Tales from Snomo Bill
As I stepped out of World headquarters, I could see the horizon out on the far reaches of the lake. the blinding blankness of the landscape in the distance betrayed the trucks cruising the ice road back from Dettah. I zipped up the hood on my suit and went to get a shovel.
After digging one out of a shack buried in the walls of snow, I rounded the southern limits of the castle walls under construction. A horn called out from behind a curtain of diesel fog bellowing from our dragon, the one we callBobcat. The pilot, who styles himself Snowking, beckoned me over, and through lips clenching a hand rolled cigarette, he shouted over Bobcat's roar, "WHO'S IN THE BOX WITH YOU?!"
"PROFESSOR CHILL! HE'S ON HIS WAY!"
"ALL RIGHT. THE BACK CORNERS ARE TIGHT, MAKE SURE YOU PACK THEM GOOD."
He'd already started filling the formwork before I showed up, so I climbed up the spill on the frontside of the giant wooden box, shimmied along the top, and mounted the 16 foot high snow wall. from here I could see even more of the frozen bay I live on. An 8 seater ski plane soared overhead, approaching the channel for landing on 4 foot thick ice.
Below me was the open formwork we'd just erected, the sloping walls of the beetle centred in the middle. a good pile of snow sat in the back and it needed to be compressed before it set, or we could get a sheer when we removed the formwork. I made sure all my zippers were shut, grabbed my shovel, and slid down the beetle's side into a space that I wouldn't leave until it was full of snow.
rigorously slinging snow to both ends of the backside space, I heard Bobcat start to churn more snow into the air, and seconds later I was experiencing a white out. a focused and centralized snow storm had descended on me, projected from Bobcat's spout, flying 20 feet into the air, and piling up around my boots, even up to my waist. I couldn't see anything at all, my eyelids quickly freezing shut. despite the -20 or -30 C temps, the cold was nothing compared to the heat in my suit as I worked to fling snow back and forth, and stomp it flat.
A pour is one of the best workouts I've ever had. usually more than an hour, and sometimes several, long, I'm either heaving shovel loads of snow as fast as I can, or I'm hauling giant blocks of hand cut ice into place, and shaping them to fit into a full course to make a window.
after several blows from Snowking and Bobcat, I get enough time to level things out while he farms and preps the next pile to blast up. The sweat makes my skin more sticky to the ice particles flying around, so my beard crusts up thickly with long icicles, we call them snotcicles. The nice part of the ice particles, though, is that they are so fine that they might as well be mist. Breathing this is a nice break from the dry air of winter on Great Slave Lake.
The walls we're pouring today don't have any ice work, so it goes quickly. In what seems like no time, I'm standing on a roof 14 feet high, and smoothing out the last of the snow with my pour brother, Professor Chill (He'd been on the front side) and Joe Snow, who'd climbed up to help with the last of it. Then we descend a ladder and start clearing snow from the base of the formwork before it sets.
Our first few pours of the season finished in the dark (they'd also had huge ice windows to install), but now we get to clean up in the last rays of daylight as the sun disappears behind Tin Can Hill. Because I'm soaked in sweat, and most of my suit is caked in ice and snow, I have to keep moving to stay warm. the rest of the crew come around to clean up the spill and put tools away, and as Snowking drives Bobcat to the his stand, we trudge to World headquarters, put our mitts and hats in baskets over the heater, and begin the daily chore of pulling the ice out of our beards and moustaches and hair and eyelashes. Then we open a case of Kokanee, pass a round of beers, and we all relax a little bit as the first sip filters into our brains and eases our minds after another day of life on the patch crew.
In year 5 a friend wrote a children’s play. The Snow Queen was the boss in the play. In the story, she had to leave to go somewhere, so Snow Man decided he would name himself and become the Snowking. Anthony Foliot became the guy who put on the Snowking play, ‘the Snowking guy’ the name stuck, and “Snowking” was born!
Every since year 2 there has been a slide with the castle. It has obviously grown in size over the years and now it’s a hot spot for children and the young at heart.
Building our skills with snow:
Up until year 9 or 10 snow blocks were used to build the castle. At that time the builders got better and more skilled and it was decided they would use forms and make walls out of wood that they would then blow snow into, let set and harden and then take the wood out. Sort of like how you would ‘pour’ concrete. This allowed for a bigger castle to be built, with less time, and more complex walls and ceilings.