PERSONAL ESSAY

How 'Snowcouver' gave my kid a winter straight out of my childhood

While some Vancouverites have been frozen in their tracks by the city's unusual cold snap, Lori Kittelberg and her family are embracing the cold.

In this year's cold snap, some Vancouverites are frozen in their tracks. Others are kicking up their heels.

In Vancouver's extraordinary winter weather this season, UBC students took the chance to have an epic snowball fight. 0:23

This winter, Rain City has been dubbed Snowcouver after an unusually snowy couple of months.

Plenty of Vancouverites let out a collective sigh of relief when the rain returned this week, exhausted from shovelling and commuting in the snow and ice. But I'm not one of them. Don't hate me because I love the snow.

Blame it on my childhood. I grew up in Toronto and Ottawa. Snow was synonymous with winter. It meant swishing snowpants, soggy mittens, and boots lined with plastic bags when they were still soaked from the previous day.

Lori Kittelberg (right) and her sister on the rink they learned to skate on. (Lori Kittelberg)

We built with snow, threw it, and ate it if it wasn't yellow. My mom taught me and my sister to skate on a homemade outdoor rink next to our neighbourhood playground. Snow's allure waned when I reached high school. It wreaked havoc with my '80s hair and ruined leather boots chosen for style, not warmth. The only thing snow was good for by then was snow days.

In October 1999, my husband George and I filled our car to the roof and drove to start anew in Vancouver. That winter and several winters afterwards, our phone calls with friends and family always included the cliche, "You don't have to shovel rain."

But something funny happened. We started to miss the snow.

Fast forward to today. We now have a 10-year-old son, Malcolm. Snow is something we visit with an occasional drive to toboggan at one of the local mountains. It's unusual to see snow up close where we live in Vancouver's West End.

Snowy streets are no strange sight to most Canadians, but in Vancouver, this is a rare view. (Lori Kittelberg)

Watching Malcolm experience snow this winter reminds me of the winters I took for granted growing up.

One morning, when he was ready to leave before anyone else — a rarity — I sent him outside to wait. I walked out and nearly missed him. He was lying in the snow next to our building, staring at the sky.

Usually when we pick Malcolm up from his after-school daycare, we rush home in the winter rain. After a snowfall, we walk at a leisurely pace, Malcolm opting to wade through the snow alongside the sidewalk.

I'm not alone in loving the snow. I've seen a spring in the step of folks after a fresh snowfall- Lori Kittelberg

Our conversations on our walks to and from school cover the merits of packing snow versus powder, how to know if snow is safe for eating, and the qualities of a perfect snowball. The final point is, of course, best learned when demonstrated. I'll admit to taking some pleasure in lobbing the odd snowball at my kid, but it was for the sake of science.

I know I'm not alone in loving the snow. I've seen a spring in the step of folks after a fresh snowfall, at least those with proper winter boots. Definitely more so on a weekend. I'll admit snow is pretty inconvenient during rush-hour in Vancouver.

After each snowfall, a new array of snowmen and sculptures popped up around the city. Beached killer whales made of snow and sand made headlines.

My son and I spotted a snow-sculpted woman perched on a bench near Lost Lagoon. Selfie culture resulted in the sculpture's left leg getting knocked off by a woman attempting to sit on its lap for a photo. Naturally, this signaled to Malcolm that the sculpture was fair game for a beheading. Apologies to the artist!

Malcolm and the snow-woman (before beheading). "Watching Malcolm experience snow this winter reminds me of the winters I took for granted growing up." (Lori Kittelberg)

Trout Lake in East Vancouver was opened for skating for the first time since 1996. Hundreds of people flocked to the rink, shovels in hand to clear a patch of ice. It closed four days later when it began turning slushy due to warmer weather and heavy traffic.

CBC broadcaster Grant Lawrence took it upon himself to create his own backyard rink, boosting the jealousy of apartment dwellers I know wishing for a patch of grass, or ice, to call their own. 

As Malcolm and his friends lamented a snowball ban at their school, thousands of UBC students took part in an epic snowball fight. Guess the younger generation will have to wait and hope for a cold snap when their post-secondary years come. By then, Vancouver will certainly be ripe for another snow-heavy winter.

The new memories made this winter may have to get us through a few years of rainy winters to come. We'll wait, we'll long, and we'll hit the mountains to visit the snow in the meantime.

"My New Year's Day photo after running on ice most of the route (the 5k Resolution Run)." (Lori Kittelberg)

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