Harbin Ice and Snow 2020

Harbin Ice and Snow is the world’s largest cold weather carving event, 18 million people visited the festival in 2019. It is generally regarded by sculptors as the pinnacle of ice and snow competitions, an honor just to be invited/accepted to participate.

On a whim I decided to put a team of people I had worked with in the past. Who’d think that a team who had never worked together would make a successful application? Most of the teams are national teams and I thought it might help us to be an international team, not just international but each member from a different continent.

So, I contacted some friends and everyone was excited to give it a go. Gerard Motondi from Kenya (Africa), Beata Rostas from Hungary (Europe), Dang Dam Lai from Vietnam (Asia) and I from Canada (North America).

To our delight our application was accepted and then the rat race of getting visas, plane tickets etc began. None of us had time to spend on a model specially for the application so I photographed one that I had on hand and the group agreed that it would be a good one, so did the selection committee!

This was going to be some fun, Beata, Gerard and Lai had never seen a buffalo, Gerard had never even seen snow!

However all three of them are highly accomplished sculptors (PhD,  MFA and MFA) so I wasn’t worried at all. Our goal was just to participate and realize a sculpture that the public would enjoy.

The next month was an administrative nightmare. Visas take time to process. Over 150 emails to organizers and team members later we were ready to go.

Well, I thought we were ready to go. About the middle of December Lai contacted us with the sad news that his father was very ill and he would not be able to come. My sister from Calgary was our designated alternate and had just enough time to get her visa.

The Event






Here’s Brontie with our luggage, looks like a lot for two people for a weekend but warm clothes for the Kenyan and ourselves plus tools took up the biggest suitcases we could find. Careful packing kept us under weight limits by about 1 pound per bag.




We left Calgary on Thursday and flew out of Harbin early Tuesday morning, Fri, Sat, Sun and ½ of Monday were for sculpting. With a thirty five hour flight there we were completely burnt out and jet lagged but the adrenalin kicked in the moment we were taken on a tour of Ice World on Thursday night. We didn’t have near enough time to tour the whole site, we only had an hour but we did get to see the winning ice sculpture…….by a Canadian!!

Everything that is lit in the photos is made from ice, millions of pounds of it. The site covered the size of a small city I’m sure.


On Friday morning we arrived at Snow World to all of the blocks and were anxious to find ours. The snow sculpture venue was completely separate from Ice World, a day wouldn’t be enough to take in the whole event. At $75 per person Ice & Snow generates 1.3 billion dollars in admissions alone. Imagine the amount total with meals and hotels thrown in to the equation.



There were 29 teams in our round of competition, there had already been one round in December with about the same number of teams so there were close to 30 sculptures that were already completed on the site. Some events provide round blocks, these were cubic and 3mX3mX4m high.

Besides the awe created by participating in such an event the meals and accommodation were out of the world. Our group of 126 sculptors took up the whole executive wing of an incredible hotel.


The breakfast and supper buffets featured foods from around the world in a dining room reserved for the participants, it was incredible



Lunches were a simple affair (not). Thank goodness, we needed all the time we could find for carving. Everyone had to stop when the buses arrived to take us back to the hotel in the evening around 7pm. On the last day, we found out we could have stayed at work instead of going for lunch which would have given us an extra hour of carving each day, but it all worked out. The food was delicious, good comradery and we completed our sculpture inside the time allowed, just barely.

This large snow sculpture was right in front of our work site. These are absolutely huge, would I ever like to get in on one of these carves sometime. I was told they are made by teams of thirty working for a month. Pretty sure I could get a team of thirty together but would have to start organizing six months ahead.

I guess I’d call these Pegasus Unicorns

This lady emitted a pleasant feeling. It was easy to get distracted when walking to the artists’ lounge or restrooms but couldn’t let that happen. I was snapping shots as I walked.

Some tools are specially made for sculpting snow, others are adaptions, like; the cheese graters, the curry comb (for combing horses), the garden trowel and fork. We also used spoons from the dining room (which we returned) and I made some large carving loops at home before we went over.

When your glove is frozen into your tool it’s time to go to the lounge to warm it up.

We are always thinking about having limited time to complete, working with two tools at the same time helps.

If I had a dollar for every photograph….. Symposia bring out the photographer in everyone and brings out lots of photographers too. Security guards keep the general public from coming into the site and interrupting people working but photographers are allowed to come in to take pictures.

I thought this one of bears was wonderful.

A couple of cool buffalo sculptors, Brontie taking a break in the lounge and Dr. Rostas carving hair detail with a garden weeder and dinner knife. We don’t pay a lot of attention to fashion and we use whatever tool works for the job.

The team from Indonesia created an intricate head dress, pushing the medium.

I loved the movement created in the hair of these dancing ladies and horses in the wind.

How many fairy tales can you pick out in this one? I apologize to all of the teams that I can’t identify, they all deserve recognition for their outstanding work.

Day by day our sculpture moved forward, Harbin is in the far north of China so it was getting dark about 5pm, we worked until 7 by headlight and the lamps provided.

I know this team was from India, and they know my friend Chander Parkash. Kind of a surprise as there is 1.3 billion people in India.

On Monday morning we weren’t sure if we’d complete by 1:00. I took the horns, Brontie and Gerard did eyes and Beata went hard on hair.

In the last minutes, when we knew we had “got er done”, it was time to relax and have fun…..enjoy our work.

All of the other teams were also finished, it was so nice to take a few minutes and check out the fantastic works.

A snail driving a race car, how cool is he?

How about an octopus riding on a snail?

This tribute to horses killed in war was very complex

Some photos before we had to get on the bus and go back to the hotel for the closing ceremonies. Bye to our buffalos, hoping people enjoy them and their message.


The Power of Nature”

Aritist’s Statement

The world is facing many challenges now, if we took direction from nature we could help change the direction of events that will affect the world in the future. We chose the buffalo as a symbol of a powerful force in nature.

The assistants/ interpreters were awesome, each team had one assigned to them. Ours was “Kevin”, second from the left. He worked with our team from our initial application in November, assisting from afar to make sure we got our visas right through to delivering us to the airport to head back home. Thanks so much to all of the organizers, event officials, assistants and hotel staff. You made our participation a very special time for us and fostered hopes of returning in the future.

Participation was a huge reward in itself, we had no expectation of taking home any hardware. What a surprise when we were called to the stage and presented with medals for “Excellence in Sculpture” I had to post this video just because  Beata’s excitement was too cute. She has created sculptures, literally around the world, but she reacted like this was her first big achievement.

After the formalities were finished organizers encouraged everyone to showcase their talents. Who would have guessed Beata doubles as a nightingale? Well, I knew it as I’ve worked with her in the past, I sure hope I have the chance to hear her sing again.

After a very late night and getting up much too early in the morning we posed together in our “Atti2ude Club” Harbin Ice and Snow team jackets with promises to work together again, I’m sure we will.

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