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Stillwater readies for international snow-sculpture competition



Stillwater readies for international snow-sculpture competition

City crews generally truck snow out of downtown Stillwater during the winter months.

Not this year.

Stillwater Public Works trucks traveled to Afton Alps in southern Washington County to bring snow into town this week. The pristine piles of white stuff were added to massive piles of snow created on site by a crew from Green Acres Tubing Park in Lake Elmo.

Welcome to the inaugural World Snow Sculpting Championship, which runs Wednesday through Saturday in Lowell Park.

The event, sanctioned by Finland-based Association Internationale de Sculpture sur Neige et Glase, is expected to bring an estimated 30,000 people to Stillwater.

German snow sculptor Franziska Agrawal created “FOLDED III” in 2019 for the Snowking Winter Festival in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. Agrawal is competing in the January 2022 World Snow Sculpting Championship in downtown Stillwater. (Courtesy of Franziska Agrawal)

“It’s like we’re building a half-pipe in Lowell Park for snowboarding,” Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski said. “It’s a sight to behold. It’s like those big piles of snow in the parking lots that as a kid you always wanted to sled down and play ‘King of the Hill’ on, but this is all beautiful and perfectly white. It’s just magical.”

Three-member snow-sculpting teams from around the world, including Ecuador, Germany, Canada and Turkey, are competing for prize money and the title of “World Champions.” The teams will have 77 hours — from 9 a.m. Wednesday until 2 p.m. Saturday — to carve their sculptures out of 10-by-10-by-10-foot blocks of snow. But they will have only 68 working hours, because there’s a mandatory layoff each day between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

“These things are massive. They’re 10 feet high,” Kozlowski said. “What’s really cool is they are going to be around for a while. It will be really fun to be here while they are doing the work and to be part of the competition, but if people can’t make it to the competition, they can come down on a Tuesday night and walk around these things and check them out. It’s going to be really neat.”

Prizes will be awarded to the top three teams. Spectators can watch the entire process, visit with the teams and vote for their favorite sculpture; the team with the most votes will win “The People’s Choice Award.”

Kozlowski said the event is the perfect pandemic activity.

“We’ve got tons of space, it’s outdoors, and it’s a great, safe event,” he said. “If you’re going to do something in a pandemic, this is kind of the thing to do.”


The key to making snow, according to Rich Springborn, co-owner of Green Acres, is understanding “wet-bulb temperature.” That’s the lowest temperature to which air can be cooled by the evaporation of water into the air at a constant pressure. “Snowmaking does not go off of the air temperature,” he said. “When we start making snow, we go off the wet-bulb temperature, which shows how quick the air will take the heat out of the water when we introduce the water into the air.”

Springborn started making snow for the international competition on Jan. 6 — just to make sure he had enough time and the temperature was right.

“It turned out really good,” he said. “The first night, it got too cold — minus 25 degrees — so we had to shut it down. The sweet spot is between 10 and 15 degrees.”

Springborn, who uses a portable SMI Wizzard Snowmaker machine to make snow, learned the art of snow-making “through trial and error,” he said.

His father, Gaylen Springborn, and late grandfather, Howard Springborn, who started Green Acres Tubing Park in 1972 to diversify the income from the family farm, also passed down their knowledge, he said.

“Machine-made snow lasts almost twice as long as natural snow,” Springborn said. “The snow turns into a better snow if you let it cure for a couple of days. It dries out and all the moisture in it freezes, and you get a drier snow instead of a wet clumpy snow. It packs better in the forms, and then you won’t have a lot of air pockets in the blocks.”

The competition is great for downtown Stillwater, said Springborn, who also is providing snow for the snow sculptures of the St. Paul Winter Carnival at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

In addition to moving the snow that will be loaded into the 10-by-10-by-10-foot forms, Springborn is making a snow slide in Lowell Park.

“The whole event is great for the community,” he said. “It brings all the local businesses together in the winter instead of being cooped up.”


How did Stillwater land an international event like the World Snow Sculpting Championship? Officials from the city and the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce get the credit.

