It started several years ago.
After snowstorms, the plow would pile up giant mounds of snow on the driveway of the Stejskal house. Kyle Stejskal, now 17 and a senior at Bethel High School, had an itch to create something out of those mounds.
The son of an architect and an aspiring architect himself, Kyle likes to create things, to shape raw materials with his hands. He enjoys drawing, painting, building things and overcoming design challenges. In warmer months, when Kyle is working as a lifeguard at the Limekiln Swimming Association (better known as “the Quarry”), he spends his free time making sculptures in the sand.
“This summer I built the Eiffel Tower, Mount Rushmore, and the Titanic,” he says. “It's sort of like working with clay. Most of the time you can't build like that with sand but because it's quarry sand it's sort of like cement because it's got limestone in it. So it holds up better than just normal beach sand.”
He adds, “I love working with sand. I actually want to bring some of it home and work in the basement so I can do it all year round.”
But he wasn’t able to do that — we suspect his parents wouldn’t be pleased — and so in the winter his medium became snow. As a young kid, he’d hollow out and sculpt the plow-created snow mound on his driveway creating an igloo-type structure for himself.
As he grew so did his ambition; he wanted to create an igloo so big that you could walk, sit, hang out, and even, if necessary, live in it.
“For the past few years I’ve been trying to build a huge igloo but there hasn't been much snow,” he says.
That changed early this February when the Gods of winter began catching up on lost time by launching the first of many snowstorms.
After that early storm, Kyle went to work. Off from school, he dug for about six hours, digging out several sections inside and sculpting the exterior into shape. Then he began working on the igloo’s amenities.
The result, ultimately, is a stunning Instagram-worthy igloo replete with multiple areas, a couch, WiFi access, electricity, lighting and a fire. Part hobbit house made of snow and part hygge perfection, “the igloo” as Kyle calls it has become his clubhouse. He hangs out in it after school and select friends have been over to see it.
The igloo has also captured the attention of his town and brought a smile to many faces during this long and too-often sad Covid winter. Photos of the structure posted to Bethel Grapevine’s Facebook and Instagram accounts have received hundreds of likes and comments.
“I’m just really surprised that everyone in the town was intrigued by it. It's just something I did in my front yard, but it's really cool that everyone really likes it,” Kyle says of the attention it received.
The hardest part to get right was the fire. For his past igloo creations, Kyle has put orange Christmas lights inside, so outside the igloo would have a warm fire-like glow, but this time Kyle wanted a real fire. However, creating smoke in an enclosed space, poised an engineering challenge. Though he dug out ventilation for the smoke and placed piping leading from the fire to the vent, getting the smoke to travel to that pipe required some doing. “The first three times that I tried it I ended up just filling the whole thing with smoke and having to wait it out until it dissipated to restart it,” he says. He ended up lining rocks above the fire with tin-foil. “So that acted as like a funnel to the pipe,” he says.
When he’s not turning heads with his snow or sand sculptures, Kyle is on the swim team at Bethel High School and is working on becoming an Eagle Scout. His service project will be building display cases for the Bethel Historical Society. He plans on beginning to study architecture in college next year. Schools he is considering include Norwich University, Rhode Island School of Design and New York Institute of Technology
In the meantime, most days after school gets out, Kyle can be found for a few hours sitting in his igloo next to the fire doing his homework. It’s warm with the fire going and Kyle insists you could sleep in it.
“When the fire's lit it traps in most of the heat. The snow acts sort of like a reflective material and reflects the heat back at you. And then there's also like a stone wall there because I built it into a garden pit, so the back of it is stone. So that heats up too,” he says. “I would like to sleep in it overnight.” He adds, with just a hint of regret, that so far at least, “My parents don't really want me to.”
Erik Ofgang is the co-author of Penguin Random House’s “The Good Vices” and author of “Buzzed” and “Gillette Castle.” He is an adjunct professor at WCSU’s MFA Program and senior writer for Tech & Learning Magazine. He is the former senior writer at Connecticut Magazine and has written for The Atlantic, The Associated Press, Elemental, Yankee Magazine and many other publications. He lives in Bethel with his wife.