The 1970s were a perfect time to build snowmen: I think it snowed more, there were no video games or iPads to keep us indoors, and we viewed the cold temps as more of a friend than a foe. Outside was the place to be.
I doubt that snow building has changed much over the years: The concept most assuredly has stayed the same — gather and pack snow into some kind of recognizable shape. The designs may have evolved, however. I don’t think that in the 1970s we were as creative as snow builders are today. Back then, especially in my apparently less-than-creative middle class neighborhood, we generally stuck to the basic three-tiered snowman.
Today, creativity seems to abound. Google has photos of upside-down snowmen, a giant pig snowman, the letters SNOW sculpted out of snow, snow monsters, snow dogs, and even a snowman sitting on a toilet.
(We probably weren’t allowed to say “toilet” in the ’70s.)
The most creative we ever got as kids was building a giant snow rabbit on the front lawn of a neighbor’s house on Benham Hill Road in West Haven. One of the moms gave us food coloring at the end to turn its ears pink, and when it was done, we considered ourselves master artists, creative beyond our years.
Snow designs may vary from generation to generation, but one thing that stays the same is the snow and the fact that snow comes in different styles.
Ryan Hanrahan, NBC Connecticut meteorologist, explained the different sorts:
“In general, snow tends to be ‘sticky’ as the temperature approaches 32 degrees,” Hanrahan said. “Heavy, wet snow can be very tough to move and tends to happen in storms with temperatures near freezing. Frequently these kinds of snowfalls can result in a snow to liquid ratio of 6 or 8 inches of snow to 1 inch of liquid.”
On the other hand, very light and fluffy snow can have a ratio of 40 inches of snow to 1 inch of liquid, the meteorologist explained, and this typically happens when temperatures are cold at the surface (20s or below) and, more importantly, he said, the snowflakes are being produced in clouds where the temperature is near 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Believe it or not, the temperature where the snowflakes are actually forming and growing thousands of feet in the air is the most important factor in figuring out how fluffy or wet snow will be,” Hanrahan explained.
The heavy and wet snow is the best for building, Hanrahan advised, noting that sometimes a snowfall can be so heavy you don’t even need to compact it to make a “mean snowball.”
This local weather expert said his best tip for building the perfect snowman is to have fun…and wait for a snowstorm that’s wet and heavy: “It can make compacting the snow much easier. The fluffy snow events are the worst.”
Michele LaRowe on a website called Momtastic Parenting (Momtastic.com) says, “Choose the right snow. Snowman snow must be packable. Packable snow has more moisture than the dry, flaky stuff. That’s what helps hold it together. Fresh snow that falls just above or just below freezing temperatures usually works best.”
To test your snow, LaRowe suggests packing it into a ball. “If it sticks together, you are good to go. If the snow seems too dry, spray it with a little water to add moisture,” she says.
Next, it’s time to build.
wikiHOW offers the following online tips for building the perfect snowman: “Start by rolling three balls of snow in three different sizes, then stack them on top of one another from biggest to smallest. Adding a few elements such as a hat, a scarf and a carrot nose turns your pile of three snowballs into a classic winter character.”
Mario Recupido, a Connecticut-based web and graphic designer, said he isn’t too fond of the standard, separate component three-tiered snowman and usually gathers his snow into one huge mound and then sculpts it.
“When you put one ball on top of the other, the bottom one usually breaks,” Recupido said.
Donald Eng, a news editor in Southwestern Connecticut, had some snowman building advice, too. Whichever method you choose, rolling or packing your snow: “Have an earnest young assistant to do all the work.”
Eng’s 8-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, is that “earnest young assistant.”
Meghan Hudson, an art teacher at Foran High School in Milford, Conn., said she absolutely loves building snowmen and she said the trick is in understanding that while there are some guidelines, there really are no rules.
“First, you need some good quality snowball snow, not that flaky, fluffy stuff,” Hudson said. “You want the heavy, wet New England snow, the stuff that is awful to shovel. Bundle up and head outside with a sense of adventure, an imagination and some warm mittens. There are no ‘rules’ for how to make the body, any method will do. A proper snowman needs a real carrot nose, rocks for eyes and a mouth, and some sticks for arms. Be sure to keep the carrot in a safe place when building so that your dog, who loves carrots, doesn’t steal your nose and eat it.”
If your snowman is lucky enough, he may get to share your mittens and scarf, Hudson noted.
This area artist said creativity doesn’t have to end with one snowman.
“At this point, if you can still feel your fingers, why not make another snowman or maybe a snow pet or a snow house…the hot chocolate waiting inside can always be reheated. And don’t forget to take photos right away. Mother Nature has a mind of her own.”