During the fall of 2020, there was a call to action to help local businesses during the first quarter of 2021 because of COVID-19, said Robin Anthony, the chamber’s executive director.

A series of activities in downtown Stillwater, dubbed “Wintertime in Stillwater,” were organized and planned. The events centered on a massive downtown light display, including the lighting of the Stillwater Lift Bridge; an Ice Maze in the parking lot of the Zephyr Theatre; a free walk-through, color-changing LED light display on the Chestnut Street Plaza that is synchronized to music; lights up and down Main Street; and “Fire & Ice,” a hot-air balloon event and ice-cream social.

Map of events in Stillwater for the International snow sculpture competition.
A map of events for Stillwater’s upcoming World Snow Sculpting Championship. (Courtesy Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce)

At the same time, organizers learned about the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship in Lake Geneva, Wis. Chamber executives tried to lure the event to Stillwater, but “they didn’t want to move,” Anthony said.

Instead, Winter Fun LLC, the Milwaukee-based organizers of the national event, pitched a new competition — the World Championship — for Stillwater. “There have been competitions throughout the U.S. and around the world, but there has never been a World Championship,” Anthony said.

Stillwater has signed a contract agreeing to host the event for three years, with the first right of refusal after that for future years, Anthony said.

The global gathering will be celebrated this year with a weeklong festival of events, including an Opening Ceremony, the World’s Coolest Block Party on Jan. 22 and MinneSnowta Nice Day on Jan. 23.

Each team participating in the competition had to show proof that they were a “world-class competitor,” having won either an international or U.S. competition, Anthony said. Each sculptor coming to Stillwater will receive lodging, food and a $500 travel stipend, she said.

Plans called for 12 three-person teams to compete in the event, but a team from Germany and a team from Argentina had to drop out last week because of COVID, Anthony said.

“What’s keeping me up at night now is getting the teams tested to get them back into their countries,” she said. “That’s a whole other level of logistics.”

The other major stressor? “Mother Nature,” she said. “What we don’t need is a heat wave. Right now, the weather forecast looks perfect. We want cold weather and sunshine, and that’s what it looks like we’re going to get.”


“What is very interesting, in the context of my work, is the ephemerality and the context of time and of how to perceive time in an object or in an artwork,” said Franziska Agrawal, a snow sculptor from Munich, Germany, who will be arriving in Stillwater on Tuesday.

Franziska Agrawal, an industrial designer and artist from Munich, German, is competing in the January 2022 World Snow Sculpting Championship in downtown Stillwater. Agrawal specializes in
Franziska Agrawal of Germany is competing in the January 2022 World Snow Sculpting Championship in Stillwater. Agrawal specializes in “site-specific architectural installations with natural and ephemeral materials.” In 2019, she created “FOLDED III” during the Snowking Winter Festival in Canada. (Courtesy of Franziska Agrawal)

Agrawal, an industrial designer and artist, specializes in site-specific architectural installations with natural and ephemeral materials. Many of her snow sculptures are geometric shapes; the title of her Stillwater piece is “PRISMA VI.”

Agrawal said she doesn’t mind sculpting in a material that won’t last.

“What actually gives the value of a piece of art?” she said during a Zoom call from Germany last week. “Does it depend on its longevity? On the length of its lifetime? And then what is the length of a lifetime? Who determines that? Our human lifespan? Or is it in terms of the universe? Or in terms of an animal that lives just two years?

“You can experience an art piece with the experience you have when you look at it,” she said. “Because if you go to a museum, you would also maybe spend just five minutes with it, but you would have a lasting impression and you would have an experience which you would probably take in your memory.”

Agrawal documents her sculptures through photography and tries to record each piece at its “moment of perfection,” she said. “From that moment, that is what I keep. For me, the whole process of creation and destruction is part of nature. This is the life cycle.”

Agrawal often enlists locals to take photos of her snow sculptures as they melt.

Agrawal, a “recurring artist” at the famed Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, is competing in a snow-sculpting contest in the Dolomites in Italy this weekend. After she leaves Stillwater, she will compete in contests in Breckenridge, Colo., and Ely, Minn., she said.

