The secret lives of snowmen

By Anita Willis
Anita Willis

Photo: Art Studio 21 Photography

Last January, it snowed in Victoria. (Don’t snicker, now, those of you from places where winter is a full-fledged season.) The fresh sugar-coating put a sparkle on the city, and as I travelled to work the next day, the sight of snowmen along my bus route cheered my morning commute. Other passengers, I noticed, were smiling, too.

What makes these snowfolk so appealing, I wondered? Could it be simply that they get to do what we so often wished we could as children—stay outdoors to play when others are called in for dinner?

That stray thought inspired this issue’s “Frosty escapes” feature. I approached seven photographers with a quirky assignment. Each was to trek into a different provincial park and choose a scenic spot to build, outfit, and photograph a “live-action” snowman engaged in a winter sport. The idea was to have Frosty stand in for all of us, to hold our places until we can arrange our own winter getaways.

It sounded a bit mad, even to me. “I thought you were totally running out of story ideas for the winter,” Nelson photographer David Gluns teases. “It actually turned out to be a lot of fun, and most of it was sharing the making of the snowman.”

The photographers’ collective whimsy, creativity, and dedication surpassed all expectations. New Westminster photographer Adam Gibbs and his partner Karin Badel hiked up North Vancouver’s Mount Seymour four or five times and made about 10 snowmen—including a trio of hikers, two roped up for glacier trekking, and one reclining under a tree.

“Karin brought out all of the possibilities and I got right into it,” says Gibbs. “It was really funny to see these snowmen materialize doing various activities.”

Gary Green of Victoria chose to make a statement with his creation. “Being a ’50s kid, growing up in a patriarchal society, it was always ‘snowmen,’ never ‘snowwomen’. . . I wanted to give a feminine voice to the project.” He and his wife, Lynn, built their Strathcona Park snow goddess together—earning horn honks and “thumbs up” from truckers passing by on Highway 28.

Squamish photographer Chris Joseph also sparked a reaction with his Garibaldi Park snowman. “Three women from Vancouver snowshoed by right when I began to shoot. One posed with the snowman. . . . They were laughing all the time.”

Playful as the final snowmen images appear, creating them was real work. The remote locations, changeable weather and snow conditions tested all the contributors.

“Several times Karin would fashion a snowman, I would be all set up ready to take a shot and the snowman would fall down,” says Gibbs. The candies they used for decoration created problems, too. “Funny thing, as the day warmed, the gummies kept popping out. . . . Another challenge was keeping the jays from swooping down and grabbing the gummies.”

Michael Wheatley of Burnaby lost his knife in the snow in Manning Park, leaving him with only a spade to cut chunks from a plowed bank when the snow proved too dry to roll. He then pushed his snowman parts about 100 metres to a scenic location. Finally, just as he began to shoot, one of his tripod’s metal legs snapped off in the cold. “I could still jam the other two legs in the snow but it made my shooting options less flexible.”

For Prince George photographer Lenard Sanders, the trick was to get his snowmen onto the Helmcken Falls viewing platform in Wells Gray Park. “I actually had to carry the bottom snowball in two halves from [30 metres] away.”

Just getting into Akamina-Kishinena Park was a feat for Henry Georgi of Fernie. Burdened with gear, he skied the two- to three-hour Wall Lake trail in and out twice: once in deep, sticky snow on cross-country skis—“entirely the wrong tool for the job”—the second time using better-suited telemark equipment.

Despite the obstacles, our photographers created a wonderful, one-of-a-kind photo essay. (There’s a lesson here, perhaps, on the rewards we earn for the effort we put into our winter adventures.)

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