Best in Snow

February 29, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

They may call it the "quiet side" of the Tetons, but it hasn't exactly been quiet in the Teton Valley over the past two weeks as some beloved winter activities have taken place: sled dog races, skijoring, and snow sculpting.

Normally some of these events - like the annual Snow Sculpting competition in Driggs, Idaho - would have occurred earlier in the winter. However, January was a light month for snowfall thanks to the El Niño weather pattern, so the action was re-scheduled to February.

Fortunately, Mother Nature cooperated by providing enough fresh powder in the nick of time: more than 30 tons of snow must be harvested from roads in the area to create the "canvas" for each team of artists. Just as fortunate, the participants and all those who pitch in to make the competition happen were flexible regarding their calendars. 

Participating this year were 30 professional artists representing six national competition teams from Idaho, Wyoming and Oregon. A seventh team was comprised of students from South Fremont High School in St. Anthony, Idaho. The latter was mentored by a three-time Driggs Snowscapes winner and pro sculptor.

Each team begins with a huge cube of highly compressed snow. This stuff is heavy. A petite one-foot-square cube can weigh as much as 20 pounds; the cubes for the Driggs event are many times larger than that at roughly eight-feet square.

Tools vary from artist to artist. You'll see things like shovels, spades, ladders, and chalk string; all types of saws; chisels, gouges and hatchets; ice chippers; brooms and buckets; sandpaper; and some really interesting handmade tools used for fine finishing (like smoothing or to create texture).

The competition began on Monday morning and the teams had to have their pieces completed by Friday at 10pm when time was called.

Judging took place the following day, when the town hosted a block party. There were three categories: People's Choice, Kids' Choice, and Artists' Choice. During the block party there was also a quick-sculpt competition where eight community artists were given two hours to create something out of a 3x3x4 sq ft block of snow. They were limited to just five non-electric tools each.

This mini-event is a crowd favorite.

The winning sculpture in the main event is the one pictured throughout this post. It was a clean sweep, taking first place in all three categories: People's, Kids' and Artists' Choice (it was my favorite, too).

"Camp Robbers" by Team Wyoming (Laramie)
Alison Arnold - Team Captain
Nathan Snowbarger
Victoria Snowbarger
Melita Zuck
Canon Randall

Here's how they described it: "A couple have left their Valentine's picnic to take a stroll. Meanwhile, the gray jay and the chipmunk have brought their sweethearts to enjoy the unattended feast."

It was beautiful!

Odds and Ends

The park service this week announced system-wide numbers as well as park-by-park attendance totals for 2023. Nobody who lives in this area and frequents YNP and GTNP was surprised to learn that a lot of people came through here last year.

Yellowstone hosted more than 4.5 million recreational visits - the second busiest year on record and a 37% increase over 2022. Remember, there was a flood in 2022 which impacted visitation. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the respite...

Meanwhile, Grand Teton National Park hosted more than 3.4 million recreational visits, a 22% increase. Peak months shifted from June, July and August to July, August and September. I can attest from personal experience that it was weirdly busy in October, too.

NPS units in aggregate saw a 4% increase in visits year-over-year.

In weather news, the Tetons are under a winter storm watch through Saturday. Grand Targhee is reporting 118 inches base depth at the summit, with 322" on the season. Jackson Hole has 99 inches at the summit and reports 326" on the season.


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