View more photos from the 2014 carnival at Inland360’s Facebook page.McCALL — As 2014 dawned in McCall, the sound of chain saws on the frozen Payette Lake attracted attention.
Residents watched as blocks of ice, weighing 650 pounds on average, were floated to the shore with sticks onto the forks of a tractor and then loaded onto a trailer. It was no secret they were destined for the local snow sculpting contest. The mystery was what they would become.
McCall has carved a name for itself as a Northwest snow-sculpting capital. Snow, ice and imagination unite each year at the McCall Winter Carnival, where the sculptures are a major attraction for hundreds who visit the resort town for parades, street fairs, fireworks, skiing, sledding and dips in local hot springs.
“It used to be a small-town thing; now it’s a big-town thing,” sculptor Dennis Ackerman, of Cascade, Idaho, says about the carnival’s evolution.
It’s Jan. 23, the day before the 49th annual carnival begins, and Ackerman is sitting in the lap of a massive angel with a wingspan as wide as a small house. It’s one of 25 entries in the local snow sculpting contest themed “World of Wonders.”
It’s big, not only in the number of people who come but the quality of sculptors it attracts, explains Ackerman, who has created sculptures at the carnival for 20 years. World champions are known to test their skills in McCall. In 1992, he created a sculpture with Jerry Snodgrass, who won a 20-nation snow statue contest in Sapporo, Japan, the next month. The Idaho State Snow Sculpting Championship, where sculptors can only use hand tools and snow, is another carnival highlight.
Ackerman walks past a line of drying rubber gloves and into The Mill & Beside the Mill, the restaurant and sports bar that hires him each year. An inside wall is lined with award plaques. His sculpture of Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea took first place in 2003. Another photo shows seven stampeding stallions with ice manes and eyes. The year McCall celebrated its centennial he built two occupied outhouses.
“It’s the best cure for cabin fever to be honest with you,” says Ackerman’s teammate, Christy Kober, of Cascade.
Ackerman estimates they will work until one or two in the morning to finish the sculpture before judging starts at 8 a.m. Friday. “I could always spend another week on it,” he says.
A challenge at this year’s festival is a lack of snow. Some years, sculptors must dig their way into their work. This year it was trucked in from nearby locations, sometimes arriving mixed with gravel, pine needles and dirt that teams tediously removed. The 40-degree high last Thursday was also trouble, melting snow as fast as it was shaped.
On the north end of town, in a tent across the street from the ritzy Shore Lodge, Cascade artist Jeffrey Weston carves a shoebox-sized boat to sail in an ice waterfall reproduction of Niagara Falls. Weston’s 38-foot-long, 28-foot-deep “Mountains and Waterfalls” sculpture also includes detailed dioramas of Multnomah Falls, Machu Picchu and the Landwasser Viaduct.
“It’s the biggest and best I’ve ever done,” says Weston, a Cascade artist who won the 2005 U.S. National Snow Sculpture Championship and has competed in the world ice carving championships five times. He’s been a fixture at the McCall contest for 20 years.
Cars stop frequently at Weston’s tent, but it’s not the only sculpture stopping traffic. At the south end of town, people flock to a life-size pyramid built from 200,000 pounds of lake ice. Blocks removed from the lake weeks ago are now glued together with slush. A pharaoh’s face is sculpted from snow above the pyramid’s entrance. Inside team members carve hieroglyphics into wall panels and shape a sarcophagus illuminated from the inside with LED lights. The sculpture is the work of John Schulz, a professional wood chain saw artist from McCall.
“We’re all local business owners who are bored and have nothing better to do this time of year,” jokes Schulz’s teammate, Ben Ormsby of McCall.
Schulz says “Pharaoh’s Tomb” was the first thing that popped into his head when he heard this year’s theme. “It could last until the Fourth of July if it was covered with 6 feet of snow,” he says.
For eight years in a row Schulz has won the Grand Prize in the local sculpting contest, which comes with a $2,500 cash prize.
“This will be number nine, hopefully,” Ormsby says.
In judging Jan. 24, “Pharaoh’s Tomb” won the Grand Prize and “Guardian Angels Among Us” won Most Photogenic. McCall’s 50th anniversary Winter Carnival is scheduled Jan. 30-Feb. 8, 2015.
if you go
The McCall Winter Carnival continues today through Feb. 2
Events include the 28th annual Idaho Snow Sculpting Championship judging on Friday, Jan. 31, the McCall Starz on Ice Winter Carnival Ice Show on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, live music, a beer garden, and snowshoe golf.
Closing fireworks are 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1.
A compete schedule is available online at: mccallchamber.org