Students compete at world's largest ice and snow sculpture competition in China

Wide shot of Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival
Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival (Photo credit: Stephen Warrington
This January, two students from the School of Engineering travelled to Harbin Engineering University in China to compete in a world-famous ice and snow sculpture competition as part of a multidisciplinary University team.

The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, which took place between 4 and 7 January 2019, is the world’s largest ice and snow festival and attracts around 10 million visitors each year.

Sculpting snow

The team were one of 55 from seven countries all attempting to impress the judges and the festival’s visitors with a stunning sculpture created from a three-meter cube of artificial snow. Working from a pre-submitted plan, the students’ sculpture depicted the Loch Ness monster protecting the ferocious Corryvrecken whirlpool, complete with ship and whisky bottle. 

The sculpture, titled ‘Water of life’ after the Gaelic drink ‘uisge beathe’ from which whiskey originated, was inspired by Scottish legends with nautical and supernatural themes. Explaining their choice of visual elements, the group explained: “the sailing vessel represents the struggle of brave sailors against the elements ever-present in Scottish landscape and history.”

Art and engineering

The two School of Engineering students worked together alongside two team mates from the Edinburgh College of Art, as the task was an engineering challenge no less than an artistic one. Third-year Mechanical Engineering student Maisie Edwards-Mowforth explained: "working with a 27m3 block of snow is an opportunity that may not occur again soon!”

Her teammate, fourth-year Structural Engineering with Architecture student Sebastian Mitel added: “Sculpting was great fun. Temperatures below -20°C were hard to bear at times but we managed to keep warm and the interactions with other teams, organisers and members of the public made it far more cheerful of an experience that I expected.”

Cross-cultural connections

The team volunteered for the trip not only to hone their snow sculpting skills, but also to learn about Chinese culture and make connections with fellow competitors. Maisie commented: “It is always exciting to travel to new parts of the world and experience a different culture even for a week, and it’s a pleasure to be a part of Edinburgh's building relationships with Universities overseas.”

Alongside their sculpting activities, the team, accompanied by the Dean of Student Experience for the College of Science and Engineering, Stephen Warrington, also enjoyed a series of cultural activities including musical and dance performances by local performers and trying their hand at dumpling making.

Maisie and Sebastian also spoke to the other student teams about their involvement in HYPED and design teaching in civil engineering, respectively.

Competition results

The team's sculpture, "Water of Life", came ninth in the student volunteer public vote, while the overall competition was won by Trat Polytechnic College in Thailand for the tenth consecutive year. The winning sculpture depicted the rescue of young footballers and their coach from the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex which hit world headlines in summer 2018.

The team would love to compete again next year, however. Maisie added: “The snow sculpting was hard work, but rewarding and it would be nice to build on a future design, now knowing some of the tricks to it.”

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