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Ice & snow sculpture festivals that capture the beauty of winter

When there are more hours of darkness than light in the day and you’re dreaming of a time when you didn’t have to get bundled up to walk out the door, we understand that it can be hard to appreciate winter.

Fortunately, there are places in the world where sub-zero temperatures don’t stop those there from enjoying the season. Why not follow their lead and head to a place where ice and snow aren’t dreaded, but instead turned into something beautiful.

Harbin, Heilongjiang, China

Since it began in 1963, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival has grown to become the largest in the world. Artists from around the world display their cool creations throughout the city, but the two main exhibition areas are where the majority of sculptures can be found. Make sure to stop by the Ice and Snow World exhibition at night, as full-size buildings made from thick blocks of ice are beautifully illuminated. The festival officially runs for one month but many of the exhibits open earlier and run later if the weather cooperates.

Fairbanks, Alaska, United States

Each year more than 100 sculptors from 30 countries head to Fairbanks to participate in the World Ice Art Championships. The largest ice sculpting contest of its kind, tens of thousands of visitors make the trip to see what contestants have created each year. The championship itself is divided into three different categories, depending on the amount of ice they have to work with. And each category is broken down into either realistic or abstract art, resulting in a fairly eclectic collection, so there should be something to appeal to all tastes.

Sapporo, Japan

The Sapporo Snow Festival began in 1950 when six snow statues were built by local high school students in the city’s Odori Park. Over the years, this annual tradition of building snow sculptures in the park grew and the media began to take notice. But it wasn’t until 1972 when Sapporo hosted the Winter Olympic Games that the festival became known internationally. Since its humble beginnings, the Snow Festival has opened additional areas around the city to make room for the hundreds of sculptures that are built each year.

Jelgava, Latvia

With each festival revolving around a different theme, you never know what impressive form the ice and snow art will take at the International Ice Sculpture Festival in Jelgava. The largest ice and snow festival in Northern Europe, visitors can enjoy the artwork of over 30 global artists while listening to live music, watching live demonstrations, and participating in other special events. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the famous Koskenkorva ice bar for a chilled vodka.

Valloire, France

The commune of Valloire has not one, but two distinct ice and snow events each year. The International Ice Sculpture Contest runs for four days, displaying the work of 20 sculptures from around the world, and comes to a close with a torchlight parade and fireworks. A few days later, the International Snow Sculptures Contest begins with both national and international artists displaying their best snow creations. This portion of the festival is again concluded with a torchlight parade and fireworks.

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