People are already nostalgic for winters past. And not just the old-timers. When E sent word to our colleagues that we were looking for remembrances of great winters past, the response was immediate. The coldest season is part of our collective consciousness. These stories are particularly poignant in light of the diminished winters ahead.
In 1978, I was a junior at Boston University. There had been a big snowfall about a week earlier, then a blizzard. The snowdrift against the front of our apartment building completely covered our first-floor windows; we all took turns jumping out the third-floor windows into the drift. —Peter Dykstra
The Big Chill
Between 1965 and 1975, my father worked for the county highway department in Chippewa County, Wisconsin, about 100 miles east of Minnesota’s Twin Cities. His winter duties included plowing snow with a big yellow grader. The phone would ring early in the morning alerting my dad that it was time for him to go to work. He would pour coffee in a Thermos, take a cold lunch, and spend all day in his grader plowing and replowing, coming home more than 12 hours later.
It was cold, well below zero and windy. Temperatures would remain below freezing for weeks at a time. We just dressed for it. We’d go sledding with cardboard, toboggans, railed sleds, saucers and, later, blue plastic roll-up sleds on the hill across the street from school. We’d walk to a pond and ice skate. We’d build forts and snow animals and snow caves. Relatives with snowmobiles would give us rides. It was not unusual to get three feet or more of snow in a single storm. And the snow would last all winter, with one snowstorm piling on top of the next so, by spring, there could be six feet of snow on the ground.
Now, according to my family who still live there, snow rarely falls, and when it does it barely stays any length of time. The Chippewa River, which used to ice over and provide an ice jam spectacle each spring, hasn’t frozen solid for years. —Wendy L. Hessler
The Case of the Missing Cars
I worked for seven years at Alta ski resort in Utah, home of “the greatest snow on earth.” We used to have multi-day “interlodges’ where you couldn’t leave the building for fear of avalanches. One time we got stuck for three days and people were sleeping in the hotel bar on blankets, partying at night and watching movies during the day. One pregnant woman even had her baby in the day lodge. When we were finally let out to go unearth our cars, no one could find them. So we started digging in what we thought was the vicinity of our cars and soon people were calling out colors and types of ski racks—we were standing on top of them! By contrast, I spoke with a guy who skied at Alta last February and he had to literally take his skis off to walk over the rocks on mid-mountain it was so bare. —Laura Paskus
Jersey in White
I was caught in a very serious storm in 1982. My bus ride home from work in Hoboken, New Jersey took four hours instead of the usual 45 minutes. At first I could not find my own street; the piled snow was completely disorienting. When I finally found it, I ended up lying flat on the undifferentiated mound that was my stoop and clawing my way forward. The next day my neighbors set out on cross-country skis to explore the then-gritty city in its new incarnation. —Miranda Spencer
For some reason, my memories dating to the mid-1970s involve waking up in the middle of the night to the muffled silence which seems only to come with a lot of snow. It was exciting. I’d finally go back to sleep, only to wake up once more as the flashing red lights of a lone snowplow bounced off my bedroom walls.And then there would be the much-anticipated 6 a.m. phone call letting us know school had been canceled. We’d go dragging our sleds to the top of hills in the fields behind our house. We’d be decked out in those wonderful one-piece snowsuits which allowed us to roll and tunnel in the snow, staying warm and dry. Finally, we’d go inside for a hot meal, leaving boots and snowsuits near the door, making big puddles as the snow melted. There would be rosy-cheeked excitement as we’d pull on the snow clothes once again and head back outside.—Kinna Ohman
The Human Polar Bear
My father swam in our swimming pool in Richmond, Virginia all year long. For a couple of years in the 1970s, he had to cut a hole in the ice in both ends so that he could enter in one hole and come out the other. For two years, WWBT-TV news came and did stories on him with the reporter standing on the ice. I don’t think the pool freezes over any more.—Bruce Ritchie
Long Winters Gone
Here in Southeastern Minnesota along the shore of the Mississippi River, my memories place me sledding down snow-capped bluffs several times a year and walking home in a snowsuit with snow up to my hips. My family members have told stories about all the snow they had “way back when.” They lived on a dairy farm so there were times they couldn’t open the barn doors to milk calves. My dad is a big ice fisherman and complains about the shortened season. —Amber Dulek
Santa and the Storm
We lived in Blandford in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts when I was in grammar school from 1943 to 1951. I remember only one year when it did not snow before Christmas. I was pretty worried because I still believed in Santa Claus and couldn’t imagine how he was going to arrive without snow.The whole town was shut down for an ice storm in 1943 or 1944, when literally about one third of the trees fell over from heavy ice, and the electricity was off for two weeks. I remember that time as beautiful but a little scary. —Bette Hileman
It was the early 1960s, in Pocatello, Idaho on the Snake River Plain at about 4,500 feet—high, cold, windy desert. I was in junior high and had to walk two blocks to Greenacres Elementary to catch the bus. It was 30 degrees below zero one morning, but school was on, so I bundled up and made it to the bus stop, standing there with my fellow adolescents for at least an hour. The next day it only reached -29, and school was canceled. For years afterward I grumbled that they should have closed school on day one if they were going to close it on day two when it was actually warmer. But I suspect they really closed school not out of fear of kids getting frostbite, but because the drivers didn’t want to undergo the torture of getting their bus engines to turn over. It was that kind of town. —Valerie Brown