I was having a conversation with the new man in my life about childhood snow stories. He grew up in Mission, B.C., so although there were times of cold weather, (-13C, respectively) it was a far cry from growing up on the Prairies of Alberta.
I was the kid whose mother dressed her like Kenny from South Park.
All of us looked like that. When the average temperature during the winter months is -13C and when you factor in the wind chill (which blows an average 20KM/h) it’s more like -20C. There were many days when it dipped below the -40C for quite a long time. Again…add in the wind chill and it’s much worse. This was Lethbridge, AB.
Southern Alberta has what they call Chinooks. It’s a native word that means ‘snow eater’. A Chinook is a warm dry, westerly wind that blows in from the Rocky Mountains. It brings with it, not only gusty winds, but very warm temperatures. It can last a few hours or it can last weeks.
We’d get these, Chinooks, off and on throughout the winter and you could see it in the cloud formations called the Chinook Arch. Chinooks would blow in (literally) during all seasons but you’d notice them, more, in winter.
The temperature can go from a damn cold -20C to +18C in a matter of minutes. With it comes, wind gusts from 16K to 100K/h. It’s crazy. I remember one Christmas where it was over +20C.
It’s a high-pressure ridge you can actually see that can cause headaches, earaches and depression. As a child, I just loved the fact that it melted the snow and was warm. When I moved back to Alberta as an adult, it gave me terrible headaches.
In between these strange winds that travelled over the mountains from BC, there was frequently massive amounts of snow. I’m pretty sure we had more snow when I was a kid then they typically have now – global warming and all that.
In fact, I remember one year where we got snowed in. Thankfully we had a ski-do and THAT was a blast! It took us a while to get out the back door, though, as the wind had blown quite a snowdrift up against it.
As kids in winter, snow was our plaything. We’d build forts, tunnels, make snow people, and of course, find the tallest snow pile and claim it for our own. Usually these ‘snow piles’ were at the corner of a block and were the result of snow plows dumping snow from the streets from the entire block. They were HUGE!
Well, when you’re 8-years old or so, they are.
Alberta is dry, really dry. The snow isn’t soft, it hardens into ice-packed lumps so jumping, sliding off of and just plain lying on said snow hills wasn’t exactly comfortable. But – remember, we were dressed in snow suits with additional layers of clothing (think Michelin Man), so it wasn’t so bad landing on jagged pieces of ice sticking out of these snow hills.
Of course seeing as these piles of snow were stationed at the corner of intersections into the street didn’t exactly make them ‘safe’ to play on. But we did it, anyway! I’m surprised none of us were run over by passing motorists.
I remember playing in the frigid cold for hours. I remember my mother smearing cream all over my face so I wouldn’t get chapped skin, then wrapping a massive scarf around my nose and mouth so that all you saw was a pair of brown eyes and a bit of hair peeking out from under my hood. I still recall the smell of Nivea cream and remember the feeling of scratchy scarf sticking to my cheeks and nose.
Trying to run in 4 feet of snow in little-kid snow boots must have looked hilarious. We fell, a lot. My snow mittens didn’t have fingers…so you weren’t so nimble in picking up things. Snowballs were easy, though, and we got good at making them even if we sucked at throwing them.
We left our Christmas house lights lit up at night, all winter. It was constantly windy so blowing snow and ‘white out’ conditions were common. Somehow we got around, anyway. Somehow I made it to school (with the rest of the kids) in -40C +blowing snow weather. It wasn’t often school was closed. Even on these days, we were made to ‘play outside’ during recess and lunch. We survived. We were hardy, prairie kids.
We got colds and the flu just like other kids. We didn’t see green grass until around May ‘ish. Sometimes April if we were really lucky because even after the snow was gone, everything underneath was brown and dead and muddy.
When the snow melted, EVERYTHING was muddy. Alberta has clay-based soil so mud and clay were tracked into every home, every school and we just cleaned it up and lived with it.
I remember finding long stretches of pure ice on sidewalks and roads. These were like gold as taking a run and sliding on it was awesome fun! We didn’t have iPhones, the Internet and digital games, back then. It didn’t matter how friggin’ cold it was, we were made to go ‘outside’ to play. We could barely move due to the layers of clothing, but we didn’t freeze to death, either.
As a kid, winter was kinda fun. I froze my ass off with everyone else, but we made the best of it.
Now, on the Lower Mainland where the grass is always green and frost is rare, I remember what winter can really be like. I don’t miss it; I’ll take the soft grey rainy days over frigid cold, always. But I remember what it was like and I respect those who still choose to be in that environment.
We’re blessed, here. Snow is on the mountains and they’re a short drive away into a beautiful winter wonderland. The ocean is at our front door along with the warm temperate weather.
People bitch when it’s -2C. They need to make a trip to the prairies where it’s -35C and taking in a deep breath of that frozen air actually hurts your lungs.
Appreciate where you came from; be grateful for where you are.
Happy New Year.
Grouse Mountain New Years Eve 2015