Behind the Carve

By Guy De Galard
Photographs by Vince Heptig

What's kept the Cub Scouts of Wyoming's River Bend District creating colorful works of art for more than 20 years? An annual event that lets them all become stars of the snow.

A great snow sculpture begins, of course, with lots of snow. The boys in Pack 235 started their masterpiece by shoveling the white stuff into a pile for their large “Scout Rushmore” sculpture.

On a crisp and sunny January morning, cars have rapidly filled up the Bear Trap Meadows’ snow-packed parking lot.

Parents have unloaded bundled-up Cub Scouts who’ve trod across crunchy snow carrying their tools for the day: snow and garden shovels, spoons, buckets, sleds, spray bottles, water, and biodegradable paint. And each pack has chosen a spot where they’ll carve their snow sculpture, either in the woods or on the edge of the meadow.

But for the past 20 minutes, the only major action has been Cub Scouts from Pack 13 of Casper, Wyo., shoveling snow to bury Steve Hollister, whose 8-year-old son Michael is part of the group.

“Keep piling,” shouts Hollister, who’s already standing waist-deep in snow. “I’m not buried yet!”

“It’s not so much fun to just shovel snow,” Hollister says later, “but if their goal is to bury me, it makes it more fun for them.”

To create the yellow in the Tiger on “Scout Rushmore,” Pack 235 Scouts used biodegradable food coloring in a plastic spray bottle.

Susan Carmen, den leader for Pack 435, agrees. “The most important thing is to keep them busy by giving them little tasks at a time and make sure you feed them and keep them hydrated.

Pack 13 and 10 others are participating in the annual River Bend District Cub Snow Day snow-sculpture contest, held at the park on Casper Mountain. This year, the event’s theme is “Adventures in Reading,” and Pack 13 has chosen to name its three-part creation “Boat, Car, Green Eggs, and Ham” after Dr. Seuss’ classic story.

Carmen’s pack chose to base its sculpture on Kate DiCamillo’s “The Tale of Despereaux,” a story about a courageous mouse, Despereaux, that’s on a quest to rescue a beautiful human princess.

“Nine minutes before we start sculpting!” yells Pack 13 chairman Carmen Goodman.

And speaking of beautiful, the weather is cooperating this year—something that doesn’t always happen in January.

“Today is a great day,” says Susan Taylor, a district committee member, “but we’ve had some bitterly cold days up here where the kids pretty much stay by the fire.”

So by 10 a.m., the boys are working hard to pile up snow as fast as they can—the first step toward turning the hard-packed blocks into works of art. And after shoveling for almost half an hour, most of the Cub Scouts are burning breakfast calories and warming up fast.

“We always do this the last weekend of January,” explains Carey Anson, district director. “We just have to call the Natrona County Roads, Bridges, and Parks Department two to three weeks in advance to reserve the place. In the five years I’ve held this position, we’ve never had to cancel it.”

Since its inception more than 20 years ago, the Snow Day competition has scored high marks from both Cub Scouts and leaders. “Everyone looks forward to it,” Anson says. “There are about 200 people here today, counting the adults, and a lot of repeats. All you need is a pile of packed snow, an idea, and a few simple tools. It’s fun for them, and it’s fun to watch.”

Michael Harshman (left) and Rob Snyder tinted the snow red for their “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” sculpture, inspired by Dr. Seuss.

The strategy is simple: Under the guidance of adults, the boys use snow shovels to block out the basic shape of their sculpture. Then they lightly mist the surface of the block with a spray bottle, which melts a thin layer of snow that quickly refreezes into a thin sheen of ice.

The Cub Scouts have come prepared with flint, paper, and kindling to build a fire and melt the snow to make water. A small garden shovel and a spoon help them sculpt the fine details.

Packs 235 and 635 from Casper team up to carve “Scout Rushmore,” inspired by a recent trip to Mount Rushmore. But one major difference distinguishes Scout Rushmore from the national memorial in South Dakota: The former replaces presidential busts with the four Cub Scout ranks: Tiger, Wolf, Bear, and Webelos Scouts.

Matt Larsen, Cubmaster for Pack 635, suggested that the boys turn three sleds on their sides so they could build a wall by piling snow against them. “Keep piling until it reaches the top of the sleds,” he tells them. “You’re doing great.”

“We need more snow here and more water over there, and try not to spray anybody,” instructs Marsha Garcia to the boys of Pack 635. “Now, who wants to do the whiskers on the Wolf?”

Patrick Bishop, whose two sons belong to Pack 235, also helps encourage the boys—taking care not to get too involved.

“In order to keep them motivated,” he says, “the leader has to do the least amount of work possible, from planning the project to the end. We tell them what the theme is, and they talk about it during their pack meeting and come up with the idea.”

Bishop’s son John has been participating for four years. Although most of the boys seem most excited about the final painting stage, carving ranks first for him. “I like how you can make something show out of snow,” he says with a smile. “Sculpting is my favorite part,”

Soon, all around the meadow, snow sculptures slowly come to life. On one side, Pack 2 is putting the final touches on “Climbing Into a Book and Sliding Into Adventure,” where boys climb stairs and drop down a slide that looks like a book.

The boys of Pack 435 got a much-deserved meal of hot chili after completing their sculpture, inspired by the story “The Tale of Despereaux.” That’s Despereaux in the background.

Several yards away, Pack 94 is showing off a colorful work titled “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” also inspired by Dr. Seuss. And elsewhere, the boys of Pack 147 proudly stand by at their Snoopy sculpture.

By noon, most of the 11 sculptures are completed, and adults are serving food and hot drinks near each sculpture site. Some Cub Scouts have switched from carving and painting to sledding down a small hill next to the parking lot.

“Once their sculpture is finished, they are looking for something else fun to do,” Anson says. “You can’t keep them from doing it.”

Judges have examined each work throughout the construction period. But final judging starts around 1 p.m. after each pack was finished. They’re rated according to several categories: safety, Cub Scout participation, adult participation, attitude and behavior, title creativity, and appearance.

In just 30 minutes, everyone gathers by the shelter to learn the results. First place goes to Pack 13 for its piece inspired by “Green Eggs and Ham.” And the joint effort by Packs 235 and 635, “Scout Rushmore,” comes in second.

Held in conjunction with the district’s Klondike Derby for Boy Scouts, the Snow Day’s competition is a good example of how Cub Scout units can stay active and have fun during the winter.

Garcia expresses enthusiasm for the event. “It’s a big family thing, and everyone looks forward to it,” she says. “This contest challenges the kids’ sense of creativity. Although the leaders still run the show, it gives the kids a sense of accomplishment, teaches them how to work with one another, and builds their social skills.” 

Freelance writer Guy de Galard lives in Buffalo, Wyo.

Ronald Cox and his 6-year-old son Johnathan, both of Pack 147, put finishing touches on Snoopy, who was depicted in a familiar position—lying down for a nap.

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