Snowed In

(L–R) Juliana Welter, Heather Friedli, and Maggie Thompson. Photo courtesy Team Kwe

I am a national award–winning snow sculptor and the captain of Team Kwe, an all-Indigenous competitive snow sculpting team.

I am not from around these parts originally. I spent much of my childhood a California girl, all waves and beaches and hot sunshine. When I was a young adult, I took an incredible journey into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It was during that trip that I decided to be one with the Northwoods — a spiritual and healing place.

Five years later, I worked for YMCA Camp Widjiwagan as an outdoor educator. There I met my future husband, a Minnesotan through and through. We ended up living and working in Ely, guiding canoe trips and teaching art classes and outdoor education.

In 2008, I was invited to be a part of a professional snow sculpting team for the Ely Winter Festival Snow Sculpting Symposium. Sculpting that 8′x8′ block of snow into Hercules fighting the Nemean Lion, I knew I couldn’t live without snow sculpting in my life. Since that first winter, I have competed locally, regionally and nationally for 15 years. I call snow sculpting that “crazy little art sport that I do,” although it has blossomed into a major part of my life’s work. We even planned the birth of our second child around my snow sculpting career — how’s that for commitment?

Photo courtesy Team Kwe

Competitive snow sculpting is an incredibly intimate event. Competitions attract a tight-knit group of diverse people who come together for the love of snow. Because there are usually three people on a team, you get to know your partners well; living, breathing, eating, sleeping (and not sleeping during the home stretch) together for an intense few days. Teams that sculpt next to each other form little neighborhoods within competitions. We are friendly rivals — always trading tools with the other teams and encouraging each other to sculpt their best sculpt. We love seeing how far different teams can push the medium. Throughout the year, we keep in touch online, celebrate each other’s wins, mourn each other’s losses, bounce ideas off one another, and give each other support in both our sculpting and our personal lives.

Recently, my snow sculpting community had the opportunity to participate in the planning and filming of a new reality TV show competition called “Best In Snow” on Disney+. We as a community are so excited and proud of one another’s accomplishments on the show. That show was one of the hardest things I have ever done, other than thru- hiking the Appalachian Trail and giving birth. I can’t wait to see the results of all our hard work. Plus, I got to work with Kermit the Frog.

To my core I am a kinesthetic artist, meaning I use the power of my whole body to express myself in my work, from fiercely competitive timed snow sculpting to dancing and painting with impasto, rhythmic brush strokes. In my daily life, I don’t stop moving either — running Friedli Gallery in Saint Paul and running around with my two kids. I am living the dream, one shovel scoop at a time.

Heather Friedli (she/her) was a member of Team Dino Fight!, who were the 2019 National Snow Sculpting Champions and first-place winners in the 2017 Minnesota State Snow Sculpting Competition. Team Kwe won the People’s Choice award in 2020. They are headed to the National Snow Sculpting Championships in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin this winter. Facebook “Art of Heather Friedli.”