Walk across the Green this weekend and you’re sure to be struck immediately by the unusual sight of Darth Vader’s helmet. This time, though, it’s not black, but white as snow.
After a three-year hiatus, students have returned to the center of campus to sculpt snow, chisel ice, and revive the cherished tradition of a student-led Winter Carnival snow sculpture. This year’s Carnival, “SNOW WARS: May the FROST be with you!” runs February 8–11.
Zoe Dineen ’18 and Andrew Yohe ’18 spearheaded the snow sculpture, along with fellow students Rocco Di Leo ’18, Kate Griffiths ’18, James McHugh ’19, and Ryder Stone ’18. For both Dineen and Yohe, inspiration came from a couple that truly bleeds Green – Curt Oberg ’78 and Sherri Oberg ’82 Tu’86.
An assistant football coach, Curt Oberg had shared fond memories of leading snow sculpture construction when he was a student with his team. When Yohe, an engineering major, expressed interest in working to revive the snow sculpture, the Obergs put him in touch with Dineen, a mentee of Sherri’s whose sculpture background provided the perfect complement to Yohe’s structural knowledge.
“I’ve always been interested in big, collaborative public art,” says Dineen. “For me it was an opportunity to put the art back in a tradition, and not just make it about manpower but the chance to make something really special.”
With the Star Wars theme in mind, Dineen began to design a sculpture that would represent a galaxy far, far away while working within the very earthly challenges posed by snow.
“I chose Darth Vader’s helmet because of the geometry – it’s made of really clear and easy to see shapes,” she explains. “No matter if you’re a sculptor or not, you can come out and help and understand if I say ‘hey, we need it to curve a little more there.’ The shape of it has allowed tons of students to come out and collaborate.”
Dineen’s initial sketches and Yohe’s design suggestions were further refined through clay models that allowed them to tweak the precise dimensions and angles. However, the logistics of acquiring and shaping massive blocks of snow and ice to execute the design proved an entirely different kind of challenge.
“Upon returning to campus after break,” Yohe explains, “the magnitude of the project started to become clear to us. But fortunately for us with each new road block we faced, we always seemed to meet multiple new Dartmouth community members willing to help in any way we needed.”
While the students were in charge of the design and construction of the sculpture, the procurement of the necessary supplies and funding was a true community effort. Dartmouth Alumni Relations served as the sponsoring College department, with Vice President for Alumni Relations Martha J. Beattie ’76 and her husband Jim Beattie ’76 joining the Obergs as key partners for the students.
Pete Frederick ’65 organized funding from the Sphinx Foundation. “We have been supportive of keeping the traditions around Dartmouth for years and years,” he says. “Our members in the Upper Valley are participating whenever they can. The number of alumni who’ve come back to help is amazing.”
A fresh delivery of snow from the Dartmouth Skiway, ice was sourced from Occom Pond, and donations of equipment and labor came from local companies L&M Construction, Trumbull-Nelson, and Gosselin Construction.
Hanover resident and Geisel professor emeritus Bill Young, who has organized Hanover’s Occom Pond Party for 22 years, also provided significant logistic assistance.
“My job was to connect them with people in the community who cut ice, hauled snow, owned concrete forms, made snow and to set up a delivery schedule,” Young explains. “Students, alums and Hanover citizens worked together to produce something that makes many people smile.”
“A huge number of students have been involved,” says Dineen. “Our core team is six, and on our first build day we had about 20 rowers come out, we had a stomp day with 10 football players, and since then we’ve had about 15 students a day.”
Campus partners from Facilities Operations & Management and Conferences & Events helped provide the necessary safety oversight and permissions. Randy Brown, special events coordinator, noted that while he’s worked with students on snow sculptures since 2003, this was the first time he’s seen such a collaborative effort between students and alumni. “I guess we can add ‘building a snow sculpture’ to the many things it takes a village to do.”
The snow sculpture may be ephemeral by nature, but generations of Dartmouth alumni hold tight to memories of their own Winter Carnival experiences.
“It was such a big part of my four years at Dartmouth,” Oberg notes. “I met three or four guys that became very close friends of mine that I might never have met otherwise through the sculpture. It’s a symbol of a great Dartmouth tradition and a great Dartmouth weekend.”