carnival Tradition

The 59th annual Whitefish Winter Carnival runs Feb. 2-4 and now includes a Snow Sculpture Symposium

By Molly Priddy
The Whitefish Winter Carnival. Beacon File Photo

When it comes to art, nearly anything can be a canvas, providing a blank space for the artist to build and create and carve a new perspective into existence.

Looking around the Flathead Valley, where nature has delivered an abundance of deep snow this winter, you’ll see the canvas for artists and hobbyists and let’s-give-this-a-try-ists in the upcoming Snow Sculpture Symposium, a new addition to this year’s Whitefish Winter Carnival.

Carnival events run all month long in January, capped by the main carnival weekend on Feb. 2 – 4. The Snow Sculpture Symposium will run that whole weekend in Depot Park, with artists allowed to take from Friday to Sunday to complete their work.

Carla Belski, community services coordinator for the Whitefish Parks and Recreation Department, said the snow sculptures are new to the carnival this year, though there have been such artistic challenges in the past.

“It used to be a part of Winter Carnival six or seven years ago, and it was in the parking lot at Super 1,” Belski said.

That event was coordinated by a professor from Flathead Valley Community College, Belski said, and eventually the logistics just became too much and they stopped sculpting.

But the Parks Department ended up with the giant molds that turn snow into huge, compact cylinders, 9 feet tall and 6 feet wide, ready to be carved and smoothed and brought to life.

So far, there’s been a good amount of public interest in the symposium, Belski said, and there are still plenty of spots open for anyone who would like to flex some cold creativity.

“You don’t have to be a professional snow sculptor; you just have to come and try your best and have fun,” Belski said. “It’s a community event, and it’s free.”

The idea behind making it a symposium instead of a competition sets the tone for the event as a fun, casual affair, inviting the community to wander through the park as the sculptors get to work.

“We don’t want to make money off it,” Belski said. “If we had a prize, we’d have to get sponsors and we’d probably have to charge people to participate.”

There may be a competition in the future, though, depending on how this year’s event pans out. Belski said the Parks Department is looking into similar events throughout the region to see how they’re held and what works.

Anyone interested in signing up for the Snow Sculpture Symposium needs to find at least one buddy to work with, and teams up to four will be accepted. They’ll work with their own tools, though those can be as sophisticated as whatever gardening equipment you’ve got out in the shed. The only tools not allowed are gas or electric power tools.

Snow and water are the only building materials allowed; props and coloring the snow aren’t permitted. The eventual goal is to have the symposium sculptures act as the centerpiece for the weekend.

Though sculptors will have free rein over their designs, the theme for Whitefish Winter Carnival LIX is “Fly Like an Eagle,” celebrating 70 years on Big Mountain, which can provide a solid starting point if they need inspiration.

To sign up, visit the Whitefish Parks and Recreation Department website at www.cityofwhitefish.org/parks-and-recreation/staff-and-news.php.

The symposium is already generating local buzz among folks who’d like to see the community creativity, and how unique each creation ends up despite starting in the same form.

“I think it’ll be really fun,” Belski said.

For more information on Whitefish Winter Carnival LIX, visit www.whitefishwintercarnival.com.