Aspen Times Weekly: ‘On Ice’ with snow sculptor Thomas Barlow

by Jeanne McGovern


Justice Snow’s, the bar and restaurant in Aspen’s historic Wheeler Opera House, is determined to be known as more than a place to eat and drink this winter.

“Justice Snow’s wants to go beyond just being a restaurant to reach the heart of the Aspen community,” says local marketing man Alan Cole, who’s working with Justice Snow’s proprietress Michele Kiley on a full slate of winter programming. “Thomas Barlow’s amazing artwork has been gracing the plaza right outside our doors for the past several years as part of the ice sculpture competition held during Wintersköl in January. We decided it was high time we showcased his talents here at the restaurant for a longer run.”

In fact, a series of Barlow ice sculptures will soon be installed at each window on the building’s red brick façade, as well as at the restaurant’s main entry. Current sketches for the exhibit call for solid ice window boxes filled with ornately carved icicles. LED lights will be weaved into the sculptures, creating a rainbow of ice for patrons and passersby to feast on.

“I presented Kiley with three different ideas for what was possible, and she said she couldn’t choose...for me to decide,” says Barlow. “So I came up with yet another idea. I think the idea of icicles allows for a lot of creativity.”

Part of that creativity is captured by the nature of sculpting in ice, and the effects of Mother Nature herself.

“The ice boxes will provide some protection from the sun, but these sculptures will change over time,” says Barlow. “Maybe I’ll even carve a hole in them to allow air flow, which will create even more change.”

Clearly, Marlow and the people behind Justice Snow’s are thinking alike.

“Thomas’ work fits perfectly with our ongoing celebration of the arts here at Justice Snow’s, and we hope his sculptures delight our visitors, our neighbors and our patrons.”

Upcoming Events @ Justice Snow’s:

Dec. 7: Sunday Brunch and Celtic music with Crowlin Ferlies, noon-2 p.m.

Dec. 7: December Salon, 5-7 p.m.

Dec. 7: Southern rock with John Wesley Satterfield, 9 p.m.

Dec. 9: Celtic music with Crowlin Ferlies, 7:30-10 p.m.

Dec. 10: Acoustic rock and soul with Josh Rogan, 9 p.m.

Dec. 14: Sunday Brunch and Celtic music with Crowlin Ferlies, noon-2 p.m.

Dec. 14: Rock and folk with Zak Shaffer & Jackson Emmer, 9 p.m.

Dec. 16: Open mic, 8-10 p.m.

Dec. 17: Americana music with the Milemarkers, 9 p.m.

All events are no cover charge, except the Salon which is $25 per person and includes wine and hors d’oeuvres.

Thomas Barlow knows a thing or two about art. He has created masterpieces out of sugar and sand. The way he learned to shred a carrot and decorate a cake has translated into ornate designs carved from wood and marble, ice and snow.

“I’ve found a niche,” says Barlow, a longtime valley resident who’s made a name for himself as a sculptor — especially in ice and snow. “From carving vegetables to being a kitchen artist to creating 14-foot ice sculptures…it’s a transference of medium.”

Still, Barlow is not formally trained as an artist nor a chef. But that hasn’t changed the trajectory of his career path. The proof is written on the, well, ice.

“I have no real schooling,” Barlow says, “but I’ve learned on the job; with sculpting I can turn an idea into a sketch, and transform that into a piece of 3D art .”

If you’ve strolled through downtown Aspen over the past few winters, you’ve likely seen Barlow’s work — an ice bar in the Hotel Jerome courtyard (he hopes to do another installation there this winter); an entry in Anderson Ranch’s annual Wintersculpt competition (the children’s rendition, Kidsculpt, is one of his favorite things to watch unfold, “It’s just so wonderful to see their creativity; it’s really what it’s all about,” he says).

Or, peruse his online gallery (, where page after page showcases his work — at local weddings, state festivals and international competitions.

A highlight among the countless projects Barlow has undertaken? A public relations stunt that had a sculpted Denver Bronco crushing the New York City skyline as a lead up to an NFL football match; a photo of the installation made the front page of the sports section of the New York Times. Another moment to remember? Back-to-back People’s Choice Awards at the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge.

“That just said to me that what we did had an impact on the people we create these sculptures for,” says Barlow. “It’s so exciting to see people intrigued by what can be created out of ice and snow.”

True, Barlow uses tools like chainsaws and chisels — Japanese ones are best, says Barlow, as the Japanese are the founders of the art of ice sculptures — as opposed to mitten-covered hands and snow shovels. But the joy of playing in the powder isn’t lost on Barlow, even if his playground consists of 300-pound blocks of solid ice.

“Ice is like glass, it creates such sharp sculptures,” he says with a childlike grin. “But snow is free.

“And they both change before your eyes; that is the idea — ice and snow sculptures melt. They deconstruct.”

Sometimes, when you work in a medium made of water, deconstruction comes a bit too soon.

On a recent bluebird day, Barlow notes that “under 55 degrees is OK” … so long as the Colorado sun isn’t beating down his designs.

“I think about angles and shade and how to protect the sculptures,” he says with an engineer’s eye. “And some years, there just isn’t snow.”

But even when there is plenty of the white stuff, Mother Nature can wreck havoc on his creations.

In Cripple Creek last winter, during the town’s annual ice festival, Barlow created a complex “101 Dalmatian”-themed sculpture, complete with Cruella De Ville and her decked-out car. After days of work — and an unwelcome warm streak — the masterpiece began to melt. And, just when Barlow had to accept the fact the sculpture was lost, he dropped his keys through a metal grate on the ground. Minutes later, he watched as his keys were washed away with the tide of his deteriorating ice sculpture. Undeterred, and with colder temperatures and fresh ice on the way, he got back to work on a new installation.

“That’s the way it goes. That’s part of the fun,” he says. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”