Journeys: Snow Sculpting at the Winter Carnival

Make sure to journey over to the Vulcan Snow Park during Winter Carnival for the traditional snow sculpting and giant slides as well as new fun

Third Place, Artist's Choice, and the People's Choice winner from the 2019 Winter Carnival state snow sculpting competition was "Eggloo" by The Shadow Men. Courtesy the Vulcan Snow Park.
“Eggloo” was the third place, artists’ choice, and people’s choice winner at the 2018 state snow sculpting competition at the Vulcan Snow Park.

Above courtesy Vulcan Snow Park; inset by Jeff Matt

It looks like the snow has come just in time for the Saint Paul Winter Carnival (Jan. 24-Feb. 3), but even if it hadn’t, the Vulcan Snow Park (the Winter Carnival’s counterpart over at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds) would still be a winter wonderland. Why? Because they make around 3,000 tons of snow every year. You need that much for the giant snow slide, eight-foot tall snow sculptures, mini snow maze, and more. 

New this year is a Fire Castle with a nine-hole golf course inside, and events like the state snow sculpting competition (in progress Jan. 25-27, viewing through the end of the carnival), Vulcan Fun Day with free fire truck rides (Jan. 27), and the barstool ski races (Feb. 2) are back again. While it’s too late to sign up for the Snow Park’s amateur snow sculpting competition, here’s a piece I wrote last year when I did it for the 2018 Winter Carnival. 

For my first year doing a snow sculpture for the Vulcan Snow Park, I didn’t want to be in danger of sawing the snow so fervently I fell off my ladder. Not that any of the 18 teams that competed for the 2018 state competition did, but still. Those champs were working with 8-foot tall blocks. For the Amateur Snow Sculpting Contest (a one-day whirlwind Feb. 3), my team, aptly named Wingin’ It, had a block that was a tame 6 feet tall, but even with that downscaled height, I needed a step stool to work on the top of what would be our baby dragon.

Robert McLernon, Lianna Matt, and Cassie Bauman at the 2018 Amateur Snow Sculpting Competition at the Vulcan Snow Park. Photo by Jeff Matt.I’ll let you know now: We got last place out of four teams. (“Ice Age”‘s Scrat, Minnesota inventions and an octopus with a Rubik’s cube make for formidable competition.) But we did have a steady stream of passersby proclaiming it was a dragon hatching out of an egg before we told them, and we had some children even want to touch it (we let them, of course), so I think we can count it as a win in the books.

Robert McLernon, Cassie Bauman, and I started the day at almost 8 a.m. sharp, and right from the get-go, the Vulcan Snow Park volunteers spoiled us with coffee, doughnuts, and other refreshments before we got to work. At 18ºF and no wind, the weather was perfect, and although I scrooge-ishly grumbled that the gently falling snow would ruin our carved lines, we couldn’t have asked for a better day to be outside. 

As we found out, you can’t just dig out the packed snow, nor can you peel it like you would a linoleum block. Smarter teams than we brought saws, but Bauman and I ended up doing a lot of hacking until McLernon showed up and proved to be a god with the ice scraper, resulting in huge cleared out spaces and clean edges. Pat Mogren, one of the lead volunteers at the Snow Park, came by multiple times with metal curry combs and scrapers to arm us in our artistic plight—they proved to be a necessity for the egg shape and dragon anatomy—and Kendra Myers, the Minnesota State Snow Sculpting Competition coordinator was always nearby with encouragement, too.

By the time noon rolled around, I was in that intense, one-track frame of mind where my friends can’t tell if I’m having fun anymore and I don’t want to break for the generously provided lunch because, hello, we have a sculpture to make. Still, a sloppy joe, chips, vegetables and a water bottle later (again, all provided by the Snow Park) I ended up taking an extra five-minute break with McLernon to look at the State Competition sculptures while Bauman continued to work on detailing more of the dragon’swings, arms, and head. What an overachiever she is. 

In the end, we finished our baby dragon at about 3:15 p.m. with 45 minutes to spare and, at least for me, a nice pile of soaking wet mittens. It was a good day full of simple pleasures: fresh air, creativity, exercise, and really, really nice people. Myers, Mogren and the other volunteers are some of the most easy going and kind-hearted people you’ll meet, and they know how to immediately make you feel at home. Everyone was excited to be there and to help out at the Snow Park, and the day was filled with people looking at the sculptures, giving it a try themselves (Mogren had put out the rest of his metal curry comb supply and miniature cubic foot blocks for people) and going down the Vulcans’ giant snow slide.

As Winter Carnival lore goes, the Vulcans bring in spring, and I can’t think of any better way to end winter than stopping by the Vulcan Snow Park and checking out the sculptures and snowtastic activities. And hey, if you’re around next year, sign up for the Amateur Snow Sculpting Contest.