The snow that binds us together

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Last week’s snowstorms felt like traveling back in time — back to Old Sandpoint, when events like that would occur a half dozen times throughout a normal winter season. It seems we’re lucky to have one good blizzard a year these days, so it was nice to see the season in earnest again.

Several times, as I leaned on a shovel to catch my breath while digging out, I looked around the neighborhood and watched all the bustling activity. A snowblower chugged cheerfully across the street, ejecting a plume of snow like a geyser. Teenagers spun their tires and turned lazy doughnuts in the intersection with smiles on their faces. A dog broke free of its owner’s hold on the leash and jumped for glory into a snowpile, disappearing for a moment before emerging like the abominable snowdog.

Snow binds us together. It presses pause on all the petty nonsense we bicker about on social media and brings people out to interact with one another as we collectively dig ourselves out of the mountain of snow Mother Nature sent us. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t shovel your walk behind a keyboard. 

Snow is the proverbial clean slate. It transforms a yard that was previously full of junk, engine parts and dead weeds into a Christmas postcard. It provides the perfect excuse to laze around by a picture window with a book in your hand, watching the world go by without any feelings of guilt or fear of missing out. It also gives GAAs (or Grown-Ass Adults) a reason to act like kids again, as they scamper around in snow pants and winter hats, tossing snowballs at their children and sledding down makeshift hills in their backyards with tallboys shoved into the snow to keep them from freezing.

Snow is comforting and familiar, a nod to childhood when entire days were spent in bibs and parkas. We had a couple of snowmobiles that were ancient even when I was a kid, and big snowstorms meant my two sisters and I got to race them around the field, or behind the house along the pipeline. 

Occasionally we’d separate into teams, with one building a defensive fort stocked with snowballs and the other on the snowmobile with a driver and a passenger sitting backwards with a stash of snowballs between their legs. All day long we’d buzz around the yard, drive-by snowballing the other team, crashing through fences, getting the sled stuck and sweating as we wrenched the big machine free (this was before the days of reverse drive in snowmobiles).

When we weren’t snowmobiling, we’d tag along behind my mom as she conscripted us into death marches on cross-country skis — a sport I never enjoyed until much later in life. Or we’d walk out onto Cocolalla Lake and drop our lines through the ice, never catching anything but the occasional cold. 

When we weren’t playing down in the valley, we’d be up at Schweitzer howling down the slopes as it seemed the snow never stopped falling. In the famed winter of 1996-1997, when roofs collapsed all over town, high school was put on hold for a whole month over winter break after the auditorium roof failed. Back in those days, if it didn’t snow enough to force the city plow drivers to create berms in the center of the road, it was just a dusting.

Always at the end of these winter excursions, a roaring fire waited at home. We’d crash inside, scattering snow all over the living room as we hung our boots, gloves, hats and scarves by the fire to dry. There is nothing quite so satisfying as a crackling fire waiting for you after a day of playing in the snow.

When we have winters filled with rain and slush, it’s just not the same North Idaho as I remember while growing up. The past decade or two, it seems like we’re always a few degrees too warm, turning that potential snow into ugly winter rain. It doesn’t get much more unfulfilling or annoying as slopping around through winter rain. It’s like winning the lottery, but the prize is only one dollar. 

Looking ahead at the forecast, it appears we might be in for another round of fun this week. I say bring it on. Sandpoint during a heavy winter is one of the best places to be.

This week, I held an impromptu photo contest and asked our readers to send in their winter photos to win a $25 gift certificate to Eichardt’s. All week my inbox has been dinging as more of your fun photographs trickle in. 

One thing this contest reminded me of is that we are proud of our winters here in North Idaho. It’s a badge of honor to see that four-foot wall of snow we shoveled through to make a pathway to the mailbox, or the hill created after plowing the drive. It’s never-ending entertainment to watch your kids play in the snow, as we did when we were their age. Will they grow up to despise it like some people do, or will they always have a toboggan leaning against the porch in winter, ready for the next blizzard to take us away to a simpler time?

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The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.