ST. PAUL — When the No. 1 snow-sculpting team from Minnesota was bumped from the national competition over the political theme of its entry, a runner-up was pressed to compete and took first place Saturday, Feb. 2, in Wisconsin.
No one was more surprised than they were.
“It was totally unexpected for me,” said Heather Friedli, 37, of St. Paul. “I had my hands over my face. I was crying when I walked up on stage to get my award.”
To compete in the annual snow-sculpting competition in Lake Geneva, Wis., participants must first win in their home state the year before.
Last year, Friedli and her teammates Jaymie Stocks, of Ely, Minn., and Keith Pederson, of St. Paul, didn’t even place with their butterfly-themed sculpture called “Metamorphosis.”
Dusty Thune’s team won first with “Ascension,” and two other teams won second and third place at the state competition held during the St. Paul Winter Carnival.
So this year, Thune, of St. Paul, was set to compete in the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship in Lake Geneva. Except the organizers weren’t too fond of his planned sculpture’s theme, which took a dim view of President Donald Trump. When Thune refused to change it, he was banned from the competition.
The second- and third-place teams couldn’t go to Lake Geneva, so organizers called up Stocks to see if her team, Dino Fight — named for a previous dinosaur sculpture — could take Thune’s place.
They accepted, with less than a month to plan. They were also down a team member, as Pederson couldn’t go.
It was the first of many obstacles the team would face before winning the championship.
Friedli wanted a former snow-sculpting rival, Adam Turner, to join their team, but he had moved to Arizona. That didn’t matter to him. He hopped on a plane and came up to help out.
Then came the frigid “polar vortex,” which cut a precious day off their sculpting schedule.
“It was minus 27,” Friedli said. “Our eyelashes were freezing together while we were sculpting.”
After that, Friedli’s car got a flat tire. Then a pipe in their hotel froze and caused them to scramble to get their gear out before their room flooded. Then came the injuries.
Friedli cut her finger with a saw. Stocks stabbed her thigh with a chisel. Turner came down with the flu.
“So many things happened! It was epic!” Friedli said.
But the team persisted, crafting a cylinder of snow 8 feet across and 9 feet high with saws, axes, files, shovels and other implements.
The team’s sculpture, titled “Arise from the Storm,” seemed to embody the struggles they had endured to finish. It was a graceful heron preparing to take flight from a stormy sea.
“Herons bring hope,” she said. “We wanted to talk about how even though life gives you all these trials, you can rise up from the storm.”
On the last evening before judging, Friedli walked up onto a balcony and looked over all the sculptures. At that moment, she thought they had a chance to win.
“Unlike a lot of the sculptures, ours was fine art,” she said. “It was a different product than a lot of the others happening here. It set us apart.”
The sculptures are judged by the artists themselves in such a way that they are unable to vote for themselves. Friedli said her team got a near-unanimous vote.
As the temperature suddenly rose to near 40 degrees Saturday, the judging ended just before the heron’s wings fell off.
“I felt like it was the mic drop of snow sculpture,” Friedli said, laughing.
With a national win under their belts, and the organizers planning a world competition next year, Team Dino Fight could go on to be world champions.
“If that’s the case, we will be the team representing Minnesota in the world competition,” she said.