After two decades of competitive snow sculpting, Agrawal has learned some important lessons: Bring plenty of warm clothes and a level.

“I have one suitcase that I always bring with me, and one compartment is filled with tools, and the other compartment is clothes,” she said. “I bring Sharpies to draw on the snow because I do these geometric straight lines. I have Chinese laser-cut tools to remove snow — they’re really sharp.”

Each team is given scaffolding, a ladder, a shovel and a hand tamper. They are allowed to bring their own carving tools, but no power tools are allowed.

Agrawal said the coldest temperature she’s ever worked in was minus 47 degrees in Kiruna, Sweden.

The best temperature to work in snow and ice is around 15 to 20 degrees, according to Agrawal. “If it’s colder, then the material also gets very hard or the crystals get very, very brittle or very, very hard to work with. Also, of course, if you stop moving your body, then you freeze maybe within a couple of minutes.”

It’s good to have the option of working at night in case the temperatures are too warm during the day, but Agrawal said she tries to keep late-night hours to a minimum.

“Usually, I’ve learned over these many years to calculate the workload over the hours,” she said. “I have a good feeling for how long things take. I consider the relaxing and the sleeping to be very important.”


Stillwater’s new international event, the World Snow Sculpting Championship, starts Tuesday and runs through Jan. 23. The competition takes place in Lowell Park along the St. Croix River. All events are free and open to the public. There will be a sliding hill, ice sculptures, food trucks, an ice skating rink, a warming tent with cocoa and coffee, a beer tent and music. For a complete schedule, visit Highlights include:

Tuesday, Jan. 18

  • 9 a.m., Exhibition by Jon Baller, local snow sculptor

Wednesday, Jan. 19

  • 9 a.m., Snow sculpting begins
  • 5 p.m., Opening Ceremony, JX Event Center

Thursday, Jan. 20

Friday, Jan. 21

Saturday, Jan. 22

  • 2 p.m., Snow sculpting competition ends
  • 4 p.m., Closing Ceremony, where teams receive awards
  • 6-9 p.m. World’s Coolest Block Party, including a DJ and fire performers

Sunday, Jan. 23

  • 9 a.m.-5 p.m., MinneSnowta Nice Day, including polka dancing, bingo and wild-rice cook-off


With Adley Rutschman in Baltimore and ‘blue skies ahead,’ eyes turn to Grayson Rodriguez, next wave of Orioles’ prospects



With Adley Rutschman in Baltimore and ‘blue skies ahead,’ eyes turn to Grayson Rodriguez, next wave of Orioles’ prospects

A day after top prospect Adley Rutschman made his Orioles debut, Executive Vice President and general manager Mike Elias offered a reminder that more are coming as the organization continues to trend upward in the next stage of its rebuild.

“We’ve got blue skies ahead of us,” Elias said Sunday morning in the Orioles’ dugout at Camden Yards. “We’ve got a No. 1 farm system. We’ve got a young, talented major league team. We have payroll flexibility. We’re past the pandemic, and there’s gonna be more and more people coming into the ballpark. We’re gonna be renovating this place. There’s a lot to look forward to.”

Perhaps chief among those is the arrival of more prospects around Rutschman. The Orioles could’ve possibly had back-to-back debut days at Oriole Park, but No. 2 prospect Grayson Rodriguez instead started for Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday. He threw 87 pitches during his prior start — the same eighth-ranked prospect Kyle Bradish reached in his last Triple-A outing before being promoted — but Elias was clear the Orioles feel there remain steps to be taken for the game’s top pitching prospect.

Rodriguez, 22, posted a 2.65 ERA with a 38.5% strikeout rate in his first eight Triple-A starts, pitching beyond the fifth inning three times after doing so only once in 2021. The Orioles want to be able to let him loose in the majors, Elias said, while also building up his innings this year so that he can pitch without restrictions in 2023.

