A student chisels the side of a snow statue at night.

By the Numbers: Engineering A Snow Statue

The Winter Carnival all-nighter is legendary at Michigan Tech—it's the final push to sculpt, chisel, iron, and mold the snow statues to perfection.

Winter Carnival snow statues are a feat of snow and ice engineering. We look at how the statues are constructed, by the numbers.

Engineering the large and intricate snow statues that students make during Winter Carnival is a huge undertaking in terms of snow used, hours spent, and secrets kept. This week on Unscripted, we ventured out in the cold to get the lowdown on how students create the snow statues that have made Michigan Tech’s carnival famous. Turns out, the process includes numerous closely guarded secrets. For example, where does the snow come from? The answer: Super-secret locations. Number of forms used: Several, but no specifics other than those in plain sight. Also secret until 8 a.m. after the all-nighter: Statue theme.

But here are details we teased out of Scott Darios, a third-year mathematics major, and president and statue chair of Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE). He says his major helps him think critically about statue construction in order to make the most of his organization’s time building. Working efficiently is critical, especially as the days before Winter Carnival dwindle.

A female student irons the side of a snow statue while snow falls.
 Ironing the side of a statue might seem strange, but the process melts the snow into shiny ice.

Without further ado, the numbers:

48 – Number of years Michigan Tech TKE members have been building snow statues for Winter Carnival

1000s – Hours TKE members spend building their snow statue each year

20 – TKE members typically working on the statue on a given night

4-5 – Hours spent every night, 5 days a week during the month-long statue building competition

Less than 1 – Hour before gloves and clothing begin to freeze while handling slush, forming “ice armor” around statue builders, which makes getting out of clothes at the end of the night a bit tricky

10-15 – Forms employed each night

5 – Maximum number of scaffold levels statue builders can use

28-30 – Feet high at the tallest point of any statue (bonus information: statues cannot be higher than the distance they are from a road or building, so if they collapse they won’t fall into the street or onto a building)

5-6 – Number of irons the TKE statue builders use during all-nighter, when generators are allowed

40 – High temperature when statue construction must cease, measured at the Houghton County Memorial Airport (Fahrenheit)

-18 wind chill – Low temperature when statue construction must cease (Fahrenheit)

$2,000 – TKE’s statue budget (used for supplies to build forms and buy paint, gasoline for trucks on snow runs, buckets, shovels, etc.)

36 – Letters in this year’s wording on the front of the statue (and 1 comma)

About 20 – Statue ideas on the list before settling

7 – Degrees Fahrenheit at the time of this interview

13 minutes 9 seconds – Length of conversation before Scott said he needed to get back to work

A student chisels the side of a snow statue.
 Chiseling away at the side of a snow statue to achieve the desired level of detail.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.