I first met and wrote about the Baisas Brothers, Antonio and Ross, last year when they competed for the first time at the Ice on Whyte Festival. Already on a wave of a succession of top awards in previous competitions, they won 1st place, Judges' Choice, and People's Choice Awards for their ice carving "Alliance" in the 2018 Ice on Whyte. A day after the opening of the festival, they left immediately for work and two other competitions in the ice carving circuit. These were the Winter Interlude 2018 in Ottawa where they again garnered the top prize, and the Judges and Public Choices Awards at the Fete D'hiver Saint-Jean-Port-Joli International Competition in Quebec.
The top three awardees in Ice on Whyte are automatically qualified for the following year. And so, the Baisas Brothers were prominently featured in the 2019 Ice on Whyte media releases. However, before returning to Edmonton from Montreal and Ottawa where they are respectively based, they participated in the SnowDays International Snow Sculpture Competition in Banff. Their work "Tangled", which depicted two moose with interlocking antlers, won Judges' Pick and People's Choice Awards.
I had the privilege of spending some time with Ross and Antonio, and witness the stages of their creation "Roarrr!!!" in the Ice on Whyte, 2019 Canada Cup of Ice Carving. On Day 1, when they showed me their design, my eyes just popped with their derring do. Their design was the riskiest. While the other competitors had detailed designs, they had wide and solid bases. The Baisas Brothers' design, a skeletal tyrannosaurus, would after all just stand on two legs, and have unsupported front and back extensions, not to mention the detailing for the bones, head and teeth for the dinosaur. When I remarked on it, they answered with a shrug, "That's the risk. What's the point in competing when you don't challenge yourself? You can't always play it safe." Well said.
I referred to the Baisas Borthers' work in my previous article as A Story of Fire and Ice - fire for their passion for their work and ice as the medium. Observing them work for three days validated this notion. The longest I lasted with them outdoors was 30 minutes, whereas they would work on their sculpture for 14 hours a day, a total of 35 hours, with 15 blocks of ice. I would joke with them about having no right to complain anymore for shoveling snow and having to find a better way of earning a living. I witnessed how a plain block of ice is transformed into a t-rex's foot in a span of 10-15 minutes. I saw their patience and perseverance in the painstaking grinding and scraping they do in frigid temperature.
What struck me most though aside from their skills and talent, is the love for what they do and the humility for what they can do and have achieved. The ice and snow sculptors circle is a tight knit group. They regularly meet up in the competition circuit. So while they are competitive, they are also supportive. It is not unusual for Ross and Antonio to lend their tools to their competitors, especially those who fly in from other countries and whose tools will not be allowed to go through Border Security. Spending time with them allowed me to be privy to their conversations about which competitions to vie for, strategies for funding and making the trip viable, and commissioned works. All these made it more concrete for me the amount and the kind of sacrifices they make for something they love, and not necessarily something they will earn money from.
Stunned as I was initially with their design, I knew though that if there's anyone who could execute the design, it would be them. And they did, with flying colours. I was amazed by the detailing, the way they were able to make the long tail curve, and the clarity and seamlessness of the ice. When I asked him why their work was so, whereas with the other competitors' sculptures you can detect the delineations of the ice blocks, they just smiled enigmatically and said, "There's a technique for that. And that's the secret."
Nature, though, has cunning ways. On Day 3, with its 0 degree overnight temperature and +4 Celsius daytime high, lovely for Edmontonians for January, proved to be challenging for the ice sculptures. With the ice melting, a perilous part of "Roarrr!!!" collapsed 10 minutes before the final judging. Nature, after all, is something you have to contend with in these competitions. Nevertheless, "Roarrr!!!" and the Baisas Brothers were awarded 3rd Place and the Artists' Choice awards during the opening of the Festival. After its 2-week run, Roarrr!!! was announced the winner of the People's Choice Award despite having part of its tail in the ground.
The Baisas Brothers were scheduled to leave first thing in the morning after the announcement of winners. Reality sets in quickly and they needed to meet work demands for the upcoming Lunar New Year. I asked them to have an extended time in the city when they return next year to allow some time for the Filipino community to meet them. Unfortunately, a return to the Ice on Whyte or other competitions might not even be in the plans pending financial support to cover travel expenses to these competitions, and allowed time off from work. In fact, it was a little bit aching to attest that someone who shovels snow in the sidewalk probably earns more than someone who has earned top prize after 35 hours of hard and skilled work in the ice.
Nevertheless, I hope that Antonio and Ross find consolation and fulfillment in the fact that we are in awe of their talents and skills, and are proud of what they have achieved and will continue to reap representing both Canada and the Philippines.
* This article was published in the February 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.
** As an update, just this February, the Baisas Brothers together with Kiara-Lyne Baisas, won again 2nd place and Public Choice Award in the Snow Sculpture Competition at Fete L'hiver at Saint-Jean-Port-Joli at Quebec.