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The Dartmouth
February 24, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Snow sculpture faces challenges

Student volunteers completed work on this year’s Winter Carnival snow sculpture yesterday following some difficulty recruiting students, snow sculpture chair Ben Nelson ’17 said. Located in the center of the Green, this year’s sculpture — inspired by the theme “A Clash of Carnivals: Superheroes vs. Villains” — is of an uncopyrighted superhero, he said.

Students have built a sculpture for Winter Carnival since the 1920s, with one of the first being of a snow castle on Occom Pond.

In the past, low snowfall and unpleasant weather was at times a challenge for volunteer turnout, though it never prevented its construction.

Last year’s snow sculpture chair Ben Geithner ’16 said that it was a challenge recruiting people to build then as well.

“The beginning step, getting it up, is not glamorous,” he said. “We never expected that much help.”

He added, however, that as the sculpture progressed, more students volunteered.

“Once we started carving it, people wanted to help more,” he said. “We had the same problems as this year — you have to publicize it a lot.”

Winter Carnival Council advisor Joe Castelot said Nelson proposed the idea for the sculpture in early January, and after getting the appropriate permits and design approvals, construction began a few weeks ago.

Students shovelled snow on the Green to ensure they had enough for the sculpture in case snowfall was low this year, Castelot said. While the amount of snow was not ultimately an issue, the Dartmouth Skiway provided some additional snow, he said.

In recent years, weather has threatened sculpture construction. In 2012, temperatures just above freezing and low snowfall caused setbacks for the construction team.

The snow sculpture committee for that year also brought in snow from the Dartmouth Skiway, though in other years snow was brought from outlying fields around campus.

In 2013, the sculpture was built with snow from athletic fields and ice rink shavings trucked to the Green.

In 2014, last minute snowfall aided construction of the sculpture after a “January thaw” of rain, sleet and warmer weather. The committee also brought in snow from the Dartmouth Skiway.

Last year, the sculpture depicted a throne to coincide with the “Carnival of Thrones” theme.

In 2013 it depicted Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf for the “A Very Grimm Carnival” theme. The 2012 sculpture was a cupcake for the “Carnival in Candyland” theme.

In past years, there have been several obstacles in the form of extreme weather conditions. In 1955, the Carnival sculpture, which showed an Inuit riding a whale, endured far beyond the weekend’s events due to excessively cold temperatures. The sculpture ultimately had to be destroyed with dynamite in the spring .

Unusually warm weather caused the 1997 sculpture of a knight on a horse to melt, and the sculpture was instead transformed into a knight’s funeral.

Past sculptures depicted Dartmouth-associated figures like a 37-foot sculpture of College founder Eleazar Wheelock and the 30-foot tall sculpture of the Cat in the Hat to honor Theodore Geisel’s 100th birthday. The tallest sculpture was a 47.5-foot snowman.

Nelson said the process starts with building the foundation of the piece by using a large wooden frame to pack and freeze snow into a solid block for carving. He said he has been working on the sculpture for around eight hours a day, working more hours closer to its completion.

While creating the sculpture takes a significant amount of time, Nelson said he decided to be the sculpture chair because he cares about the tradition behind it.

Alumni council president Louis Spelios ’95 said that the snow sculpture is an iconic Dartmouth symbol for many alumni.

“There is so much tradition and memory there for so many people,” Spelios said. “To see the sculpture on the Green is very special. As you come into Hanover, it’s the perfect thing to see.”

He said that the snow sculpture is “an intangible draw” for all alumni, especially for those who remember being involved with the building of the sculpture as students.

Allison Carswell ’17, who helped with the sculpture last year, said she is always surprised at sculpture’s large size. She said that while she enjoyed working on it last year, helping to build it is not something she feels she needs to do each year.

Jules Hislop ’17 and Hirsh Elhence ’17 both said the sculpture reflected the theme well.

Marisol Meyer ’18 said she thinks the sculpture is “symbolic of all the effort that students put into Carnival.”

Hannah Nolan ’16 said that she thinks this year’s sculpture is a “huge improvement” from the 2013 sculpture.

Kelsey Flower contributed reporting.