For 10 years the epitome of Western winter spirit has been captured in Teton Valley’s annual snow-sculpting event, Driggs Snowscapes.

This year it’s having a showdown. With snow. And with the pandemic.

Driggs Snowscapes is usually a competition that takes place over five long, intense days, with professional snow sculptors scrambling to carve masterpieces from their mercurial medium.

The year’s 10th anniversary party will carve a new path, with one theme and most of the artists coming from Teton Valley’s own Teton High School and North Fremont High School, which serves the Ashton, Idaho, area.

Together the groups will create a larger-than-life winter snow scene called “Showdown in Snow Town.”

Driggs Snowscapes has historically been a competitive event, but Alison Brush, executive director for the Downtown Driggs Association, said there has always been a sense of camaraderie among the artists, with the pros mentoring the less-experienced teams, sharing their knowledge, techniques, even their tools.

“Hundreds of school children typically come on field trips to watch the sculptors, talk to the artists and try their hand sculpting,” Brush said.

This year the pandemic had its say in who would be shaping the snow.

“During COVID, in January 2021, our local sculptors did the first exhibition-style of Driggs Snowscapes,” Brush said, an extra-large sculpture that shifted the concept from competition to public art installation.

“Without any out-of-town teams this year,” she said, “several of our experienced local snow sculptors met to discuss how to create a collection of sculptures with a theme. They came up with the Western snow village with a variety of sculptures within that landscape.”

Armed with the tools of the trade — which include horse grooming implements, cheese graters, snow saws, Pulaskis, rakes or any garden implement that features a metal edge, along with weed sprayers and weed burners to soften the compacted snow — the snow artists will create a townscape featuring several storefronts, two polar bears shooting it out, a stagecoach, a walrus and some dancing penguins.

Teton and North Fremont high school squads — led by Teton high’s Katie Cavallaro and Ashton’s Janine Davidson — have competed in the annual contest for at least five years, Brush said. In 2020 the student team Teton Toadstools took home an honorable mention for “Papa’s a Funghi.” This year Katrina Hanxleden, North Fremont’s new art teacher, will bring six students to Snowscapes. Snowscapes’ title sponsor, Teton Valley Resort, in Victor, will provide housing for the students for the week. Teton High School’s Cavallaro will join five of her students each day after school to sculpt.

A good design is not the only requirement for a good snow sculpture.

“Clean snow,” Brush said, “without any organic material. Gray skies, so the sun doesn’t melt the snow. Good tools — often handmade to use for everything from sawing large blocks to fine work and finishing.”

Driggs Snowscapes was founded by Driggs glass-blowing couple Ralph Mossman and Mary Mullaney. They still moonlight on teams to assist on anything from packing down the snow forms to working the final hours to the finish. Other experienced locals assist the student teams, such as veterans Tye Tilt, Doug Cassidy, Jane Linville and Katie Knipe. Billie Dow, from Billings, Montana, is an established snow and sand artist who has been sculpting in Driggs from the beginning.

“All of these sculptors are past Driggs Snowscapes winners,” Brush said, “and some have competed in state championships and nationals.”

The hours that go into creating sculptures are a race against time and the elements. Carvers work eight to 10 hours a day, no matter the weather. Form-building and snow-moving began this past week. A crew from Avail Construction built large boxes from concrete forms then dumped some 30 tons of clean snow in the plaza to be packed into the forms.

Snow carving begins Monday, and sculptures will be complete by Jan. 21. On Jan. 22 the final works will be unveiled at 9 a.m., and voting will wrap up at 4 p.m.

The Driggs City Center Plaza will be lighted until 10 p.m. throughout the week so sculptors can work into the night and spectators can watch the silvery flakes fly. Some people come through daily, Tilt said.

“A lot of people come from Jackson, and people come two or three times to see the progress,” he said. “If you catch them on a break — because it is very hard work — all the artists want to talk about their design and process.”

Visit DriggsSnowscapes.org for more information and to vote for this year’s winning sculpture. 

“Clean snow, without any organic material. Gray skies, so the sun doesn’t melt the snow. Good tools.” — Alison Brush on what snow-sculpting requires

Contact Tibby Plasse via 732-7078 or entertainment@jhnewsandguide.com.

Since moving to Jackson Hole in 1992, Richard has covered everything from local government and criminal justice to sports and features. He currently concentrates on arts and entertainment, heading up the Scene section.

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