“When he comes up here, we want him to be able to go and pitch and help the team and not handcuff the team, and we’ve got to be super careful with the workload for this kid just because of who he is,” Elias said. “He’s getting close to a full build-up. We just want to see him keep going on the track that I feel like he’s been on. The last two or three outings have been markedly better in terms of stuff, location, delivery. I think his last outing was kind of vintage Grayson, which was exciting. And I’m watching each one of his starts very carefully, and I know we are as an organization.

“Grayson is one of the most important pitchers in baseball, and we want to make sure that we’re handling that responsibly.”

He did not offer specifics on what they feel Rodriguez must do to reach the majors, which has been standard. Only after Rutschman reached the majors did Elias say that the three straight games he caught for Norfolk from Tuesday to Thursday were what showed the organization he was ready after missing time with a strained strained tricep.

The timing allowed Rutschman to play his first game at home, where a raucous but modest crowd cheered his every move. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde compared the atmosphere to what he saw as a coach with the Chicago Cubs’ fan base when they first promoted eventual Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Kris Bryant.

“Once that box was checked, we figured it was a live ball,” Elias said. “And then looking at the schedule, Yankee Stadium didn’t seem like a great option for a debut. And it just seemed he was ready, and this weekend made the most sense. And now, he will get the experience of going to play in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, which is cool for him because that’s life in the [American League] East and then come back for a nice homestand around Memorial Day, so I think the timing worked out as well as it could have given that we were constrained by his injury.”

The Orioles are also managing an injury comeback with No. 3 prospect DL Hall, a left-hander who is routinely showing upper-90s velocity in his return from a stress fracture in his pitching elbow. In three starts since joining Norfolk, Hall, 23, has a 6.52 ERA but has struck out more than 30% of the batters he’s faced.

“He’s got stuff that I think Triple-A is going to be speaking to him about, meaning the hitters there, and you saw the line last time, some walks,” Elias said. “His stuff is unbelievable. He’s been healthy. He looks great. He’s throwing harder than ever, but he’s doing it with ease and efficiency.

“He looks excellent. I think that the mixture of good and bad that we’ve seen in his performance so far in Norfolk is exactly what I would have expected, and I think that he’s ahead of sort of schedule and expectations in terms of where he came into the year, and this is all good stuff, healthy stuff that we’re seeing from him.”

Elias also provided updates on a trio of prospects all recovering with hamstring strains.

Outfielder Heston Kjerstad hasn’t played a professional game since the Orioles drafted him second overall in 2020. He was diagnosed with myocarditis (heart inflammation) shortly after he signed with Baltimore then suffered a left hamstring strain this spring as he finally appeared to be at full health.

Elias said Kjerstad, 23, will begin playing in extended spring training games “as soon as next week,” with the possibility he plays in Florida Complex League games when those begin next month.

“Our goal is to get him to [Low-A] Delmarva this summer,” Elias said. “I don’t know exactly when that’s gonna happen. But he’s doing well with the hamstring and the other stuff that he’s been through.

Last week, outfielder Yusniel Diaz suffered a recurrence of a right hamstring strain that cost about three weeks earlier this season. When on the field, he’s performed well for Norfolk, posting a .934 OPS. Once ranked the Orioles’ top prospect after coming to Baltimore in the Manny Machado trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Diaz, 25, has missed time with lower body injuries each of the past three minor league seasons.

“I don’t know what to say other than that it stinks,” Elias said. “It’s tough news. Once you have those, sometimes they get more susceptible to recurrence, and he’s a twitchy, explosive guy, and this stuff happens, but it’s really putting a hamper on his ability to get on a roll and make himself relevant for the major league team. I’m not ruling anything out, but this is a big setback timewise, and we’ll just keep working with him and get him back out there, and hopefully, maybe in the second half, he can get up here because his time’s overdue.”

Triple-A second baseman-outfielder Terrin Vavra, 25, is fully recovered from his right hamstring strain and is in a build-up period, Elias said. He’ll go to a lower affiliate for a rehab assignment before rejoining Norfolk.


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78,000 pounds of infant formula arrives in US



78,000 pounds of infant formula arrives in US


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Enough specialty infant formula for more than half a million baby bottles arrived Sunday in Indianapolis.

