See the World's Greatest Snow Carvings in Breckenridge

Artists flock to Breck for the international snow sculpture championships

Breckenridge Snow International Snow Sculpture Championships
Yes, this sculpture is made out of snow and ice. Getty Images/Wesley Hitt

It’s the world’s greatest display of snow carvings. And it goes down every winter in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Imagine 12-foot-tall, 20-plus-ton blocks of snow intricately carved into people, animals, abstract sculptures. An all-white castle wonderland. Elephants and trains and the Buddha and mythological beasts. All made entirely out of snow and by hand. No power tools allowed.

This temporary, outdoor art display rivals some of the most impressive marble and stone sculpture exhibitions in the world.

Add this to your bucket list of crazy only-in-Colorado things that you must see to believe. 

Late January typically kicks off the annual International Snow Sculpture Championships, which brings together the top 16 or so teams from across the world to see who can carve the most impressive creation out of snow. Visitors can watch the carving in person for several days until the projects wrap up and voting is open.

Artists have just 65 hours to rush to perfect their vision, from snowball to sculpture. That final night of carving is known to get pretty intense and busy, as the artists scramble to complete the final touches. Teams are limited to just four members, and it can be grueling, so sometimes they have to work in shifts.

It can also get chilly out there in the snow for so long, so those shifts come in handy to defrost toes and fingers and noses before starting up again. Beating the cold can be one of the biggest challenges for the participants because unlike skiers, the artists aren't getting their heart rates up high and working up a sweat. Although snow sculpting can be physically grueling, it can also require attention to detail, patience and artistic precision. 

The Snow Carving Competitors

Breckenridge always has its own team, but other teams can qualify from around the world. Visitors can cast a vote for their favorite creation in the Peoples Choice contest. 

The winners are chosen for originality, design, technical skill, teamwork and quality.

Winners in the past have included a depiction of Noah's Ark "floating on clouds" above the deluge and a sculpture of a Mother Nature figure called The Tempest. Both were inspired by deeper messages about climate change and keeping calm amid chaos. 

After the crowning of the winner, the sculptures will be dramatically illuminated during a grand lighting ceremony. 

The glowing sculptures of varying colors will stay on display through for about another week after the contest ends. That final night, they will be swept away as magically as they appear to have been created. 

This unique event has grown to attract visitors from around the world (and skiers just passing through enjoy the beautiful surprise when they get to the resort).

The Snow Sculpture Championships feature a variety of other events and activities throughout the few weeks, too. Visitors can stop by Thaw Lounge + Music to learn more about the process of snow sculpting and to socialize, as well as pick up gifts, post cards and trinkets to commemorate the event. Make sure you plan plenty of time to browse the displays and bring a camera. Your friends back home won't believe these snow sculptures.

Fun Facts About the Snow Sculpture Championships

We bet you didn't know these details about the annual event:

  • The massive blocks of snow are built a week in advance of the competition, so they have time to settle and pack down beforehand.
  • The resort makes the snow for the contest — about 320 tons of it.
  • Volunteer “snow-stompers” help compact and pack the snow tightly inside square molds.
  • Artists can’t use any kind of power tools, but they can use manual tools, like spoons, knives, shovels, hand saws, chicken wire, veggie peelers, buckets and even spray bottles (which can help fine-tune details). Some details are shaped and carved by hand (wearing warm gloves packed with hand warmers, of course).

If You Go

You can usually find free parking in the Courthouse Lot, the Barney Ford Lot, the French Street Lot and off Airport Road. From there, you can catch a free ride to the event on a public shuttle.  

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