COLUMN: Winter still brings chills and thrills – just a different kind

Sliding on snow and ice was much more fun using a sled or skates

There was a time when a forecast calling for 15 cm of snow would have filled me with excitment, rather than a looming sense of dread.

Instead of causing me to fret about if, how and by what route I would make it into work – as opposed to into a ditch or the side of another vehicle – the prospect of a mountain of fluffy white flakes conjured visions of snow forts, snowmen and snow angels, all constructed (ideally) during an unscheduled day off school. Weekend snowstorms were fun, too, and in their aftermath, we could usually be found playing outdoors until dark – which in Dawson Creek, in January was about 4:30.

We had a great tobaggan hill in Pouce Coupe, a 10-minute drive southeast of Dawson Creek.

I’m sure if I returned to look at it today it would be only half as big and a fraction as thrilling as I recall.

Half as big looking down from the top, that is. Viewed from the bottom, while pondering the hike back up, it would no doubt have grown exponentially in size.

This particular hill featured one long, gradual smooth slope for more cautious sliders and another, next to it, that was just a series of bumps and jumps. This one would send about half of the riders flying headlong off their crazy carpets, long before they had to hit the brakes to avoid crashing into the folks who’d made it to the bottom along the slow and steady route and who were now forced to scramble out of the way, lest they be mowed down.

A few miles farther down the road, right on the Alberta border and surrounded by evergreens, was Swan Lake.

I don’t imagine it happened every winter, but I remember skating on it once after it froze solid during a windless stretch, creating a glassy smooth surface.

I wore a secondhand pair of figure skates with minimal ankle support and blades that weren’t overly sharp, but it was – and remains – one of the most quintessentially Canadian experiences I’ve ever had.

Even for kids, winter is not all fun and games. Anyone who’s ever licked a hunk of frozen metal (and who hasn’t?) can tell you that.

Why is it that every kid in every northern climate has at some point felt the need to stick their tongue on a metal downspout, lamp post or – in my case – rainbarrel when the mercurly drops?

For me, the idea was probably planted by the same older brother who delighted in pelting me repeatedly in the head with snowballs the minute enough had accumulated on the ground to scoop up in a mitten. If it happened to not be particularly deep yet, and that snowball happened to be filled with pebbles, oh well.

Aside from a particularly traumatic bee sting, the one childhood injury that has lingered in my brain for 40-plus years is the feeling of the top layer of my tongue tearing away as I pulled it free from the side of the metal drum. I can still recall the taste of blood.

But, yeah, skating, that was fun.

These days, sliding across a sheet of ice is somewhat less thrilling, as I rediscovered on my way to work on both Monday and Wednesday mornings.

Like the old tobaggan hill, when winter hits in the Lower Mainland roads are filled with two kinds of people – those who appreciate a smooth and gradual ride that will eventually get them where they want to go and those who’d rather fly by the seat of their pants and slam on the brakes if someone should happen to cross their path.

When you see those guys coming, it’s best, if you can, to just scramble on out of the way.

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.

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