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This sculpture is just one of the monumental works that artists carved in snow at a festival in Japan.
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Star Wars enthusiasts pose with lightsabers in front of a Darth Vader snow sculpture.
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/ epa/ Corbis
Snow Troopers
At a Japanese festival, artists make massive snow sculptures

By Paul Cates | for Scholastic Art

By midwinter, forecasts for snow have most people cringing and longing for spring. But perhaps we should follow the lead of the Sapporo Snow Festival organizers, who celebrate the magic of winter through art. At this weeklong festival in Japan, artists use ice and snow to make large-scale sculptures. High school students produced the frozen art for the first festival, which was held in 1950. Now sculptors from all over the world travel to Sapporo to create the monumental temporary works.


It takes careful planning, many willing laborers, and a lot of work to produce each of the festival’s sculptures. First, bulldozers prepare the sites to ensure the sculptures will have solid foundations. Then workers use construction equipment to move a pile of snow to each site. Sometimes the piles are more than two stories tall! Then the workers add plywood panels to provide scaffolding so the artists can reach the top of their snow piles and begin to shape their sculpture’s basic forms. Once the snow is solidly packed, the artists can finally begin carving. Together, they craft approximately 200 sculptures that dazzle more than 2 million visitors.


Some of the artists replicate famous landmarks and monuments. Many of the sculptures are fanciful and surreal, such as one depicting a city of giant toys and another showing a scene from Alice in Wonderland. One sculpture, shown above, developed by the Japanese military, is a tribute to Star Wars and features immense Stormtroopers, a TIE fighter, and Darth Vader. The sculptures’ varied themes attract visitors with many interests and excite audiences of all ages.