MOUNTAIN LIFE - Ontario | Winter 2016 - page 66

By NedMorgan
Where most of us see a pile of snow, Jim
Leithead sees a castle. The Dunedin-based
wood andmetal sculptor took full advantage
of last winter’s sustained cold temps and big
snowfalls to build the most elaborate snow
cave, or quinzhee, ever seen in these parts.
“Cave” (or quinzhee, a word of First Nations
originmeaning “temporary snow shelter”)
doesn’t really do Leithead’s structure justice.
Withmultiple high-ceilinged rooms, a 20-foot
entry passageway, a chandelier, a woodstove,
a walk-around bar, pillar supports, all kinds of
carved detail, and space for over 30 people, this
was more like a castle crypt than a cave.
“I love moving snow,” says Leithead. “I was
a snowmaker at Blue Mountain for 15 years,
and a groomer for four.” He began last winter’s
megaproject with a pile of snow he had blown
off the driveway of the rural property south of
Singhampton where he keeps his workshop. “It
took me about seven days of digging out and
cutting withmy chainsaw—electric, because
I couldn’t handle the fumes inside.” Leithead
and friends laboriously hollowed out the pile
from the inside out. “I made a grid with 10-foot
squares and cut out 16-inch squares because
that’s how bigmy blade is. Then we popped out
the squares with spades. That took about four
days. It was heavy work, moving out these solid
blocks on a toboggan.”
He left some blocks inside to fashion into
pillars, arch supports, tables, benches, and
the bar. Jeff Smith, a stonemason from the
Honeywood area, helped Leithead shape the
interior and exterior walls using chisels, ice
scrapers, and spades. But Leithead’s primary
tool, as always, was his chainsaw. Touring his
workshop I could scarcely believe the virtuosic
detail he achieves in his wood sculptures with
just a chainsaw and a sander.
The Castle’s popularity last February—spread
far and wide via Leithead’s Facebook page
(named for his studio, CedarFox Sculpture)—
eventually became something of a curse. This
was because the condensation from all the
exhalation caused the domed ceiling to ice
over and then sag, forcing Leithead to “shave”
and then reinforce it with more blown snow.
But with a bit of maintenance, the castle stayed
up for over nineweeks and hosted several parties,
including sleepovers. This year, Leithead has bigger
plans. “Last year’s cavewasn’t even half of what I
have inmy head. I didn’t getmy second storey, or
the tube that goes out thewall formy hot tub…”
Blue Mountain Resort people, take note:
weather permitting, Leithead is ready and
willing to bring a colossal and
interactive snow structure to your
slopes should the opportunity
arise. “I want to go bigger,”
he says. “With a groomer and
snowmaker, I could then dig out
an acre of snowwith a mini excavator.” And if a
cave didn’t sit right with your legal department,
he could do it ceiling-free. “I could build big
cliffs and canyons like the Niagara Escarpment.”
The plans are always forming in his head; give
Jim Leithead an electric chainsaw and a few
helping hands, and something spectacular will
ensue. All he needs is snow.
“Last year’s cavewasn’t evenhalf ofwhat I have
inmyhead. I didn’t getmysecondstorey, or the
tube that goesout thewall formyhot tub…”
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