Snow days

Snow has arrived in Minnesota already this year. My friends on Facebook are talking about it and two of my favourite Minnesotan bloggers are writing about it.

Crooked Tracks has wonderful winter photos.

littlelaosonthe prairie has advice on how to cope with snow for those from the tropics, especially Laos. Although their handy tips are particular to Lao immigrants there’s a lot that others can learn. Especially the advice to wrap up warm! Yep, winter has arrived early over there.

The very first time I touched snow was near the top of Mount Ruapehu, in New Zealand.

It was my sixteenth birthday and the middle of summer. I had yet to conjure up the idea of applying for an exchange year.

The snow was slushy, dirty-white, and gritty. Nothing like the soft-looking candyfloss of my imagination.

Snow on Mount Ruapheu, New Zealand,  1973

Snow on Mount Ruapheu, New Zealand, 1973

Six months later I came up with my grand plan to apply for a student exchange. I never dreamed I’d end up living for a year in one of the snowiest, coldest states in America.

In the Minnesota winter of 75-76 the snow didn’t come early. It came late. For weeks the sky seemed grey enough, the temperatures more than cold enough. But the days ticked by. The locals knew to enjoy the respite. Not me. I began to think this would be the first snowless winter in Minnesotan history.

When the very first snowfall happened I was at school. In  calculus actually – never a subject that grabbed my attention for long. The sight of large, soft flakes falling from the sky made the equations I was working on instantly unsolvable.  Our teacher, who was more than used to snow, knew he was defeated and allowed us outside to enjoy the novelty of it all.

The flakes floated gently through the air. And it was like cotton candy. Cold cotton candy and it tasted of ice water, not sugar.

The taste of snow

The taste of snow

After school there was only one thing to do. Build a snow man. My first. No matter that there was hardly any snow on the ground. I’d been waiting a long time, or so it seemed, and I wasn’t going to wait any longer.

Those used to snow will realise, no doubt, that building a snowman when there’s not much snow is hard work. We had to roll that ball around and around the yard before it finally collected enough to  make a reasonable sized tummy! I was exhausted! And proud of my efforts.

My first ever snow man!

My first ever snow man! And expert helpers. That’s me in the red.

The snow didn’t always float down from the sky. Sometimes it arrived with winds that roared across the prairie as noisily as the Pacific pounding on the foreshore in an easterly storm. Those blizzards brought snow that piled up to the eaves of the house. There were nights when I went to bed to the wind shaking and battering the house and woke in the morning to a hush, and a soft, white light.

Sometimes snowstorms meant snow days – no school. They were spent watching TV or reading a book, safe from the storm.

The snow brought with it a new way of life. Thick winter coats, boots  and hats and gloves were required whenever we stepped outside. Inside, the houses were much warmer than I was used to. (Even now the average New Zealand home doesn’t have central heating.) All those hand knitted woollen jumpers Mum sent me off with weren’t actually necessary. They were, believe it or not, much too warm.

Lawn mowing was replaced with snow blowing.

Snow Blowing

Snow Blowing

I learned to ski. I tried ice-fishing and ice-skating and what better to do on all those vast fields covered in snow than zoom over them on a snowmobile.

Me on a snowmobile, winter of 75-76

Me on a snowmobile, winter of 75-76

The wind chill created by zipping across the fields meant you had to dress like an astronaut if you didn’t want hypothermia. Those suits kept you warm but they were difficult to get in and out of. And walking in them wasn’t very easy either. But, oh, the fun made it all worthwhile.

When did you first encounter snowfall?

What’s your favourite winter activity?

You may also enjoy:

Breckenridge: my hometown for a year

Leaving home: adventures of a kiwi exchange student

17 replies »

  1. great post – and I clove the shot of you on the snowmobile. I have some memories of roads being shut down and getting picked up on one of those to go and hang out with friends. 🙂

    also, the snowblower shot – well wished to badly that we had one of those in the 70’s – instead – we did it all by hand. ahhh – the good old days.
    anyhow, you really captured the minn-e-snow-da essence here!! 🙂


  2. Ah, yes. I always enjoy reading about ‘southerners’ first snow or real winter experiences!
    Though I grew up in Toronto where we get a lot of snow, but being a big city it turns to ice and slush – or worse, icy slush – before too long.
    Last year, with the Polar Vortex and the winter from hell, we did get those absolutely frost-bitingly bitter -40C temperatures that is usually seen out in Manitoba and Saskatchewan (much like Minnesota). I don’t ever want to go through that again.
    Having said that I love freshly fallen snow.


  3. That’s very funny that you ended going to Minnesota. It really does have a reputation for being one of the coldest, snowiest states in the US. I was born and lived my first few years in a snowy place (Maine) but moved to Florida when I was four. We spent summers in Maine but I didn’t get to experience snow until I was about 17. My biggest memory is finally understanding what “spring fever” means, how wonderful the warmth is after a long cold winter.
    Now, I have mixed feelings about snow. I think my Florida childhood shaped me, and I’m more of a beach person than a snow person. But i prefer to live in a place with four seasons, even if I don’t always love the snow.
    New Zealand sounds lovely though (I think that’s where you’re from).


    • “Spring fever”! I do remember getting that, too. Thanks for reminding me. The first day the sun shone and it was warm, the snow melting – my spirits soared with it all. And, yes, I am from New Zealand, Miriam. We definitely have four seasons here, but not usually snow – at least not where I’m from. Our winters are often wet – although where I live we’re known for our cold frosty mornings and sunny winter afternoons.


  4. Hi Jill, thank you so much for listing my blog, I am honored. I had to laugh when you thought there might be no snow in Minnesota 🙂 I really enjoyed your post and looking at your photos too – Judy


  5. Love your reminiscing of your snowy experience Jill. What a great year that was for a Kiwi kid I was no stranger to it growing up in UK but my 2 children had never seen it so I took them to Mt Ruapehu winter of 1974 my daughter was 10 and son 12. They loved it and couldn’t get over how cold it felt.


  6. Such wonderful photographs! Take you down memory lane.
    The first time i saw snow was on a pilgrimage with my father. It is a shrine in the mountains. So, when i turned a bend, i thought someone had let a sack of cotton rip on the mountainside 🙂 .
    Today, I live in a place that sees moderate snowfall in the winters. The first snow of the season is expected in a month.


  7. Not a fan of the snow when I have to get to work and everything is slippery and slushy. Yikes! 😛 I remember the winter of ’83 (I think) was quite cold with lots of snow. I was three and played outside wearing a thick coat and scarf, tried to make some sort of a snow man too. My favourite winter activities were ice skating and sliding down with a sled through the snow 🙂 I love the sound that fresh snow makes under your shoes. 😉


  8. Growing up in Pittsburgh, PA meant forming snow memories as early as my toddler days. These days, I actually enjoy snow-blowing the driveway. The machine is fun to use and I’ve added a storm cab, a headlight and a coffee CIP holder. We dong get the kind of winter they have in the upper Midwest but we get our share of snow in New England. Thanks for sharing your memories. I haven’t been on a snowmobile since the ’70s but they were fun. No central heat??


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