Since moving to Colorado nearly three years ago, I’ve made it my business (really) to visit as much of this state as possible. This means, of course, that I have a ridiculously long must-see list. On top of that list: the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge. This year, this art lover and outdoor enthusiast couldn’t wait—neither should you—to head up the mountain to see what people could craft out of a little frozen water.

The snow carving competition began in Breckenridge as a local pastime in the late 1960s during Ullr Fest, the town’s annual winter carnival. Back then, the sculptures were much smaller and artists did their work right on Main Street. Over the years, the sculptures got bigger and more intricate, and eventually the event moved to Riverwalk Center. Now, the competition is so fierce that organizers have a hard time narrowing the field down to 15 teams from as far away as China and Australia. This year, several past medalists will return to the event and five new teams will make their Breckenridge debut.

Teams have five days to transform 12-foot, 20-ton blocks of machine-made snow (pictured) into colossal works of art. But here’s where it gets interesting: Sculptors can only use hand tools to execute their vision. We’re talking rakes, hatchets, and chicken wire. No power tools, internal support structures, or colorants are allowed.

“Breckenridge’s competition is emerging as one of the preeminent snow sculpture events in the world, event founder Rob Neyland says. “The quality of the snow, combined with ideal weather conditions, allows sculptors to push the art form. We’re seeing competitors defy gravity in a way that they cannot do in most other destinations.”

If You Go: Sculptures are on display until February 3, and Breck expects more than 32,000 visitors for the event. Gold, silver, bronze, and Artists’ Choice prizes are awarded, along with two categories that are open to public voting until January 26 at 2 p.m. (you can check out the 2012 winners here). Winners receive no money—just major bragging rights in the snow sculpting community.

Stay Tuned: Look for my interviews soon with Teams Mexico (who practices with sand during the year), Breckenridge, and Alaska, along with photos of the artists in action.

—Image courtesy of Carl Scofield

Follow digital assistant editor Davina van Buren on Twitter at @davinavanburen or on Pinterest.