City man wins snow-sculpting competition in Colorado

Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dave Rothstein of Northampton recently used 20 tons of snow to educate the public about ocean pollution — and he won first place in a snow-sculpting contest while doing it.

Rothstein was a member of Team USA/VT, one of 15 teams competing last month in the “International Snow Sculpting Championships,” held in Breckenridge, Colorado. Although it was Rothstien’s first time competing in the 26-year-old championships, he’s been a competitive snow sculptor since 1998.

Rothstein, 47, an attorney with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services in Hadley, learned his craft while participating in a winter Mardi-Gras event during a year he spent in Alaska, with help from experienced snow sculptors. That year, he created what he calls a glorified snowman, complete with a bucket, an axe and a bread knife.

Rothstein, who has lived in Northampton for 10 years, frequently sculpts snow in his frontyard on Florence Road. Last year, he built an “igloo-bar” in his yard, where he served complementary drinks to friends and passersby. From time to time, he even leaves a surprise sculpture in the yard of a local home.

“It’s my random art of kindness,” he said.

Away from home, he competes with a number of teams.

“Instead of being a member of just one team, I tend to ride the circuit with various teams, both national and international,” Rothstein said in a recent interview. “In the case of Team USA/VT, we’ve been sculpting buddies for the past 18 years.”

For five days in late January, four-member teams from 11 countries, including Canada, Finland and Mongolia, worked day and night to complete their entries — each fashioned out of a 12-foot-high block that measured 10 feet by 10 feet at the base. The mounds of snow were created using metal molds, which were filled using a specially equipped snow blower. As the snow accumulated, volunteers climbed into the molds to stamp it down with their feet.

Rothstein joined Team USA/VT on its fifth trip to the championships, along with team captain Michael Nedell, Brooke Monte and Adrien Tans, all of Burlington, Vermont. The sculpture, “Rhonda and her Recycling Robo-Octopus,” was based on a picture Rothstein had seen at the FOE Gallery in Northampton that depicted a boy riding an octopus. The team took that idea and transformed it into “something more meaningful,” Rothstein said. The goal was to “incorporate youth and the strength of science and education.”

Rhonda’s backstory

Rhonda is a math and science whiz and a member of her local makerspace (a community that shares do-it-yourself ideas) with a passion for recycling. She invented her Robo-Octopus (an octopus-shaped submarine) to help clean up the ocean floor.

“Rhonda’s got a leg up (or eight) in solving problems and moving toward a bright future,” Rothstein said.

Rothstein, who calls the creation “almost Dr. Seuss-like,” said, “She won because it was well-sculpted and detailed. ... It had a message that focused on imagination and problem-solving.”

Tens of thousands of people passed by the public exhibit, located around the Riverwalk Center, close enough to the slopes that visitors could ski right through it. Many who attended were school-aged children. As they passed, Rothstein said, he and his teammates took the opportunity to talk to them about ocean pollution and what they can do to fix it.

“Rhonda was an example of what they could be and what they can do,” he said.

For information about the competition, visit


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