Facilities Management employees moonlight as snow sculptors

Facilities Management employees Garett Dreiling, Andrew Aragon and John Smith pose with their award-winning snow sculpture, Dung beetles also known as “The struggle’s real.”

When most of us see snow falling from the sky and piling up on the driveway, we think about shoveling and sore backs. When Garrett Dreiling sees falling snow piling up, he sees a potential masterpiece.

Dreiling, a project coordinator with Colorado State University Facilities Management Remodel and Construction Services, is an avid snow sculptor. Dreiling and his teammates, which currently include fellow Facilities Management employees John Smith, Andrew Aragon and Steve Carmer, have traveled the state and nation creating artistic masterpieces from blocks of compacted snow.

“I used to joke and tell people I did it for the jackets – Columbia used to be a sponsor and they would give us free jackets,” Dreiling joked. “I sure don’t do it for the money, because there is none. I do it mostly for bragging rights, and because it’s fun.  Honestly, it’s nice to know you put a smile on kids’ faces, and who doesn’t like giving snowmen self-esteem issues.”

Carving art in snow

Randy Amys and Garett Dreiling work on “Creations Dream” at the 2009 International Snow Sculpting Championships in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Dreiling has been hooked on the creative winter activity since he first entered a team competition in 2007. A co-worker who noticed Dreiling’s talent at drawing enlisted his creativity to help the team create a sculpture during the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge. “It was incredible with teams from all over the world,” he recalled. “Before that, I didn’t even know people did this.”

Creating a massive 3-D work of art starts with an idea sketched on paper and a several-ton block of packed snow supplied by the competition. The international competition, for example, supplies 12-foot-tall, 20-ton blocks of snow and allows artists five days to create their masterpieces using hand tools.

The global pandemic has forced the cancellation of many national and international snow sculpting competitions this year, but Dreiling and his team of fellow Rams recently took second place in a statewide competition in Berthoud. The sculpture depicts two hard-working dung beetles rolling a large ball of “dung” with their hind legs. The ball is engraved with 2020. “I couldn’t think of a better way to describe this year besides two dung beetles pushing against a ball of crap,” Dreiling said.

Creativity with tools and weather  

Garett Greiling and Steve Carmer pose in front of “Frozen Sentinel” at the 2017 U.S. Nationals in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Creating a sculpture in snow takes vision, creativity and plenty of funky tools. Competition rules dictate that only hand tools may be used to transform the blocks of snow into 3-D art pieces. Dreiling said he has used “everything from an old antique log saw down to a melon baller” in his sculpting, and that he and his teammates have often created their own tools. The garages, kitchens and junk drawers of snow sculptors are all fair game and many household objects make their way into the artists’ toolboxes. “Cheese graters make good polishers and floor sanding discs work well, too. We’ve often use horse curry combs because they are great for detailing,” he said.

The artists have plenty of leeway when it comes to how they transform a huge block of packed snow – usually natural, but sometimes a combination of natural and manmade snow – into a sculpture, but they have no control over how the weather contributes. Dreiling said he has sculpted in sub-zero temperatures that made the snow as brittle as Styrofoam and has had to constantly adjust his design to accommodate melty snow under a warm winter sun. “You try to plan a sculpture two months in advance and on the day of the event you don’t have any idea what the weather is going to do,” he said.

Recognition and family fun

Throughout the years, Dreiling has been a member of teams that have chalked up some impressive awards. He was part of a team that finished third place at the international championship in Breckenridge and a sculpture of a Colorado cutthroat trout garnered sixth place at the national competition one year. His teams also have finished first in Colorado state championships and have won and placed in several local events.

Dreiling appreciates earning the bragging rights but said the real joy in snow sculpting is the camaraderie with his teammates and the wonderful family atmosphere during the events. He enjoys watching how excited people are to see him work on the sculptures and to see a block of snow transform into a work of art. “It’s for everyone,” he said of his unusual hobby and added that he is introducing a new generation of his family involved. “I’m getting my kids – 10 and 8-year-old twins – started in snow sculpting. After that last big snow, we made a 3-foot-tall Olaf in the front yard.”