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Carving isle niche in snow

A team from Hawaii will take part in Japan's annual Sapporo Snow Festival

By Burl Burlingame

LAST UPDATED: 2:52 a.m. HST, Jan 19, 2011

This story has been corrected.

Gentlemen, start your shovels! Let the ice chips fall where they may.

The 38th annual Sapporo Snow Festival begins Feb. 5, an event visited by millions. A highlight is the Snow Sculpture Contest in which 20-by-20-foot cubes of packed snow are carved into intricate designs. Thirteen countries are competing this year — and one of these "countries" is Hawaii.

Yes, we have snow in Hawaii. Been to the top of Mauna Kea lately? Some of the other competing countries include Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, regions not exactly known as winter wonderlands. Russia, Sweden, Finland, the United States, the Netherlands, yes, but the country of Hawaii? Not exactly.

And Hawaii's team started out as Kauai's team. Actor, ice carver and Royal Hawaiian Hotel garde (cold food) manager Dale Radomski was drafted by the Kauai Visitors Bureau in 1999 after the island was invited to compete by Sapporo. They put together a team of sculpture-minded chefs and started entering, and in 2000 won the event. The next year, Kauai bailed and Radomski's crew became Team Hawaii.

"We've been competing now for 10 years, and we generally do pretty well," Radomski said. This year's team includes Lawrence and Bryson Bayot, father and son, respectively, and Norimitsu Wada-Goode. The elder Bayot is pastry chef at Sheraton Waikiki; Wada-Goode is with the Royal Hawaiian. Along with waterman and supporter Leighton Tseu, they were all gathered around an enormous block of ice in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel's kitchen to demonstrate some of their techniques.

Radomski had "grown" the ice block in an elaborate mold. It takes two days, and the ice needs to be just-so to avoid bubbles and fractures. This block was as clear as ... well, as clear as water.

"Snow sculpting isn't quite like ice sculpting," explained Radomski. "It's deep and it's delicate. For example, we might use barbed wire to cut it instead of saws. We're always looking out for specialized tools or making our own."

Tools include scrapers made of metal joist braces epoxied to a block of wood, and packed snow can be finely "sanded" with pet-proof security screen material. At the other end of the spectrum are large wood-turning chisels.

Radomski hefted one the size of a baseball bat. "It was sharpened for us by Ken Onion, the knife guy, who's a real supporter," he said. "Let's try it out."

He pushed the chisel across the ice block, creating a paper-thin curl of ice.

"Sweet!" said Bryson Bayot, filling in this year for pastry chef Quirino Domingo.

"Ken Onion is the master," marveled Radomski. "And yes, the first question everyone asks Team Hawaii is whether we can put shave-ice syrup on our sculptures. No — coloring the snow is against the rules.

"The snow at Sapporo is packed into molds that are 20 feet in each dimension, and it's packed down until it's firm but not icy. It's not like new-fallen snow. But you never know — there might be a hole in the middle, and your sculpture might collapse when you carve it down to that point."

Lawrence Bayot said, "Not powder snow, and it's not as delicate as making a sand sculpture. We draw numbers for our site, and you always want one on the south side of the main street. That way the sunlight hits the back of the sculpture and melts that side first."


Local businesses that would like to donate omiyage for Team Hawaii to take to Japan should contact Billie Gabriel at 497-7264.


Other rules include no power tools, no electrical devices, no wires or armatures within the sculpture to strengthen it. Ice is OK, and sometimes necessary as glue. One year Team Hawaii made a giant monk seal and molded the whiskers inside plastic straws, then pushed out the ice rods and planted them.

The sculptures are carefully designed, generally by Lawrence Bayot. His theme comes this year from a Hawaiian legend of an Oahu man's rescue by his owl aumakua. Designs have to be approved in advance, and the finished sculptures are partially judged by their fidelity to the original design.

"The judges are celebrities, artists and sculptors," Radomski said. There's also a people's choice award, which Team Hawaii won in 2007 with a snow mermaid and snow child. That win was particularly sweet because the mermaid's arm fell off during the last day of carving, and Bayot had to scrape up a new arm and glue it on with icy water.

Despite the delicacy of the carving, the big job at the beginning is removing tons of snow that doesn't belong. Bayot draws the design on each side with spray cans, and "bulldozers and backhoes" rough out the design. Every night, mountains of spare snow are carted away by Sapporo snowplows.

The Team Hawaii guys have bought warm snow gear from mainland suppliers, and there's a warm cabin that teams can duck into when the chill factor gets too high. "The clothes have to be warm and comfortable, but you also have to be able to move easily," said Lawrence Bayot.

Something like 2 million to 3 million visitors are attracted to the Sapporo Snow Festival every year, and they're "very loyal" to Team Hawaii's efforts.

"You can't buy that kind of publicity and promotion for Hawaii. ... Getting our team to Japan and back has always been a grass-roots effort," Radomski said. "Airfare is always tough to get. Japan Air Lines takes care of our cargo of tools and uniforms, and the Royal Hawaiian is great about giving us the time."

The team is also on the lookout for little gifts to give Japanese fans. "Anything!" Radomski said. "Pens, key chains, baubles, anything that says 'Hawaii' on it. The Japanese visitors love such promotional keepsakes, and it helps sell Hawaii. Aloha Airlines once gave us a bunch of cool light-up pins showing the islands, but then they went out of business."

The Hawaii Tourism Authority this week donated 2,000 pins for Team Hawaii to give away.

Everything else is set for this year's competition except for the airfare.

"The snow gods are generally with us," Radomski said. "We have all we need except a plane ride. The hardest thing, actually, was finding a big enough pair of snow boots for Lawrence. He's got luau feet."


» Dale Radomski, a member of the Team Hawaii snow-carving team, is garde (cold food) manager at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. A Page G1 article Sunday listed his position as garden manager.

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