Yellowknife has for years welcomed the world’s finest snow carvers. Now, the city is exporting them. Two residents will enter a contest in Sweden next month.
Niki Mckenzie and Kris Schlagintweit have been accepted as one of six teams at the Kiruna Snow Festival, held in a town in Sweden’s far north from January 26-30, 2022.
Mckenzie, a New Zealander who moved to Yellowknife five years ago, has spent the intervening period honing her skills as a member of the team that builds Yellowknife’s own snowcastle each winter.
Schlagintweit, a Yellowknifer for the past three decades, entered her home city’s snow carving contest with Mckenzie earlier this year after Covid-19 prevented the attendance of international competitors.
Mckenzie said Snowking, the brain behind Yellowknife’s own winter festival since the 1990s, had inspired her to take on the challenge.
“I was paddling my canoe past Snowking’s house and he yelled from his dock that he had found something cool on the internet,” she told Cabin Radio on Monday.
“He showed me an Instagram shot of the Kiruna festival and told me to enter.
“I told Kris, my snow carving partner from the previous winter, and she went ahead and applied. They were really interested to have someone come from so far away.”
Not that the duo were immediately accepted. They had to prove their worth.
“We needed letters of support from the artistic community to say we were capable of doing what we said we could do,” said Mckenzie. “We had to submit a design and a concept with a bit of a story behind it, and we had to send photographs of previous work.”
The concept they plan for Kiruna is a carving of Whaitiri, the personification of thunder in Māori mythology.
“She’s the equivalent goddess of thunder from New Zealand, famous for cannibalism and inventing the toilet,” said Mckenzie, acknowledging those may be difficult concepts to enshrine in snow.
“She sits on a cloud and tends to throw thunderbolts at people she doesn’t like.”
Mckenzie got her start carving two-dimensional scenes into snowcastle walls and describes the jump to 3D – carving sculptures from giant 10-foot cubes – as “a brain exercise and a half.”
Her brain is also being exercised by the onset of the latest Covid-19 variant, though so far she believes Omicron won’t get in the way of the trip.
“I have that sitting in the back of my head. Sweden is currently fine and we are fine right now – I know we did just get a case, which is kind-of scary, but I’ll be getting my booster before we go,” she said.
“There’s nervousness, for sure, but I’m hoping it will be fine.”
The two are raising money to help fund their trip. They say any money left over will be donated to the NWT Breast Health/Breast Cancer Action Group.