Team North Dakota carves out first place at national snow sculpting tournament

The trio of Joshua Zeis, Jay Ray and Mike Nelson took home first place for "The Nemean Lion" at the competition in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Three men wearing medals kneel in front of a statue of a bearded man grappling a roaring lion.
Team North Dakota Snow Sculpting from Fargo placed first in the 2023 U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championships Saturday, Feb. 4, in Lake Geneva. Kneeling from left in front of their sculpture, The Nemean Lion, are Jay Ray, Mike Nelson and Joshua Zeis.

LAKE GENEVA, Wis. — Joshua Zeis and his team of snow sculptors waited with bated breath when the announcer read off second and third place winners during the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship competition Saturday, Feb. 4.

“Then, he took a break and talked about some other stuff, and we were worried. Finally, he said our name for first place, and we were all stunned,” Zeis said.

Team North Dakota Snow Sculpting — made up of Zeis, Jay Ray and Mike Nelson — took first place in the “Super Bowl of Snow Sculpting,” officially known as the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship competition, which means early next year they will be competing in the international competition.

As far as Zeis knows, it is the first time a team from North Dakota has taken home the gold.

Under a bright spotlight, men on scaffolding and ladders work on a large snow sculpture.
Team North Dakota Snow Sculpting works on their sculpture of "The Nemean Lion" during the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship in early February.

Originally named Team Jay Ray w/Snowkraft, the three local artists chiseled blocks of packed snow during the three-day tournament. Last year, they took third place , but this year, their sculpture “The Nemean Lion” beat out everyone else.


“Feels great, man. It’s pretty amazing, we’ve gone to this competition twice and the first time we got bronze and now we got gold. Now we are officially representing the USA in the international competition,” said Zeis, a sculptor by trade.

Team AK Department of Snow out of Alaska placed second for their “When Love Hurts” snow sculpture, and Team Sculptora Borealis out of Wisconsin, the champions in 2022, placed third for their “You Are Not Alone” snow sculpture, according to Kenosha News .

Read more arts and entertainment news
As the pandemic was forcing more people indoors, getting something to clean stale air began to push the need for more houseplants.
The band, orchestra and/or chorus that are selected may be invited to play at official state functions throughout the year.

Last year, more than 65,000 people came to watch the tournament, Zeis said, but this year there were far more enthusiastic viewers.

“It was such a giant crowd of people that were cheering. It was so cool. It took us 45 minutes to step away because so many people wanted to take our pictures,” he said.

The win means a lot to the North Dakota team, because as far as they know no other team from North Dakota has participated, much less walked away with a national title.

A snow scultpure of a bearded man in a club made of ice grappling with a roaring lion.
The Nemean Lion, sculpted by the Team North Dakota Snow Sculpting in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

For unknown reasons, the sport has never picked up in the state, Nelson said in December.

“It’s befuddling to me that it's not a bigger thing in North Dakota. We have long, cold winters with not a lot to do and usually plenty of snow. An individual is not going to drop a couple grand on a snow sculpture, so it does take a community to help,” Nelson said.

The North Dakota snow sculpting team chiseled out their frozen statue of Hercules battling the Nemean lion. At one point, Zeis had to carve a chunk of ice out of the lake to sculpt a club.


“It broke a couple times but finally worked. It all worked out,” he said.

With the exception of a light snowfall, the weather also worked in their favor.

“We were fortunate in that we had a big building that blocked the wind, and we had clear skies mostly. The sun gave us a little trouble so we couldn’t do any detail, so we held off and waited for the next day," Zeis said. "Our pace was really great. I don’t feel that we really struggled at all, and we had some time in the end to fine-tune everything."

The next step for the team will be the international competition, which will be in the last week of January 2024 in Stillwater, Minnesota, Zeis said.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
What To Read Next
Get Local