The formula, weighing 78,000 pounds (35,380 kilograms), was being transported by military plane, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One as President Joe Biden flew from South Korea to Japan.

It is the first of several flights carrying infant formula from Europe expected this weekend to relieve the deepening shortage in the U.S. The flights were authorized by Biden.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Indianapolis to greet the arrival of the first shipment in Indianapolis.

The Biden administration — which has struggled to address a nationwide shortage of formula, particularly hypoallergenic varieties — has dubbed the effort “Operation Fly Formula.” The crisis follows the closure of the nation’s largest domestic manufacturing plant in Michigan in February due to safety issues.

The White House has said 132 pallets of Nestlé Health Science Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formula was to leave Ramstein Air Base in Germany for the U.S. Another 114 pallets of Gerber Good Start Extensive HA formula were expected to arrive in the coming days. Altogether, about 1.5 million 8-ounce bottles of the three formulas, which are hypoallergenic for children with cow’s milk protein allergy, are expected to arrive this week.

Indianapolis was chosen because it is a Nestle distribution hub. The formula will be offloaded into FedEx semitractor-trailers and taken to a Nestle distribution center about a mile away where the company will do a standard quality control check before distributing the supplies to hospitals, pharmacies and doctor’s offices, according to an administration official on site.

Air Force planes are transporting the initial batch of formula because no commercial flights were available this weekend.

The flight was the first of several to provide “some incremental relief in the coming days” as the government works on a more lasting response to the shortage, Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, said Sunday.

Reese told CNN’s “State of the Union” that Sunday’s flight brought 15% of the specialty medical grade formula needed in the U.S., and because of various actions by the government, people should see “more formula in stores starting as early as this week.”

Longer term, he said, the U.S. needs more formula providers “so that no individual company has this much control over supply chains.”

Under “Operation Fly Formula,” the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services are authorized to request Department of Defense support to pick up overseas infant formula that meets U.S. health and safety standards, so it can get to store shelves faster, according to the USDA.

Alfamino is primarily available through hospitals and home health care companies that serve patients at home.

U.S. regulators and the manufacturer, Abbott Nutrition, hope to have its Michigan plant reopened next week, but it will take about two months before product is ready for delivery. The Food and Drug Administration this week eased importation requirements for baby formula to try to ease the supply crunch, which has left store shelves void of some brands and some retailers rationing supply for parents nervous about feeding their children.

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WHO chief: The COVID pandemic is ‘most certainly not over’



WHO chief: The COVID pandemic is ‘most certainly not over’

BERLIN (AP) — The COVID-19 pandemic is “most certainly not over,” the head of the World Health Organization warned Sunday, despite a decline in reported cases since the peak of the omicron wave. He told governments that “we lower our guard at our peril.”

The U.N. health agency’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told officials gathered in Geneva for opening of the WHO’s annual meeting that “declining testing and sequencing means we are blinding ourselves to the evolution of the virus.” He also noted that almost 1 billion people in lower-income countries still haven’t been vaccinated.

In a weekly report Thursday on the global situation, WHO said the number of new COVID-19 cases appears to have stabilized after weeks of decline since late March, while the overall number of weekly deaths dropped.

While there has been progress, with 60% of the world’s population vaccinated, “it’s not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere,” Tedros said.

“Reported cases are increasing in almost 70 countries in all regions, and this in a world in which testing rates have plummeted,” he added.

Reported deaths are rising in Africa, the continent with the lowest vaccination coverage, he said, and only 57 countries — almost all of them wealthy — have vaccinated 70% of their people.

While the world’s vaccine supply has improved, there is “insufficient political commitment to roll out vaccines” in some countries, gaps in “operational or financial capacity” in others, he said.

“In all, we see vaccine hesitancy driven by misinformation and disinformation,” Tedros said. “The pandemic will not magically disappear, but we can end it.”

Tedros is expected to be appointed for a second five-year term this week at the World Health Assembly, the annual meeting of the WHO’s member countries.


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