Snow Inspires Us to Get Creative
These New Englanders found that it can be a lot of fun to get obsessed with snow.
Name: Freddie Viens
Location: Fayston, Vermont
Project: Homemade rope tow
Materials Used: Rear axle of a Model A truck; electric motor from an early milking machine; belts, pulleys, rope
Time to Assemble: Three weekends
Inspiration: Viens, a mechanic and antiques collector, enjoys putting together machinery from old car parts. “I’d never actually seen a rope tow before I built one, but people told me how they remembered them,” he says. “Later, I went online and looked at pictures, and everything I saw looked pretty similar to what I’d built.”
What It Does: The rope tow runs nearly 600 feet from street level down to Viens’ front yard; it’s basically an old-fashioned ski lift. The Viens family has always used their property for snowshoeing and snowmobiling, but the rope tow has made it a popular spot for neighborhood skiers, sledders, and snowboarders.
Best Part: Most rope tows are powered by gas engines. Viens’s uses an electric motor. “It starts right up,” he says, “so it’s easy for the kids to turn on.”
Name: Carter Proctor
Location: New Durham, New Hampshire
Project: Homemade luge run
Materials Used: Snow, wood
Time to Assemble: Ongoing; maintained consistently throughout the season
Inspiration: In 2009, Proctor’s yard was buried in snow, and he found himself about to host a big family event, including kids who’d want to go sledding. By packing snow down, Proctor built a 4-foot-tall ramp with a long run. “That first one was okay,” he says, “but I was already thinking about how it could be better.”
Evolution: The following winter, Proctor built a 26-foot-long wooden ramp, 9 feet high at the start. “Each year it turns into more of an adult ride,” he says. “I water it down at night. I added lights. The corners were close to 6 feet high last year. I get addicted to perfecting it.”
The Course: Proctor’s run tracks his long, winding driveway and totals about 350 feet in length. “There isn’t a lot of slope, but we still get speeds of 15 to 20 miles per hour, which feels very fast,” he says.
Best Sled: “We’ve tried all different shapes and sizes,” Proctor says. “But so far nothing works better than simple, inexpensive, plastic toboggans.”
Name: Bert Yankielun, D.E.
Location: Deer Island, Maine
Project: Igloo and snow-shelter workshops
Materials Used: Snow, carpenter’s saw, snow shovel
Time to Assemble: Three hours for several adults (1-1-1/2 hours to prepare snow, 1-1/2-2 hours to build a typical igloo)
Inspiration: Yankielun got his start in igloos more than two decades ago while working for the Army’s Cold Regions lab in Hanover, New Hampshire. That winter, a local science museum held an igloo-building event. Yankielun, who had worked in the Arctic and Antarctic, stepped in when the instructor couldn’t make it. He’s been hosting it ever since.
Igloo Construction 101: Yankielun says that the best snow for igloos is dry, wind-packed stuff that hasn’t gone through freezing/thawing cycles. He starts by shoveling snow into a large flat area and walking on it with snowshoes to tamp it down. Then he cuts that snow into blocks, which he assembles into an arched-dome igloo shape.
Best Part: Snow shelters fascinate Yankielun because of their inherent contradictions: that something so cold can be used to keep people warm; that something so fragile can become strong enough to support the weight of a polar bear on its roof. “It’s about making friends with winter,” he says. “I have, and I love sharing that.”
Name: Citizens of Bethel, Maine
Location: Bethel, Maine
Project: World’s largest snowwoman
Materials Used: Thirteen million pounds of snow; four fir wreaths (eyes); 16 alpine skis (eyelashes); wood, chicken wire, muslin (nose); five car tires (mouth); fleece (hat and scarf); rope (hair); three skidder tires (buttons); two 30-foot spruce trees (arms); 50 feet of 4-inch flexible pipe and 20 pounds of mica (pendant) time to assemble: Nearly two months
Inspiration: In 1999, Bethel’s local ski areas were facing a tough snow year. To boost excitement, townspeople came up with a sort of winter stimulus package, by embarking on the creation of the world’s tallest snowman. He was named Angus, after then-Governor Angus King. Nine years later, the community did it again, this time building a snowwoman named Olympia, after Senator Olympia Snowe.
The Process: To build Olympia, Sunday River Resort loaned the town its snow guns. More than 100 volunteers turned out for the project, which involved using a clamshell bucket on a crane to pile snow into a circular form made out of old metal highway signs. The size of the form was reduced as the crew worked its way up. “It was totally consuming,” says project engineer Jim Sysko. “We worked seven days a week.”
Best Part: People came from near and far to see Bethel’s snowwoman (which didn’t melt until midsummer). Olympia made it into The Guinness Book of World Records. “The goal was to lift the town’s spirits, and it worked,” Sysko says. “And it was quite a rush to stand atop her head when she was done, 122 feet in the air.”
For information on Dr. Yankielun’s book, How to Build an Igloo and Other Snow Shelters, and upcoming workshops, visit: doctorwhy.com