Sven Skupien of the Vikings in Black said several snow-sculpting competitions have become too competitive, which has taken the enjoyment out of participating.
"The whole point was to keep doing what we love doing and escape what we started to hate about the other events. Bottom line, we wanted to walk away from what drove us crazy and kept us from having fun," Skupien said. "We have enough trophies. We wanted to go back to doing something fun, creating art and entertaining the public. We wanted to go back to the old days when it was about having fun and not everybody being at each others’ throats."
Skupien said to produce an atmosphere of friendly rivalry, the top award in the competition will be by people’s choice.
"Part of the reason we wanted to move on was to avoid all the drama. During other competitions, there was a lot of animosity when awards were given out," Skupien said. "We wanted to avoid that, so we decided to have the people’s choice vote. Trophies will be awarded for first, second and third place by people’s choice."
Skupien said each sculpture must have a yeti incorporated in it to go along with the festival’s theme. The Vikings in Black plan to create a sculpture that features a Viking or Norse theme, which will commemorate the team’s 25th anniversary, he said.
"It’s our 25th year, so it’s a big deal for us. We plan to create the most ambitious sculpture that we’ve ever done," Skupien said. "We do have a rule that a yeti has to be hidden in each piece, so kids can go through the park and look for each yeti."
The Kilted Snow Weasels also will participate in the competition. Randy Tackett said the team is excited about displaying their snow-sculpting talents during Yeti Fest.
"Some good friends of ours have invited us to come out and help with the event," Tackett said. "We and the Vikings in Black have been working with the (Yeti Fest) committee. They’ve never hosted a snow-sculpting competition, so we are working with them to help get the competition off the ground."
The Kilted Snow Weasels have participated in the Illinois State Snow Sculpting Competition in Rockford and in Lake Geneva during previous years. However, Tackett said this year they are only participating in Yeti Fest. He agreed with Skupien that some snow-sculpting events have become too competitive.
"It’s a brand new event, and we want to help get the event off the ground," Tackett said. "We’ve won the state competition and the national competition, and we feel we have nothing left to prove. So, we decided to move on and focus on smaller events. We have a lot of experience, so we want to do a quality piece and help promote a newer event. We’re getting older, and we have families so we want to do one or two smaller events."
Tackett said the Kilted Snow Weasels plan to produce a sculpture of a seahorse for the competition.
"Somewhere there will be a yeti in the sculpture to tie it in with the event," Tackett said. "It might be hidden within the sculpture or it might be a small plastic toy near the sculpture or it might be the entire sculpture. It’s about doing a quality sculpture. It’s about having fun and bringing something new to Rockton."
Event is growing
Besides the snow-sculpting competition, several other activities are scheduled for Yeti Fest. Attendees are being encouraged to get out their binoculars and cameras, because a yeti hunt will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3, at Thunder Rock Prairie Park, 11639 N. Main St. in Rockton.
"Someone will be walking around the park dressed in a yeti costume. The path will be illuminated, and people can walk around at night and search for the yeti," said Tricia Diduch, Rockton planning and development administrator. "People who take a photo of the yeti and post the photo on social media will be eligible to receive a $50 coupon from the Dairy Haus."
The Walk Like a Yeti snowshoeing event will be held at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, at Thunder Rock Prairie. Attendees are encouraged to bring their dogs for the 10:30 a.m. walk. Participants can register and rent snowshoes through the Rocktown Adventures Facebook page or register at the Rockton Village Hall, 110 E. Main St., from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Other activities include Skate Like a Yeti at Village Green Park and Shop and Eat Like a Yeti, in which downtown businesses and restaurants will be offering sales and specials.
This is the second year for Yeti Fest. Diduch said the lack of snow put a damper on some of the activities for last year’s event. She hopes the weather is more cooperative for this year’s festival.
"We’re hoping the snow sculpting contest will create some buzz and increase attendance. We also hope to draw a lot of people to the yeti hunt. I’m optimistic that there will be a few hundred people attending. We’re looking forward to it. There’s going to be a lot of great activities. It’s going to be a lot of fun."
Diduch said the village developed the idea for Yeti Fest to give people something to do during the winter.
"We wanted to add an event for the village of Rockton," Diduch said. "There is a lull in activity this time of year. We want to encourage people to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. We wanted to do something that was family friendly."
For more information, search for Yeti Fest on Facebook.
"The Facebook page has a link to register for the snowshoeing event and for snowshoe rentals," Diduch said. "There’s also more information about the yeti hunt."
Tackett said he is looking forward to interacting with the other snow sculptors and the spectators at this year’s Yeti Fest.
"There’s a lot of camaraderie with the other sculptors. You meet people from all over the world. I have friends from Norway, Sweden and all over the United States from participating in the snow-sculpting competitions," Tackett said. "There’s good interaction with the community. They’re curious with what we’re doing and how we do it. People come out every day to see the process. Every year, we give out Kilted Snow Weasel buttons. One woman has been coming out to see us since she was 13, now she is in her 30s and has about 20 Snow Weasel buttons."
Skupien said he enjoys watching people’s reactions when they are looking at the snow sculptures.
"The crowds coming through is the best part for me," Skupien said. "Kids love to build snowmen, and they’re fascinated by the snow sculptures. It’s heartwarming to see the kids running around and being excited."