You probably already know that no two snowflakes are exactly alike. But head to Navy Pier, and you'll see that sculptures made out of snow are just as unique.
Each year at Snow Days Chicago, 15 teams of professional sculptors carve 10-foot-tall blocks of ice into elaborate creations, everything from architectural wonders to mythical beasts. The teams, who come from as far away as India, plan their sculptures ahead of time, but have 3½ days to complete the work of art.
Teams have nature to contend with, since January in Chicagoland can range from clear and frigid to murky and just plain cold. Fortunately, the blocks of snow are made ahead of time by using a ski-resort-style snow gun, which shoots the pre-frozen snow into a plywood box. The snow is periodically stomped down to make sure the snow is compact and free of air pockets.
Starting Wednesday, the teams work on their sculptures, with the top three winners announced Saturday afternoon.
Snow Days is not just about snow sculpting, though, with spectator activities like dog-sledding and snowboarding, and activities for kids, such as an ice slide and ice bowling.
Fran Volz, a professional snow sculptor who helps organize the event, began his career in his own front yard in Arlington Heights. He says snow sculpting is not that hard, if you have a bit of talent and a lot of drive.
In fact, families can try their hand at snow sculpting by filling a garbage can or refrigerator box with snow, packing it down and letting it sit overnight, and removing the outside layer.
Then use items found in your home-Volz recommends kitchen items like butter knives and spoons and gardening and workshop tools-and get carving.
But there are a few things you'll want to buy before starting your new artistic venture:
"You might want to invest in about three or four pairs of gloves," he says.
And? "Wear a coat."
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.