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Team Yukon carves up gold on road to nationals

Hoping to repeat last year's successes, a snow carving team from Yukon is off to a good start. However, Team Yukon may have made this season tougher by raising the bar so high last year. "The hardest team to beat is us," said...

Hoping to repeat last year’s successes, a snow carving team from Yukon is off to a good start. However, Team Yukon may have made this season tougher by raising the bar so high last year.

“The hardest team to beat is us,” said Team Yukon member Donald Watt. “The judges expect us to do something bigger and better every year.”

Heading to the nationals and international championships, both of which are being held in Quebec over the coming weeks, Team Yukon has already traveled to China and through North America, racking up a pair of medals.

The team just left Breckenridge, Colorado, where they took a gold medal in the International Snow Carving Festival 2009, a competition they finished second in last year.

According to Watt, who spoke with one of the judges after the fact, Yukon’s win was no close call.

“He said that they went out, did the judging, and when they came back into the room, they all looked at each other and said, ‘So Yukon’s first, who is second and third?’” said Watt.

China finished second and a team from Wyoming finished third.

In Breckenridge, teams were allowed 65 hours of carving, broken up over four days.

“Out of that 65 hours we eat—they feed us on site, so during that time we’re not carving,” said Watt. “But there is the potential for 65 hours.”

The amount of time designated each day for carving increased as the competition progressed, eventually culminating in a 27-hour stretch starting Friday at 7 a.m. through to 10 a.m. Saturday.

“We carved until about 1:30 in the morning, went up stairs and caught three hours sleep ... then carved another two-and-a-half, three hours,” said Watt. “So I figure we put in 21 of those 27 hours.

“In total we probably carved for 40, 45 hours. Maybe 50.”

In addition to the cold weather and mistakes, the team had to overcome a lack of oxygen.

“It’s really tiring carving here because it’s almost two miles above sea-level and oxygen levels are considerably lower,” said Watt. “Work is difficult; you get tired very easily.”

The team also includes Michael Lane, Gisli Balzer, Calvin Morberg, Shai Baxendale, Peter Lucchetti, and Watt’s wife, Evi. However, only five members are allowed to compete at each event. Don, Mike, Gisli and Shai are the carvers on the team while, in accordance to the rules, the fifth position is not allowed to carve the block but acts as a public relations representative, explaining the piece to the passers-by.

“It makes for a very interesting event because someone’s always out there talking about the piece to the public,” said Watt. “It’s great that way.”

The gold medal piece Team Yukon carved in Breckenridge is called Family Reunion (the dance of the ancestors) and features figures dancing around a totem pole and contains elements of First Nations art.

“We started in September talking about which pieces we want to do where,” said Watt. “Michael has pitched the idea for a couple years and we’ve never taken him up on it. And it seemed like a great one to do here in Breckenridge.

“First Nations are big in this area ... so it was a natural one to do here.”

Team Yukon started their carving season sculpting two pieces in Maine as part of a winter festival.

“We were part of the artists brought in to decorate the park,” said Watt.

The troop then traveled to Harbin, China, for their first competition in which they placed third with another First Nations inspired design titled Raven and the First Man.

“On that one we had Calvin, who’s a Tlingit First Nations mask and totem carver,” said Watt. “Michael came up with the design and then Calvin and I turned it into a doable piece. And then Calvin carved the traditional patterns on the wings and head of the raven.

“It’s a First Nations creation story. A raven hears a sound in a clamshell, cracks it open and inside is the first man. He opened man to the world.”

After China, Team Yukon returned to Canada to attend a non-competitive event in Whistler, BC, in an attempt to get their foot in the door for possible snow-carving displays next year at the Games.

“We were working to do a pre-Olympic event,” said Watt. “So the organizers there could see some of the potential that could happen if they get a snow-sculpture event at the Olympics next year.

“It was an event I organized with the Whistler Arts Council to promote the idea of snow sculptures at the Olympics.”

Watt and the rest of the team have just arrived in Quebec City for the national tournament, followed by the international championship.

Beginning on Friday, Team Yukon will be carving a piece portraying portagers stumbling upon a mother bear and her cubs.

“So far the year is good, in the competitions we’ve been in we’ve made it to the podium,” said Watt. “We hope to keep that going.”

More photos can be seen at

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