Mix three people, one vision and a hunk of snow measuring 6-foot by 6-foot by 10-foot and over four days in January whimsical and serious works of art appear right before your eyes.
For 22 years, the Illinois Snow Sculpting Competition has called Rockford home, producing champions who go on to represent Illinois successfully across the nation and world.
The competition draws in an estimated 70,000 visitors who brave the elements to walk or drive through the frozen art gallery. (Be warned, there are uphill areas in the park.)
"I like the fact that you see this amazing art come out. It just overwhelms you, out of snow of all things," says Vance Barrie, public relations coordinator for the Rockford Park District, which oversees the competition.
"It’s such a family-friendly event," says Barrie, who has been involved with the competition since its first year. "It’s art, but it’s also an outdoor event."
He recommends families plan their visit Saturday morning of the competition so they can see the final touches being made (the pieces must be finished by 10 a.m.) and get a chance to talk to the artists.
"It’s like going through an art gallery. You see things, but you don’t get to savor them as much. It’s a better experience that way, if possible," Barrie says.
Up to 16 state teams and up to 16 high school teams are expected to compete this year. The sculptures remain in place until they are deemed unsafe or unsightly—sometimes just the weekend if the weather is warm or for several weeks if the weather is frosty.
Some families make visiting the competition a mini-vacation, seeing the snow sculptures periodically while also taking in the nearby museums such as the Burpee Museum of Natural History or Discovery Center Museum or playing at the CoCo Key Water Resort.
The 22nd annual Illinois Snow Sculpting Competition will be held Jan. 16-19 at Sinnissippi Park, 1401 N. 2nd St., Rockford. Teams compete for the right to represent Illinois in the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition. The event is free and the sculptures are lit at night.