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How do you create a prize-winning snow sculpture? Just ask this Northeastern law grad who is digging his unique passion

David Rothstein was part of the team that won every award at the 2024 Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships, marking the second time in the competition’s 33-year history that a team made a clean sweep.

A person outside using a chainsaw to carve into snow and ice.
David Rothstein, a Northeastern law grad, was part of the team that swept the 2024 Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

It’s been over 25 years since David Rothstein first tried his hand at snow sculpting. The Northeastern School of Law grad was spending a year after graduating clerking in Alaska for chief justice (and fellow Northeastern alum) Dana Fabe when he signed up for a snow sculpting contest as part of Anchorage’s annual Fur Trappers Rendezvous. That was his first time creating art out of snow and he’s never looked back.

Rothstein’s work has come a long way since then. He, along with three teammates, recently won every award at the 2024 Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships, marking the second time in the competition’s 33-year history that a team has made a clean sweep.

“It was overwhelming … just to be recognized with any award,” said Rothstein who now works as a land protection specialist for Massachusetts Audubon. “Everyone who participates in this event is at the top of their game. It’s like the crown jewel of sculpting events. … To have judges recognize the message that goes along with the sculpture, and recognize the beauty, but also the ability of art to tell stories is really rewarding. … It just bolsters all of us as artists to know that we can create something that helps start a conversation.”

Team Mexico won multiple medals for “The Beggar,” a 16-foot tall sculpture of a thin, bedraggled man who is surrounded by bitcoin. The work was done by Rothstein along with his teammates: captain Carlos Miguel Ramirez Pereyra and Israel Magaña Rodriguez, both from Colima, Mexico, and Adam Turner from Minnesota. Together, they competed against teams representing the United States, Germany, Lithuania, Mongolia, China, Korea, Ecuador, Denmark and India.

Rothstein has known Ramirez Pereya for years and worked together on sculptures, but this year represented the pair’s first chance to create in the snow. It’s through him that Rothstein was welcomed onto Team Mexico even though he hails from western Massschuetts. The competition’s rules only require that a majority of a team’s members have to be from the country they’re representing. (Rothstein called representing Mexico “an incredible privilege” and said it’s common for people to represent countries other than their own.)

The idea for their prize-winning sculpture came from Ramirez Pereya, Rothstein said.  

“We live in a world where we’re all looking after ourselves, and we’re chasing financial dreams,” Rothstein said. “And we’re often missing out on what life really has to offer. For us, the sculpture was the flip side of the snow sculpting community, which is ephemeral art. We get together once a year and we really have to appreciate things in the moment. If you’re only doing something for money you might miss out on that. We don’t get paid to go out there and compete. We do it because we’re filled with a love for the art form and for one another.”

What compels someone to get into snow sculpting and spend hours working on a piece that’ll ultimately melt away? Much like the message of “The Beggar,” it’s about living in the moment. In the decades since Rothstein first dug into snow, he’s created countless pieces, from a 15-foot owl that lit up from the inside to designs in thin coatings that cover his driveway. 

“There are (sculptures) you remember because of where you were,” he said. “Then there are the ones that … you just remember being beautiful. We tend to remember the good aspects. The sculptures, sometimes they fall down and you just have to accept it, but that’s part of the process of sculpting something that’s ephemeral. I always say goodbye to them. I wonder how they’re doing: Are they melting or does it fall over? But then in summertime a big, fat raindrop falls on the head. And I’m like, ‘Oh, that was my sculpture saying hello.’ It’s kind of cool that it returns to the water cycle.”

Opportunities for sculpting at home are far and few in between these days as Massachusetts faces another winter without major snow. Rothstein said many of his competitions get canceled these days for similar reasons, calling the change “depressing.” He’ll often travel outside New England for sculpting gigs to get his fix, working on snow hotels.

 Otherwise, you can find him creating art when he does have to shovel his driveway.