Team Yukon defends national title

Once again, Team Yukon has shown Canada that we northerners know snow. For the third year in a row, Team Yukon is the best in the country after defending its title at the national snow carving competition in Quebec City.

Once again, Team Yukon has shown Canada that we northerners know snow.

For the third year in a row, Team Yukon is the best in the country after defending its title at the national snow carving competition in Quebec City.

Yukon took gold with their piece titled Be Bear Aware, which depicts people portaging a canoe stumbling upon a mother bear and her cubs.

“We wanted to portray some of the things that go on in the Yukon,” said Team Yukon member Donald C. Watt.

“One of the things people learn quickly in the Yukon is you have to be aware of where there are bears and what to do and what not to do.

“In our case, we were demonstrating what not to do and that was to get between a mother bear and a cub.

“So we did a bit of a comical thing on that. The cubs had rolled between two people portaging a canoe.”

The win marks the second gold in a row for the team, which topped its competition in the International Snow Carving Festival 2009 in Breckenridge, Colorado. In their first competition of the year in Harbin, China, the team finished second.

In both events the team carved pieces inspired by First Nations legends and art. However, in Quebec they broke from that pattern.

“We tend to move around,” said Watt. “We tend to look for northern themes. Sometimes we use aboriginal legends, sometimes we just use northern ideas.”

Not only was Team Yukon the judge’s first choice, but the Yukoners also won public affection. During the competition, many of the 10,000 to 15,000 people strolling through the grounds were polled and most picked Be Bear Aware.

“Those people are polled over a two- or three-hour period,” said Watt. “And the public votes for the piece they like.”

Unlike in past years, the public’s pick was announced before the officials made their decision, thereby ensuring the public’s decision wasn’t influenced by the judges.

“(In past years) the public tended to follow the judges,” said Watt.

With Watt on Team Yukon were Michael Lane and Gisli Balzar.

The national champs are already back at it, competing in the biggest competition of the year: the International Snow Sculpture Competition at the Quebec Winter Carnival.

Starting with a block of snow three times the size of the one in the nationals, Team Yukon is carving another piece inspired by First Nations, titled the Blanket Toss.

“The current one we’re doing is Far North—we’re doing a blanket toss, which is more Inuvialuit than Yukon,” said Watt. “But it’s northern Canada—we’re representing Canada now internationally.

“The story is—currently it’s a game—but it used to be for survival. The Inuvialuit couldn’t see very far because their land was so flat, so they came up with this method of tossing a smaller person up in the air so they could see over the horizon and see where the game was—the caribou or whatever they were hunting.

“So we’ve got six characters around a blanket and a kid being thrown up.”

As the defending international champs, the Yukoners are again the team to beat.

Replacing Balzar in the competition is Calvin Morberg.

Contact Tom Patrick at

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