Day 5 (Saturday -- The heart-stopping moment of truth)

We returned to the site at 4:15 am to get some final work done before the much-anticipated moment of truth -- the removal of the struts. So we smoothed things out a bit and by 7:00 we were ready to take out the first support, which was large and directly below the hanging mass. Dan took the large ice saw to it, cut it gently, and felt absolutely no pressure. In an eyeblink he was through: "That was anticlimactic," he observed. So we then cleaned up the surfaces and prepared for the removal of the second strut, which was horizontal and separating the main mass -- the inner loop -- from the outside shell. I did the honors this time. The first few strokes went fine, but then there was a large cracking sound. Only David and I heard it, but it was terrifying as the whole thing could have crumbled down right then. Yet nothing happened. Well, there was very little holding it up now and it seemed like I had to saw it through, but I was extremely nervous. I would take a stroke, back off for a few breaths and to get my heart rate down, take another stroke. Finally the saw went all the way through with no pressure. We just let it sit like that, with a quarter-inch separation, to see what might happen over the next half-hour. Nothing happened. It must be that some tension was released by the cutting of this support and the snow just settled backward, toward the spring and the multi-ton anchor of the large bulge.

Obviously we were very careful in our further touching of the sculpture, but we continued to smooth and finish, and were very happy when it was all done.

The judges awarded us second place. Third went to Ontario for "Almost There", an origami squirrel, and first place was the evocative "They Call Him Old Man Winter" by Oregon. This is our third second, and while a first would be nice, we appreciate just being in the running for the awards. Indeed, the previous silver for us was in 2003 when our sculpture crashed just after the judging. It feels a lot better to see the red ribbon on a still-standing work.

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The photo above shows the situation as the sun approaches on Saturday morning, around 7 am. We have alpenglow on the mountains of Breckenridge to the west, and the lower strut removed. Only the small support on the right side remains.

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I started the delicate removal of the final strut with the large ice saw and then switched to a keyhole saw. After a few strokes with the keyhole saw there was a large, somewhat muted, cracking sound. My heart just stopped.

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But a few more gentle, but stressful (to me), strokes got the saw through without incident. Rob Neyland told us that if it stayed up for the first 10 seconds, it will stay up for several days. We don't yet know if it will, but it will be very interesting to see if there is any sag over the next few days. (The piece was totally stable and stayed up for the duration of the exhibit, nine days.)

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The team and the piece from a view that emphasizes the large white sheet at the top. The weight of this component was of great concern, but maybe it supplied extra strength by beefing up the snow that was to span the gap from one corner to the other. Well, it is very hard to tell which parts should be lighter and which heavier to achieve strength. But it did stand, proving once again that the strength of the Breckenridge snow blocks is at the extreme end of what is possible by compacting snow.

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David Chamberlain and his cool Cool Jazz.

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Cool Jazz in the afternoon (Photo: Stan Wagon)

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Cool Jazz at night. One improvisation was the addition of the edge that starts below the top and splits the white face vertically. This gave more visual interest to this side and perhaps added some strength.

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Many viewers ask us what the prize is. There is no money, just a ribbon and the satisfaction of knowing that your work is appreciated. Actually, what made a great impression on me this year was that, for the first time, several groups of attendees thanked us for coming down to Breckenridge and contributing this ephemeral construction to their skyline.

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The form presents strikingly different views from different sides. This Jazz swings! Our team felt that we reached a new standard of accuracy in this work, as we worked very hard on each curve to achieve the best possible tolerances for this medium.

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First place: They Call Him Old Man Winter, by Oregon, captained by Roger Butterworth and featuring sculptor Kevin Christman.

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Third Place: Origami Squirrel, Ontario, Doug Bisson, captain.

An ambitious and striking design by the Breckenridge team, Tom Day, captain.

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The ribbon on the right was beautifully sculpted, but it appears that it did not have the bulk to support the giant snowballs. While we like to think that our team's main goal is artistic, not engineering, we cannot deny that it is fun to push the edge of what is possible in snow, and whenever teams do that, all the teams learn more about snow.

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