Skagway’s Team Alaska is winding down from two successful snow carving events by carving more snow.
Fresh from competitions that took it to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada and in Whitehorse, Yukon, Team Alaska is bearing down on a project closer to home as it works on the aid station for the annual Buckwheat Ski Classic.
According to Team Alaska member Peter Lucchetti, conditions were perfect in Yellowknife for the “Snowking” competition: almost 40 degrees below.
“With a ten mile-an-hour wind, which was like kissing a freezer door on the inside,” Lucchetti said.
Yellowknife sits on the shores of the Great Slave Lake. According to Lucchetti, each year Yellowknife local Anthony Foliot – known as the eponymous Snowking – would build a snow castle on the frozen lake for his kids. This frozen fortress kept growing in size and intricacy, and other people began helping with its construction. Eventually, the ordeal snowballed into a venue for music and events.
Today, the Snowking features a huge castle that sits on the frozen Great Slave Lake, housing a month’s worth of events, from music to table tennis.
“I would encourage everybody in Skagway to try to get to Yellowknife, it’s a really amazing place,” Lucchetti said.
This was Team Alaska’s third year throwing down in the Snowking, and the third year the Skagway carvers took first prize.
Team Alaska – which includes Skagway residents Ken Graham, Michael Yee and Lucchetti – likes to tell a story with their art and Yellowknife was no exception.
“The Bite of Winter,” the team’s piece in that competition, portrays a literal Old Man Winter taking a chunk out of a log cabin.
“This crew that I’ve got is very good at details,” Lucchetti said. “We carved the cabin so you can look inside of it and see the fireplace in there, and we had windows of frozen ice to let the light in and all that.”
Team Alaska has been working together for enough time that the individual members don’t need to discuss their separate tasks.
“We all have our parts to play on the team, and we all buck up and get through those parts and help each other out where we can,” Yee said. “We just try to stay out of each other’s way and let the snow fly.”
Teams came from all over the world to carve at Yellowknife: China, Austria and the Northwest Territories, as well as one team with a member each from Canada, Mexico and the United States. This eclectic collection of artists provided a steep challenge; Yee said he did not envy the Snowking judges for their jobs.
“To me, it was some of the tightest competition I’ve been in,” Yee said.
Closer to home, Team Alaska also competed in Whitehorse’s yearly Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in February. The regular three members of Team Alaska got an extra hand for this competition, as they were joined by Skagway resident Daniel Papke at the Rendezvous.
“The Kiss” was a first for Team Alaska because it played with themes of sentimentality. Lucchetti said incorporating those feelings was a challenge, because he didn’t know how people would respond.
Team Alaska took the Kid’s Choice, People’s Choice and Artist’s Choice awards, as well as the second-place jury award.
“For us to get the Artist’s Choice Award, we really, really covet that,” Yee said. “To have all the artists that [are] carving around you, with you, say yours was the best. It really means a lot to us.”
Following their success in Yellowknife and Whitehorse, the snow carvers of Team Alaska took their skills and tools up to Canada again, albeit a little closer to home this time.
Since Sunday, March 19, Team Alaska – along with numerous volunteers – have been working hard to create a memorable, expansive snow sculpture around one of the Buckwheat Ski Classic aid stations. Fitting the “Oh, the Places You’ll Ski!” Dr. Seuss theme of the Buckwheat this year, Yee, Lucchetti, Graham and their many helpers a will sculpt a “Whoville” aid station, styled after the whimsical, fictional town from one of author’s popular stories.
This isn’t all the volunteers have been up to north of the United States/Canadian border, however. All week crews have been working to prepare the course for the impending cross-country ski race.
Log Cabin Ski Society President Tim Bourcy said the society has been putting in the trails all winter, so the course has been packed and stacked for a long time preceding the March 25 race.
“There’s about 34 kilometers of ski trail,” Bourcy said. “So a pretty extensive system.”
In an interview two weeks ahead of the race, Bourcy said the workers began to fine-tune the trail Friday, March 17, grading the uneven terrain and leveling the course.
A total of three aid stations, including the Whoville-themed main aid station, were also constructed along the course to aid skiers.
“That requires moving several tons of snow,” Bourcy said. “We have anywhere between 10 and 20 people a day out there.”
Total volunteers each year is over 100 between race support and the Buckwheat itself, Bourcy said. Volunteers come from both sides of the border, with citizens from both countries contributing their time and energy to help facilitate the event.
Start times for the Buckwheat are as follows: 50k, 10 a.m.; 25k, 10:15 a.m.; 10k, 10:30 a.m. The kids’ race begins at 11:30 a.m. Bib pickup and late registration is on March 24 in Skagway at AB Hall. Following the race, an awards dinner will be held at the Skagway Recreation Center at 5 p.m. Awards will follow at 7 p.m., with live music in downtown Skagway kicking off after 8:30 p.m. at Happy Endings Saloon and Skagway Brewing Co.