Photos and article by Jeremy Benson

Yesterday morning, dozens of youthful artists rose before the sun, donned longjohns, snowpants, doubled-up wool socks and Thinsulate gloves, and made their way across snow-covered roads to Michigan's Little Bavaria, to compete in the High School Snow Sculpting Competition at Zehnder's Snowfest.

Each team began the competition with an intimating ten-foot high, five-foot square block of compressed snow, staring down at them in the parking lot behind Frankenmuth's River Place shopping center. Using a barrage of utensils—some specifically designed for the peculiar medium, while others, like a section of barbed wire and a cheese grater, not—teams from high schools across Mid-Michigan slowly chipped and sawed away at the monstrous frozen cubes.

The teams have been preparing for weeks, and in some cases months, for the two-day competition, meeting after school and during lunch to discuss snow removal strategies and to develop scale models or detailed drawings of their sculpture. Dana Cole, a senior from Heritage High School in Saginaw Township, used her experience from last year's competition— her school's first—to aide her team's design process. "We have more negative space, holes and tunnels, this year. The judges look for that."

The team from Freeland High, however, decided to avoid negative space in their sculpture, after warm weather threatened to melt and collapse sculptures in the 2009 competition. Instead, they put more thought into creating an original design. "We knew what we wanted to do early," says Cody Maracet, "but we didn't decide some of the specifics until two and a half weeks later."

Maracet's teammate Tessa Poag thinks their 2010 design, compared to last year's, "is much more intricate. It offers a lot more challenges." Like Heritage, Freeland is in their second year of competition.

Today the students will once again face negative wind chills, continuing to make small changes and touch up details on their sculptures. This evening, judges will make their final decision, awarding the winning carvers the chance to compete against professionals in the 2011 State of Michigan contest.

Though the artists may only be seen in action through this evening, the snow sculptures will be on display throughout the weekend.

Besides the High School, State of Michigan and International Snow Sculpting Competitions, activities at Zehnder's Snowfest include a Karoake contest, ice sculpting exhibits, an icy putt putt golf course, and a fireworks display. For information on these and other Snowfest events, visit the Snowfest website.

© Jeremy Benson, 2010