Canadian snow carvers to compete at international contest in Sweden

A sea monster sculpted in snow by Niki Mckenzie, Kris Schlagintweit, Cat McGurk and Laura Bain at the Snowking Winter Festival in March 2021. Mckenzie and Schlagintweit were chosen to compete as one of six teams at the Kiruna International Snow Sculpture Competition in Sweden between Jan. 26 and 30. (Photo submitted by Niki Mckenzie)

When Anthony Foliot, also known as the Snowking, found out about an international snow carving competition in Sweden last spring, he told Niki Mckenzie and her carving partner Kris Schlagintweit they should apply.

“It was a bit of a process,” said Mackenzie.

The duo that has been creating snow sculptures at the Yellowknife Snow Castle for the past five years had to submit an expression of interest, give a design of the sculpture they’ll make, submit a “snow resume” — “It’s the first time I’ve ever had to do anything like that,” said Mckenzie, chuckling — send pictures of their work and get letters of support.

But it paid off.

Mckenzie and Schlagintweit are heading to Sweden next month to compete at the Kiruna Snow Festival’s international snow sculpture competition, which attracts some of the best artists in the world.

“It’s a bit of a shock,” said Mckenzie. “I’m from New Zealand. I hadn’t even seen snow before coming here. This is a pretty huge change for me.”

Mckenzie and Schlagintweit will form one of only six teams at the competition, which runs Jan. 26 to 30.

Niki Mckenzie with carving tools. Mckenzie says she and her snow carving partner have been doing rigorous exercise training for the snow carving competition. (Photo submitted by Niki Mackenzie)

Mckenzie said she’s also excited to visit the festival’s ice hotel.

“Their ice hotel is almost as famous as our snow castle,” she joked.

“I’m really, really excited to see the different techniques and styles that they use over there.”

She said for the competition, she and Schlagintweit will carve Whaitiri, the equivalent of the goddess of thunder in Maori mythology.

“She’s very powerful, very determined and seems to huck a lightning bolt to people that she doesn’t like,” said Mckenzie.

“So we’re going to have this beautiful entity sitting on her long flowing hair that’ll be carved in the style of amori stone sculpture, holding a thunderbolt,”

She added the sculpture will be carved out of a block of snow 10 feet by 10 feet by 10 feet.

“I believe it’s the largest piece of snow I have ever carved, ” said Mckenzie.

“I’m intimidated for sure. Kris and I have both been doing a rigourous exercise regime. We’ve got wood chopping and stacking and a dozen pushups every morning trying to get in shape for it.”

Snow carver Niki Mckenzie working on the admission centre at the Yellowknife Snow Castle in March 2020. (Submitted by Niki Mckenzie)

While Mckenzie is excited about the upcoming trip, she’s also nervous about travelling given the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My family is all the way in New Zealand, and I haven’t been able to see them for the past two years because the borders have been closed and I’m concerned,” she said.

“But Kris and I are both double vaxxed and we’re planning on getting our boosters. So … follow the rules and be sensible. We’re going to be outside for most of the time wearing hopefully a lot of warm clothes. I’m not too worried about breathing on people.”

Ultimately, Mckenzie said, she’s hoping for one thing.

“I just hope we do our snow team back here proud.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Arctic: Inuit artists in their own words, Eye on the Arctic

Canada: “Art was like a therapy for me” — Canadian artist Manasie Akpaliapik reflects on work, life & his solo exhibition in Quebec City, Eye on the Arctic

Greenland: Nunavut children’s books translated for circulation in Greenland’s schools, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: How not to promote Arctic tourism – Why Finland’s Indigenous Sami say marketing their region needs to change, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Walt Disney Animation Studios to release Saami-language version of “Frozen 2”, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Can cross-border cooperation decolonize Sami language education?, Eye on the Arctic 

United States: Inuit leaders applaud UN move to designate International Decade of Indigenous, Eye on the Arctic

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