We head off campus to Phi Kappa Tau, one of the three frats that perennially produce the best snow statues. Phi Tau is looking for its fourth consecutive win, and the members estimate they've put more than 2800 man-hours into setting their scene from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Based on the scale and the detail, we have no reason to doubt that. A centaur, a minotaur, and a lion, all rendered in frozen water, are larger than life and staged in front of a twenty-eight-foot-tall castle wall. In recent years, though, it's the elaborate accessories that have put Phi Kappa Tau's statues at the top. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, long after we've left, a couple dozen glasslike ice props appear on the snow stage: axes, crowns, books, a delicate bow and arrow, and an impossibly intricate chain harnessing polar bears to an ornate chariot.
By 11 p.m., the speaker statue and Ludacris's "My Chick Bad" have drawn a couple hundred students into a pulsating, bobbing mass of energy. Just what Mueller wanted. We shouldn't be surprised that college students in Houghton aren't so different from booze-loving college students at any other university in America. We are, however, amused by the dress code: ski goggles to shield eyes from the blowing snow, CamelBaks for hands-free alcohol consumption, and enough layers to turneveryone into genderless blobs. Those who are much more cavalier about the weather, such as the gorilla and the dragon that pose with the Juke, stay warm with their alcohol-fueled enthusiasm.
We shoot photos for at least twenty minutes and several cops walk by without acknowledging us, but when we move the car for a new angle, we finally draw the attention of three officers in a patrol car. They're not pleased that our Nissan is parked halfway on the sidewalk and partially in a driveway. It'd be better, they say, if we pulled the car completely onto the sidewalk.
As they retreat into their mobile shelter, one of them calls back, "Oh, and hurry up, because the students are going to flip it."