TRUCKEE, Calif. - Using scraping tools, Truckee residents Ira Kessey and Mark Davis drag along the surface of a large block of ice, and with each stroke, shavings fall off in a steady stream, making the word "Carve" pop out as passersby look on.
The demonstration took place late Saturday afternoon in downtown Truckee to help promote the first-ever Carve Tahoe event, a five-day international snow sculpture competition starting Friday at Northstar California, where eight teams of three will transform 20-ton blocks of snow into works of art.
Kessey, Davis and Ed Winslow, a professional ice carver from South Lake Tahoe, make up the newly formed Team USA California Tahoe/Truckee, which will compete against teams from Finland, Germany, Japan and North America.
"We're really proud to be representing the Tahoe/Truckee area," said Kessey, a professional stone sculptor. "There's a lot of local pride here. This type of event, where there's some very talented artists coming in from around the world, and we get to be a part of this whole event, it's just really amazing."
Team USA California Tahoe/Truckee didn't know that it would be competing in the competition until Jan. 30.
Team Russia originally occupied the slot, but due to a delay in issuing the team's visas, an alternate was needed, and Tahoe/Truckee beat out Team Sweden and Team France, said Kathryn Keown, executive director of Carve Tahoe.
"It kept going back to Team Tahoe/Truckee because No. 1, they were accomplished artists, No. 2, their demeanor and attitude, and No. 3, their sketch is great; it represents California perfectly," she said.
Davis, who has had a nearly 20-year international ice carving career, described the team's planned Carve Tahoe snow sculpture as a metaphor on the effect of global warming on mankind, with the intent to evoke emotion and thought within viewers, he said.
"I think we have a good solid design, and the rest will unfold when we get there," Kessey said.
Kessey and Davis agree the biggest challenge the team will face in making the design into a reality will be the temperature.
"Snow is a moving medium that's not going to be the same from day to day, and it's going to react to our pressure and what we try to do to it differently every single day that we're out there," said Davis, adding that the team will have to learn to work with the snow, rather than against it.
Learning will be a big element of Carve Tahoe, Kessey and Davis said, with the event not only allowing them to learn how to work with a different medium (snow instead of ice), but from each other and the competition.
"Even though it's a competition, we expect the competitors will all work together very well," Davis said. "Depending on what the conditions are, there's going to be a lot of sharing of knowledge, best practices. Nobody's going to be keeping all the secrets to themselves. It's more of a community of sculptors that are there to do their best work, but also don't wish any harm or any misfortune on anybody else."
Officials are anticipating Carve Tahoe will be an entertaining, unique event for all.
"You're going to see something you don't see every day," said Andy Chapman, chief marketing officer of the North Lake Tahoe Chamber/CVB/Resort Association. "These teams use very interesting tools and a variety of methods to carve, and it's basically art installation. ... It's just a great experience to go and see art in the mountains."
That art will ultimately be judged by a five-member panel, led by Lawrence Noble, chair of the sculpture department at Academy of Art University and an award-winning sculptor and illustrator, starting the morning of Feb. 12.
Sculpture elements judges will look for include originality, use of medium, a 360-degree design and the ability to communicate a message, Keown said.
First, second and third place titles will be awarded, with a ceremony taking place at 3 p.m. on Feb. 13. Members of public will have a chance to vote for their favorite sculpture while also donating to the Sierra Avalanche Center.
"If we have a goal, it's to create the best project that we can, and if we win, that's icing on the cake," Kessey said.