By Julia Tellman, TETON VALLEY NEWS
The Team Tetonia snow sculptors, after taking first place at Driggs Snowscapes, traveled to Japan last month to compete in the International Snow Sculpture Contest at the Sapporo Snow Festival.
Sculptor Natalie Clark, who has a studio in the old church in Tetonia, received an offer to go to Japan and enlisted her friend and local artist Jan Tice, as well as Italian sculptor Cristiano Benassi. They needed a municipal sponsor and Tetonia mayor Gloria Hoopes was happy to endorse them.
“Suddenly the event’s magnitude came over me,” Clark said. “So we entered Snowscapes to see how the idea came out and how we worked as a team.”
They worked well together, it turned out. Team Tetonia sculpted a smaller version of the Medusa head they had planned for Sapporo and took first place.
Then they headed to Japan. Clark described the scene as a massive event that millions of people attended. There were vendors, performances, and a giant ski ramp in the festival. Competitors worked on their snow and ice carvings in the big park that spanned the center of downtown Sapporo.
The team of three took four days, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., using only hand tools, to build a Medusa head half again the size of the Driggs version. Clark said the temperature was colder and more consistent than it had been for Snowscapes, which saw wind and rain that disrupted sculpting. The real challenge in Sapporo when working such long days was staying dry. Fortunately there was an onsen or hot springs nearby that stayed open until midnight.
In the first few days, other competitors viewed Team Tetonia as the underdogs. It was the only team with two women, and while other teams had pristine tools, Clark said they were “the Browse’n’Buy gang,” with well-loved tools borrowed from Tye Tilt. Matching coats donated by Stio and accessories from Habitat and Yostmark helped them look more legitimate.
Many of the other teams were made up of professional ice carvers who worked in restuarants or hospitality and traveled around the world competing in carving contests.
“We realized we were playing with the big boys now,” Clark said. “This is all they do all day long.”
As the Medusa head began to reveal itself, other teams took notice. Clark thinks that the sculpture stood out because it was a good idea with very technical execution.
“It was something they hadn’t seen before,” she explained. “It has these insane floating snake heads, and the back was as detailed as the front.”
The team beat several experienced international teams and took third place out of 12, much to their excitement.
“It was both exhausting and exhilarating,” Clark said. “It was an honor to do it and we couldn’t be happier or prouder with our bronze.”