Editor's note: On Jan. 9, Downtown Racine Corp. announced that The Big Chill competition is being postponed to the weekend of Jan. 20-22. Dates have been changed in this story to reflect the postponement. Click here for more information on the postponement.
Wisconsin's statewide snow-sculpting competition has found a new home: Downtown Racine. More than 15 teams of the state's best professional snow sculptors will set up "shop" at Monument Square Jan. 20 through 22 to compete in the 2012 Wisconsin Snow Sculpting Competition, which is being called The Big Chill.
Held for many years in the Wisconsin Dells - where it was known as the Flake Out Festival - the annual competition determines which of our state's snow sculptors move on to the U.S. National Competition, to be held in Lake Geneva in February 2013. The two-person teams competing in this year's state event in Racine will start sculpting their designs out of 6-by-6-by-8-foot blocks of snow at 5 p.m, Friday, Jan. 20, and will continue to work through the weekend, with winners announced at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15.
Everyone is invited to come Downtown and watch them turn the frozen blocks into sculptures depicting everything from winter activities and sports - such as children going downhill on a toboggan - to various wildlife and abstract forms, according to Jeff Shawhan, chairman of the 2012 Big Chill and a three-time state champion snow sculptor. The designs - all of which are original - were chosen for this year's competition by a jury, from 26 submitted entries, said Shawhan, also works as a ceramic artist in Racine. And the best way to appreciate their creation is by stopping by the sculptures periodically during The Big Chill, he said.
"Come down and see them at the beginning and then watch their transformation from start to finish," he said. "It is really pretty amazing."
Shawhan also encourages observers to ask the sculptors questions. "They love interacting with people," he said.
Don't forget, too, to cast your vote for your favorite sculpture, as the People's Choice votes will help determine the new Wisconsin State Champion, according to the Downtown Racine Corp.
First state competition here
While snow sculpting is not new to Racine (Downtown's Winterfest featured snow sculptures the past two years), The Big Chill is Racine's first time hosting Wisconsin's only state-sanctioned snow-sculpting competition, according to the DRC.
The state competition - which is sanctioned by WinterFun Inc. - was brought here under the direction of Shawhan and Don Berg, executive director of WinterFun Inc. Berg - a Shorewood resident who grew up in Racine and still has ties here - said he was not only impressed with Shawhan's leadership in bringing people together for other snow-sculpting events, but the work that Racine's Downtown has done in supporting the arts. A long-time snow sculptor himself, Berg said he works to develop snow-sculpting as an art form that families can enjoy together, and feels Racine is a good place to do so.
"Our main goal is to help stamp out cabin fever," he said.
During its time in the Dells, the state competition helped to establish that area as a winter tourist destination, drawing thousands of visitors there each year, said Berg, whose nick name is "Iceberg."
"I am confident, with all the discussions I've had and the experiences you've had there already, that you'll be putting on a very successful event in Racine."
Will the weather cooperate?
The only unknown for The Big Chill is one that every snow-sculpting event faces - the weather. While the sculptors won't have to depend on Mother Nature to provide their sculpting material (snow for the blocks will be made at Franklin's Crystal Ridge ski resort), the success of event and the longevity of the sculptures are weather dependent, Shawhan said.
The ideal temperature for snow-sculpting is right around 25 degrees, he said. At that temperature, the sun can be out and not affect the sculptures - and it's still not too cold for spectators.
"We've carved at lower temperatures, but people don't want to come out when its too cold," he said.
Meteorologically speaking, Jan. 20-22 is part of what has traditionally been the second coldest week of the year, Shawhan said. And, as long as the temperatures are below freezing, organizers will have the ability to make snow, Berg said.
Add to that the fact that weather is the one thing they don't have any control over, and neither Shawhan or Berg seem worried about it.
"We live on the edge," Berg said.
If You Go
WHAT: The Big Chill: 2012 Wisconsin Snow Sculpting Competition
WHEN: Jan. 20 through 22. Competition starts at 5 p.m. Friday and runs through 2 p.m. Sunday, when winners will be announced.
WHERE: Downtown’s Monument Square, Main Street between Fifth and Sixth streets.
INFO: Go to www.racinedowntown.com/TheBigChill.html