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Wisconsin team wins U.S. snow sculpting competition



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Team Wisconsin with their winning snow sculpture. (click for larger version)
February 09, 2011 | 09:01 AM
There is no way Winterfest and the U.S. Snow Sculpting Competition can be snowed out.

Dave Berg, president of Winterfun Inc., the Shorewood company that runs the competition, assured a Winterfest visitor that there is no blizzard big enough to stop the annual celebration of all things winter.

Last week, from Wednesday to noon Saturday, 15 champion snowsculpting teams from 10 states grabbed their chisels, brushes, saw blades, shovels and improvised sculpting tools to 15 three-ton cylindrical blocks of snow, each about 10-feet tall.

And that was a good thing. Because Mother Winter dropped a whole lot of snow on Lake Geneva during the start of the snow sculpting competition last week.

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The cylinders are spaced around the Riviera on the Lake Geneva lakefront. The sculptures will stand until nature washes and melts them away in preparation for next year's competition.

Wisconsin and Illinois were well-represented with four and three teams respectively, while other teams came from Minnesota, New York, Vermont, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Iowa, Maine and Alaska.

In the end, Wisconsin team 3, brothers Chris and David Andrews and Jack Lullo, all of Milwaukee, took the championship with their sculpture "Mercury Racing Pegasus," showing the fleet-footed god and the flying horse breaking the tape with their well-sculpted pecs at the end of their mythical contest.

Included with the first place award was $3,000 toward travel for the team to the international snow sculpting competition.

The international competition is scheduled for January 2012 in Breckenridge, Colo.

Lullo said this is the team's fourth national championship. He said the team has sculpted in international competitions in Chicago, Maine and Italy.

Chris Andrews was wearing a badge of honor, a bandage on his nose. Andrews said he suffered the wound from the end of a chisel that was being used to shape their sculpture.

"You're cold and tired and you get careless," said Andrews, who noted that the injury, once properly treated, didn't slow him down.

Andrews and Lullo said this year's winter temperatures were perfect for sculpting.

After years of inclement weather, including rain, temperatures in the 50s and subzero cold, this year's Winterfest was blessed with almost perfect temperatures, they said.

And then there was plenty of snow. Sculptors use artificial snow, trucked in from the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. But starting Tuesday, Feb. 1, the competition area was quickly covered by the natural kind. The kind that comes out of the sky hour after hour and piles up to 19 or 20 inches.

The natural snow has a different texture and composition from the artificial snow, which would complicate the carving process.

Lullo said that while the temperatures were appreciated, the natural snow had to be brushed off the artificial snow the artists were sculpting.

Chris Andrews said they had to clear an accumulation of four feet of snow off the top of their cylinder before they could even start carving.

The national champions are chosen by the competitors themselves, who vote for sculptures other than their own as first, second and third.

This year, the vote was very close, according to George Hennerley, executive vice president of the Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce, who hosts the awards ceremony.

Taking second place was Wisconsin team 1, Neal Vogt, Chris Vogt and Jay Dietz. Their sculpture, called "Davy Jones' Locker," shows the cursed, skeletal captain sitting next to his sunken hulk, which is attracting the the attention of a giant octopus.

Visitors to Winterfest also voted "Davy Jones' Locker" as the People's Choice.

Third place went to Team Alaska, Gary Keeton, Gary Lyon and Lester Babcock. Their sculpture shows a giant mythical bird in flight, its wings protecting two native dancers, in "Dance of the Axcagun."

"How do you like your snow now, Lake Geneva," Berg asked the crowd assembled at the awards ceremony on Saturday.

The crowd cheered its approval.

Berg praised the courage of the out of state competitors who had to travel through blizzard conditions by plane, car and bus to get Lake Geneva.

In what might have been a first, one of the snow sculptors also got down on his knee to offer a ring and proposed marriage.

Les Babcock, of Team Alaska, made his offer to a surprised Mary Miller, now of Anchorage and formerly of Lake Geneva. The tearful Miller accepted Babcock's offer. The bride-to-be was true to her Wisconsin roots, wearing Packers colors for the Super Bowl game.

Estimates of visitors to the festival were not yet ready at press time, but a visitor said it took about a half hour for her to work her way from the front door of the Riviera to the sidewalk on Cook Street.

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