Scruffy and longhaired, Buddy Rasmussen bares his teeth fiercely as he grinds away at an 8-foot-tall block of ice. Blood pours from a gash on one leg. Clenching a chainsaw in his battered and rough hands, Buddy makes swift, precise strokes through the ice’s translucent edges, showering stinging, glistening frost on the cheering audience. Rasmussen’s showdown with Houston’s Reverend Butter is the main event at the packed Man vs. Ice Summer Solstice ice-sculpting contest at San Antonio’s Quarry Hofbrau.
Forty-five minutes and several blasts of the flamethrower later, San Antonio’s other Iceman stands victorious beside Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear, who appears to be blasting off into space brandishing a very frigid state of Texas in his uplifted hand.
I drove down to Buddy’s ice-olated Eastside studio the next day to chill out with the 40-year-old father of three.
How’s the leg? What happened with that last night anyway?
My leg caught my chainsaw! I just sharpened it and it cut in real deep. … I just put some Neosporin on. I have nine stitches right here on my thigh from when I had a chisel, just sharpened, it just slipped and dropped right into my leg! I’ve had countless cuts, drills through my thumb, but I got more damage when I was a chef, so …
How did you go from chef to bad-ass ice carver?
In high school I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I was cooking, so I went to chef school when I was 19. Two of the chefs at the job I got were really good ice-carvers, for catering and such. They taught me how to do it.
Is it easy making a living cutting up blocks of ice for decoration? How have you and other artists kept up with competition from computerized ice-carving machines?
After 9/11, we lost 40 percent of our business. It was hard to find work, but we’ve had to build it back up, slowly. Last night was my first sold sculpting contest at a place like Hofbrau. But I think it’s going to come to blows with some of those mechanical carving guys, though! Some of us have spent years learning how to do this; it’s an art.
So what is your weapon of choice for this art?
I carve about 1,200 ice sculptures a year, so I always use STIHL chainsaws. They last forever, the parts are easy to replace, and they don’t wear out as fast. I use them on wood, too.
What made you start carving wood?
I started carving wood about three years ago. It takes 50 times as long as ice, but it lasts forever. It’s getting rough to work so hard on some of these ice sculptures just to see them melt away.
What’s your favorite work you’ve had to watch disappear?
At a competition in Utah, my team had a clock piece we’d practiced for three months for and took 17 hours to create, only to watch it fall apart in the last 35 seconds. I just watched as it fell to pieces! It’s always a pretty nervous experience making these. Last night I was shaking so bad, I couldn’t hold my saw still! It took me a few minutes for the adrenaline to calm me down.
Is keeping the ice balanced the hardest thing about competitions?
Actually, the hardest thing about ice-carving is to have a good and original design. I hate when people just carve some dollar-store figure or a dancing ballerina! I try to show action, emotion, even a little humor. People should look at it and feel something, make them think a little. I want to leave them with something they remember.
Ice Fights At The Quarry Hofbrau
Live music TBA
8pm Aug 5
The Quarry Hofbrau