CIVE student's team takes third at snow sculpting nationals

CIVE student's team takes third at snow sculpting nationals

Calendar Icon Feb 01, 2018      Person Bust Icon By Karl Vogel     RSS Feed RSS

Civil engineering student Taylor Seeley (right) and Jason Perreault begin work on their 9-foot cylinder of snow on Wednesday in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Civil engineering student Taylor Seeley (right) and Jason Perreault begin work on their 9-foot cylinder of snow on Wednesday in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Finding suitable snow for winter fun can be tricky in Nebraska, which is why civil engineering major Taylor Seeley was looking forward to his annual family getaway.

The Seeleys weren’t schussing down the slopes of a ski resort. Instead, they were competing in the US National Snow Sculpting Competition Jan. 31-Feb. 3 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

With the sculpture -- "Crab Grab," a depiction of two crabs taking a pearl from an oyster -- Team Nebraska took third place. It's the third top-three finish in this competition for the Seeley clan.

Taylor’s father, Matt Seeley, is a longtime veteran of the event and has risen in the ranks of competitive snow sculpting. Matt, a systems engineer with the USDA, was part of the US team that finished third out of more than 30 teams at the 2012 world championships in China. He even had a stay in the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the largest ice cream scoop sculpture (3,010 pounds) in 2014.

“He’s really the creative genius on the team,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s brother, Thane, usually rounds out the three-person team but can’t take part this year. That opened up a spot for Jason Perreault, the husband of Taylor’s cousin Jessica.

On Team Nebraska, Taylor puts his engineering passions to good use. Studying to be a structural engineer, Taylor works to find ways to include “negative space” in the team’s designs and analyzes the structure to determine its strengths and weaknesses.

“I just took Mechanics of Elastics Bodies, and that class is all about shear and stress and buckling and loads on support structures,” said Taylor, a senior specializing in structural engineering. “I feel this year, I will have a better understanding of how to structurally set up our design so it stays.”

That, Taylor said, is very important for Team Nebraska, especially since his father’s designs are rarely set in stone … or clay … or ice.

“There’s a lot of problem-solving that goes into this competition, and that’s where I have value to this team,” Taylor said. “We like to be risky and push the boundaries – like using a lot of negative space or creating antennae that are sticking three feet up in the air – but at the same time you have to be reasonable.”

“Dad will make a clay sculpture and then I will look at it and try to analyze whether we could pull that off using snow or whether we’ll need some sort of support structure or a clever way to support this. We’re both engineering-minded, but I’m learning things that will definitely help us.”

While sculpting, teams are not allowed to use electric or motorized instruments. Thus, one of the most important jobs is the manufacturing of the team’s sculpting tools. It’s a task Taylor gladly accepts and uses his engineering background to improve upon the tools.

“You pretty much have to make your own tools. You can get marble and plaster chisel tools, but that’s a totally different medium,” Taylor said.

“A lot of other teams just look at the form (the snow cylinder) and then just subtract from it. Most of our designs are subtractive and additive. We’ll take snow off and save it and then use it to build up other areas of our sculpture.”

This was Taylor’s seventh year of competing on Team Nebraska, and before leaving for the event, he said he hoped the team would bring home a medal like it did in 2012 when he debuted and helped the team to second place.

Creating an eye-popping design – some of their previous sculptures were a praying mantis, a chimpanzee astronaut and an elephant – can be nerve-wracking and exhausting. This trip, Taylor said, isn’t just a weekend at a lakeside resort.

“I have had professors say, ‘Are you going on vacation?’ ” Taylor said. “I guess it’s like a vacation, but it’s a lot of hard work. The last night, it’s pretty normal for the teams to pull all-nighters and work until it’s tools down at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

“It’s stressful, like studying for a big test. But you never have to worry about 3,000 pounds of snow falling on you during finals.”