From left, Team Alaska members Ken Graham, Michael Yee and Peter Lucchetti post in front of the event banners. Photos courtesy Team Alaska

By JEFF BRADY

Three snow carvers from Skagway’s Team Alaska just returned from a trip to China, where they took third place in the Changbaishan Luneng Resort Ice and Snow Carnival.

The sculpture, “The Last Iceberg”, presented a polar bear perched on the last floe of ice in a climate-changed world, with an array of sea creatures also barely holding on underneath.

“We kept (the design) pretty simple because we didn’t know what was going on in terms of what we could do and how much time we had,” said Peter Lucchetti.

In some ways, it was like their experience in the northeastern province of Jilin, China, very near the border with North Korea.

Lucchetti had participated in two previous events further north in Harbin, China as a guest carver for the Yukon team, but this was the first time Team Alaska and his carving partners Michael Yee and Ken Graham were in the country. The Skagway team was one of 10 selected from a list of 56 applicants around the world to participate in this new event.

It was an “interesting” experience they will never forget.

the Team Alaska sculpture “The Last Iceberg” was topped by a polar bear with a crab, salmon and octopus clinging below. Photos courtesy Team Alaska

If you look up the Changbaishan Luneng Resort on the Internet, you won’t find much – just a few ski resort designs submitted by architects. It’s a fairly new hotel-resort being built by the socialist Chinese government and not yet complete. The team members thought they would be in the beautiful Changbai Mountains, but they were somewhere in the lower reaches. The only ski run the team saw was a small hill with one chairlift.

They were constantly asking, “Where are we?”

The carving teams were not allowed to stay at the resort, and instead were bussed from a more spartan hotel – built of concrete blocks – closer to town. After a breakfast of boiled eggs with no salt, they loaded up on a bus for the hour-long ride to the resort. The bus ride back and forth cut into their carving time.

The team was presented with a 12-foot snow block to carve, small compared to the Chinese crew next to them who were turning a 50-foot block into a temple. The Alaska team was wary of using scaffolding like their counterparts – there had been accidents and deaths from faulty scaffolding in the country, and they could see why. The Chinese crew would climb the tower and slice chunks of snow off and rain them down, sometimes crashing into the scaffolding. It was scary but no one died.

Meanwhile, the Skagway trio worked on their smaller carve about seven hours a day for three days. They are used to working 12 hours or more a day over four days on a single carve and have won prizes from Yellowknife, NWT to Italy.

When they could, they would sneak in an extra half hour of carving during their lunch hour, “but it was hard to get away from lunch (at the resort) because it was the best meal of the day,” Lucchetti said.

A good meal in Jilin province (in the region known as Manchuria) was cooked vegetables with some chicken feet thrown in. And forget about having a beer at the end of the day. The choice for any alcohol was to tap into a selection of vats containing a distilled liquid with these delightful selections lurking on the bottom: ginseng or other roots, maggots, ants, deer blood, dried lizards, snakes.

“There are a lot of things I could experience in the world, but that’s not one of them,” said Yee.

Yee brought his family along and noted that the food was much better further south in Bejing. And they all said the people were wonderful, in spite of the “hamstringing” by their government. It was a strange place to spend Christmas.

Going into the awards ceremony, they all agreed that they wouldn’t win, and then were surprised with the third place prize of about $500. They realized that with more time, maybe they could have won.

Chinese team works high above their rickety scaffolding. Photos courtesy Team Alaska

“It was the toughest carve the team has ever done because of the weird conditions,” Lucchetti said.

“We were doing an underwater piece. We would have added more coral, more underwater life (in the blank spots they had to leave),” he added. “This team can finish a piece like no other. The experience level is amazing, Ken especially… The Canadians taught us that when you finish a piece, you leave no mark that you did not want there, you clean it and make it perfect, and our team is frigging good at that.”

So good that despite the limited time and strange surroundings they got along and never had disputes. Graham said it was a good thing they didn’t try anything harder. What they came up with worked.

Near the end of the carve they were joking that the crab clinging to the bottom of the iceberg “didn’t really look like a king crab, but there’s no marine biologist here,” Lucchetti said.

A little later, “this guy comes up and shakes our hands and he absolutely loves our crab! Then he said he’s a marine biologist.”

Team Alaska will be carving at the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous in Whitehorse Feb. 19-28.