YUKONG takes shape next to the Elijah Smith Building in Whitehorse during the Sourdough Rendezvous last month.

Carving for the Buckwheat

Race founder will 'snow up' for 20th thanks to local artists

By Andrew Cremata

A trio of local artists has begun preparations for this year’s Buckwheat Ski Classic, to be held March 25, by taking time out from their personal schedules to carve a little snow. While many will don skis for the 20th annual event to carve a little snow of their own, this troupe’s method of carving takes on a more literal approach.
In recent years, the aid station has become more than just a place to refuel and catch a breath for participants during the race; it has been a showcase for the sculpting skills of local men Peter Lucchetti, Bruce Schindler, and Ken Graham.
Two years ago the station was transformed into “Middle Earth,” from the popular “Lord of the Rings” movies. Last year the shifting sands of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt blew into Canada, Buckwheat style, transforming it into a full-on representation of the Sphinx using the drifting white snow of northern British Columbia.
These snow-made wonders have captured the imagination of adults and children alike, altering the aid station into the social center of the ski classic. For the three Skagway designers and builders it has been a chance to hone their collective skills.
In 2005, Lucchetti got a call from a representative of the Sourdough Rendezvous in Whitehorse. The event showcases carvers from around the globe, providing them a chilly medium of well-packed snow to express their skill and creativity.
Lucchetti thought he was being asked to join an already existing team, but when it was made clear that he would have to assemble his own, he knew immediately who to call.
“I called Bruce (Schindler) and Ken (Graham) right away,” said Lucchetti. “We would always work on Halloween costumes together, or floats for the Fourth of July parade.”
One of their parade projects, the larger-than-life-size Soapy Smith marionette from 1998, is one such project that anyone who saw will be hard-pressed to forget.
On their first outing at the Sourdough Rendezvous the team won the coveted prize of “Artist’s Choice” for their meticulously detailed snow sculpture of a wooly mammoth. The massive sculpture looked as though it had been reborn from its Ice Age extinction into a pristine snow-beast, frozen above ground.
For this year’s event, the team modeled their effort on the big-screen rebirth of King Kong and named it Yukong. Their interpretation was a 12-foot-tall version of the simian giant clutching his human captive in his grip. The sculpture was an uncanny representation of Peter Jackson’s computer-generated masterpiece from the movie, complete with uneven jaw and angry maw.
The sculptures created during this event are made possible by event coordinators in Whitehorse who use 8x12 foot tall, 10 foot deep wooden box forms that are filled with snow and packed down using a front end loader.
Lucchetti and friends will be using this same wooden form premise for their creation at this year’s Buckwheat Ski Classic, without the help of heavy machinery.
“We are going to use human front-end-loaders,” said Lucchetti. “And we will stomp on the snow as the box is filled.”
For past Buckwheat races, the team practiced more traditional means of completing their aid station sculptures by employing techniques used for igloo construction to realize their designs. The Herculean effort facing them this year will be for the purpose of creating a design based on, well, Hercules.
While there is certainly some artistic license in representing the Greek hero, it is doubtful that anyone has ever based the facial features of the mythical strongman on the bearded countenance of race founder Buckwheat Donahue.
Until now.
“Since (Buckwheat) is not here, we wanted to represent him as the hero,” said Lucchetti.
Lucchetti’s idea is to commemorate not only Buckwheat, but pay homage to the Olympic Games, both past and present.
With lumber donated from Skagway Hardware, the team will construct their form much to the specifications of the Sourdough Rendezvous. After the snow has set, they will remove the form and begin work on the piece and two Olympic style torches on either side of the snow-statue.
All of the work will be done by hand.
Lucchetti and his teammates have already created a scaled-down maquette version made from plasticene, which they will use as a guide during the carving phase.
Lucchetti’s only concern is that warming temperatures in the Yukon this week may slow down the process but he doesn’t seem overly worried.
“It’s going to be perfect,” he said with a smile.

See final results and more about the race in the April 6, 2006 Skagway News