When Anthony Foliot, also known as the Snowking, found out about an international snow carving competition in Sweden last spring, he told Niki Mckenzie and her carving partner Kris Schlagintweit they should apply.
"It was a bit of a process," said Mackenzie.
The duo that has been creating snow sculptures at the Yellowknife Snow Castle for the past five years had to submit an expression of interest, give a design of the sculpture they'll make, submit a "snow resume" — "It's the first time I've ever had to do anything like that," said Mckenzie, chuckling — send pictures of their work and get letters of support.
But it paid off.
Mckenzie and Schlagintweit are heading to Sweden next month to compete at the Kiruna Snow Festival's international snow sculpture competition, which attracts some of the best artists in the world.
"It's a bit of a shock," said Mckenzie. "I'm from New Zealand. I hadn't even seen snow before coming here. This is a pretty huge change for me."
Mckenzie and Schlagintweit will form one of only six teams at the competition, which runs Jan. 26 to 30.
Mckenzie said she's also excited to visit the festival's ice hotel.
"Their ice hotel is almost as famous as our snow castle," she joked.
"I'm really, really excited to see the different techniques and styles that they use over there."
She said for the competition, she and Schlagintweit and will carve Whaitiri, the equivalent of the goddess of thunder in Maori mythology.
"She's very powerful, very determined and seems to huck a lightning bolt to people that she doesn't like," said Mckenzie.
"So we're going to have this beautiful entity sitting on her long flowing hair that'll be carved in the style of amori stone sculpture, holding a thunderbolt,"
She added the sculpture will be carved out of a block of snow 10 feet by 10 feet by 10 feet.
"I believe it's the largest piece of snow I have ever carved, " said Mckenzie.
"I'm intimidated for sure. Kris and I have both been doing a rigourous exercise regime. We've got wood chopping and stacking and a dozen pushups every morning trying to get in shape for it."
While Mckenzie is excited about the upcoming trip, she's also nervous about travelling given the COVID-19 pandemic.
"My family is all the way in New Zealand, and I haven't been able to see them for the past two years because the borders have been closed and I'm concerned," she said.
"But Kris and I are both double vaxxed and we're planning on getting our boosters. So … follow the rules and be sensible. We're going to be outside for most of the time wearing hopefully a lot of warm clothes. I'm not too worried about breathing on people."
Ultimately, Mckenzie said, she's hoping for one thing.
"I just hope we do our snow team back here proud."