The towns of Camden, Freeport and Falmouth all held snow sculpting competitions in recent years. But those events fizzled out, and now Maine lacks a qualifier for the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition, an event in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, that draws 60,000 spectators.

Maine artists are hoping the snow sculpting event that took place in Waterville this weekend will grow into Maine’s next qualifier for the national championships.

The model in New England for these big tourist draws is the qualifying event in Jackson, New Hampshire, which has taken place for 18 years. The event at Black Mountain ski area showcases 15 teams of artists and attracts 3,000 tourists.

The winner of the New Hampshire state championship qualifier gains entry into the national championship event.

“I’ve competed in the one in Jackson five times. The last day in Jackson, there are tons of people there,” said artist Serena Sanborn, the organizer of the Waterville event. “Most of the time, (artists) make art in our homes. But snow sculpting is very social. People stop to ask you questions while you’re working.”

The U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition in Wisconsin brings in 15 teams of artists who won state championships in their states and sculpt from 9-foot tall snow blocks over three days, including into the night. Qualifying events take place in 12 states, including Alaska, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, New York and Vermont.

In Anchorage, Alaska; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Breckenridge, Colorado, as many as 100,000 spectators come to see the massive snow structures.

Other artists outside Maine hope the Waterville event becomes a qualifying event so Maine can continue to send teams to the national competition and Mainers can showcase these large, elaborate sculpted art forms.

“I have been associated with this since the last century. I’ve been associated with international competition in Russia, in Finland. I helped create the Olympic event in Calgary,” said Don Berg, founder of the U.S. Nationals in Wisconsin.

“We are interested in your success in Maine. These events have a collective energy and one basic attitude: Passion.”

Amanda Bolduc of Skowhegan has competed at nationals and placed as high as third in 2017 with her team. She also won the People’s Choice Award in 2017 with her mom, Cathy Thompson, and artist Paul Warren.

Bolduc also has placed several times at the U.S. National Sand Sculpting Championship in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, where she won the advanced amateur class in 2010.

She described snow sculpture as intense, therapeutic and an amazing way to interact with nature.

“The premise is the same with snow as for sand, except rather than adding, you subtract what you don’t want. But snow is much more forgiving,” said Bolduc, 43. “We’ve worked until 2 a.m. at nationals, then gone to bed for three hours and gone back to work until 11 a.m. If you can have a vision, and sculpt and subtract what you don’t need, you can visualize the final form.”

She’s used to having anywhere from 50 to 100 people watching her sculpt. But Bolduc said the work is so intense, she barely notices spectators.

Bolduc home-schools her three children, so she has no time for sculpting at home. But when her family spends each November in Florida, she loses herself in sand sculpting.

She hopes one day to advance to the masters class in sand sculpting, an honor held by only a few hundred people around the world.

“I’m the only Mainer who sculpts with sand in the national competition,” Bolduc said.

As a member of one of the three teams that sculpted in the Waterville event, Bolduc is hoping that a snow sculpting national qualifying event will be established in Maine, so that the state can be represented every year at nationals.

“These events draw 50,000 to 100,000 people,” said Bolduc, a Bingham native. “It would be great if Maine had this kind of arts festival. Even the event in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, draws 40,000 in the dead of winter.”

 

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