Many of us built snowmen in our backyards when we were kids, but there are some who’ve taken the art of sculpting snow to a professional level. Around the world, there are festivals dedicated to this incredible art, and the annual extravaganza in Harbin, China is one of the grandest. In seasonal spirit, we present here 20 of the most stunning – and gigantic – snow sculptures seen in the Chinese city. Enjoy!
The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, as it’s officially known, is held each year in the city that gives it its name, in Northeast China. Because of its geographical location – close to the Russian border – snow and ice is something that is plentiful in the city. In the direct path of freezing cold winds from Siberia, the average temperature in Harbin is -16.8 degrees Celsius (1.76 °F) in winter, though it can drop as low as -38.1 degrees Celsius (-36.58 °F). Brrr!
In view of such temperatures, it’s surely good for the dozens of artists who create the snow sculptures in Harbin each year to keep warm with all the shoveling, sawing and chiseling their work demands. They still have to wrap up warm, though!
Interestingly, the winter school vacations in Harbin last nearly two months but the summer vacation only one month. Although snow sculptors come from all over the world to participate in the festival, with time on their hands (and lots of the material they need readily available!), the next generation of local talent must surely find some time to sharpen their skills each winter break.
An eyewash for Santa Claus? Carvers putting the finishing touches on Santa’s face show just how gigantic the sculpture is.
We especially love snow sculptures with a practical purpose – like this grand hotel-cum-set of slides! Part of Harbin Snow Festival in 2007 – which had a focus on Canada – the castle depicted is the Château Frontenac in Quebec City.
Some of the sculptures look like massive three-dimensional murals – this one, for example, called “Crossing the Bering Strait,” about the passage of First Nations (aboriginal Canadian) people – more on which later.
Next, an entire wall carved out of snow, with the giant figure of a man surrounded by tall buildings and placed above a bed of roses. We’ll leave the interpretation of this piece to you (we’re not sure of its name) but it’s certainly interesting. What’s more, it dwarfs passers-by, as can be seen here.
This apparently life-size hut – built completely from snow, of course – is simply adorable. It’s also made especially picturesque by the trees in shot behind it. All it’s missing is Hagrid of Harry Potter fame to emerge from one of the doors!
Here’s a giant sculpture featuring Moominpappa and Moominmamma; part of the festival’s Finland theme in 2009. Cute! And definitely fitting: children’s fantasy favorites The Moomins are quintessentially Finnish!
Also in keeping with Harbin 2009’s celebration of all things Finnish was this recreation of Santa Park, an amusement park near Rovaniemi, Lapland. The original surely doesn’t feature Santa with a flowing beard carved into a mountain though (as seen earlier)!
This next image shows how gigantic the Santa Park display really was. The people whizzing down the toboggan-type ride don’t even spare their surroundings a glance, though; they were obviously having too much fun in their inner tubes – or were too scared to look around!
This locomotive sculpture – the Santa Claus train, actually – was life-size, meaning visitors could climb the steps, visible here just behind the engine on the left. People could also stick their heads out of the train window to have their picture taken. Where else could you boast you boarded a snow-built express?
This sculpture, entitled “Game,” was a competition entry in Harbin Snow Festival 2007. It’s wonderfully conceived, and the characters depicted left visitors marveling and smiling in equal measure as they walked around it.
“Frostwork” was another 2007 competition entry. It displayed a high level of craftsmanship, as the woman’s face was hollowed out. Close-ups of this sculpture (like that shown earlier) even reveal it glowing as the sun shines through!
This is another view of what at the time was the largest snow sculpture ever created – “Crossing the Bering Strait,” which depicts First Nations folk on the move. The whole sculpture measured an incredible 250 meters (820ft) in length and was spread out across a frozen lake. The man in shot is clearly tiny compared to the sculpture, which was up to 28 meters (92 ft) high in places. Wow!
And here’s a close-up of the impressive work of art.
This statue, seen in Harbin 2010, seems to have sprung from mythology. The world around him is crumbling, including his legs. Don’t miss the skull on the left!
This sculpture, shown at the Snow Festival in 2008, looks like a life-size rendering of a town hall. We’re not exactly sure what the reclining woman below has to do with the imposing structure, but somehow she fits in.
This photo shows how well the Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is designed and laid out. What looks like a giant tribute to Lenin in the background is actually Canadian doctor Norman Bethune. Bethune is well known in China, as Mao devoted an essay to him. Bethune came to China in 1938 to train thousands in medicine as the medical chief of Mao’s army. Mao apparently regarded him as a hero for having brought modern medicine to China. And he does bear a striking resemblance to Lenin, as Mao himself noted.
Just look how small these people are front of the three giant heads! The fine features and detail of the forms’ headgear and hair show that snow is a brilliant artistic material – in capable hands!
For some, snow is just a winter nuisance, but looking at these images, one can’t help but feel that it was meant to be transformed into greater things – like giant sculptures! If you’re inspired to make a winter trip to China now, hurry – the Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival 2012 officially begins on January 5th!