Jerry Nelson: Sometimes a pile of snow just isn't enough fun

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

 We’re in the depths of winter, a season that inevitably involves deep disappointments.

Some of us wish that wintertime involved less snow, while others pine for more of the white stuff. Some folks would be overjoyed if winter were colder and longer – these individuals are known as “ice fishermen” – while others would be ecstatic if winter was more like a sauna and less like the interior of a ginormous walk-in freezer.

I’ve learned not to complain about winter. It is what it is. And besides, it’s been scientifically proven that bellyaching has no effect on the weather.

Hawaii has infinite amounts of idyllic weather. My wife and I once spent a week in the Aloha State, and the outdoor conditions there were uniformly paradisiacal. The locals didn’t seem to appreciate their outstanding climate since they’d never had any nasty weather for comparison.

A three-day blizzard with 30 below wind chills would have certainly disappointed the Hawaiians. But it also would have made them more appreciative. This is why we northerners are as happy as a puppy with a new chew toy whenever wintertime temperatures rise above freezing.

I have a snapshot of my siblings and me playing on a pile of snow when we were kids. I recall climbing that snow pile, which Dad had created with his “M” Farmall tractor and its trip-bucket loader, and thinking that its summit was approximately the same height as Mount Everest. 

A hill of snow decades ago on the Nelson family farm.

Looking at the photo now, I realize that the snow pile was only about 6 feet tall. I guess this explains why tumbling from its heights never resulted in any serious injuries.

We made the most of that snow pile. We had a small sled, the kind that featured a pair of narrow steel runners. We would haul the sled up to the top of the snow pile, climb aboard, and launch ourselves into the abyss. The ride was terrifyingly fast and mercifully brief; it was mere moments before the sled became mired in the unpacked snow down below.

A toboggan would have enabled us to extend our rides far out into the powder. But we had no such contrivance and no means to acquire one. Left with no alternative, I set out to make my own toboggan.

I’d heard tales of people crafting homemade toboggans from the hood of a car, such as a 1949 Chevy. There were stories of daredevils getting towed at high speeds on these make-do sleds. But that can be extremely dangerous, especially if you hadn’t consulted with the owner of the 1949 Chevy before borrowing its hood.

I scoured our farmstead for materials to create a toboggan and eventually found a chunk of old plank that hadn’t yet completely rotted through. This would do nicely.

Toboggans customarily sport a nicely curved lip at the forefront. Having neither the patience nor the skill to create such a curve in the plank, I decided that this feature probably wasn’t essential.

Lugging the plank up to the summit of the snow pile was a herculean undertaking. Once there, I carefully perched myself atop the teetering board. Looking down, I could see a vast expanse of fresh powder that simply begged to be cleaved in two by a rocketing tobogganer.

I pushed off and screamed (literally!) down the slope at a velocity that broke local speed limits. Everything went exactly as planned for a few seconds. Then I hit bottom. Literally.

The nose of the toboggan plunged into the ground, bringing the apparatus to an abrupt halt. I, however, continued to travel forward for some distance, creating a deep furrow in the snow. It’s a good thing I was able to stop myself with my face or I might have gotten hurt.

Flash forward several decades. We received a heavy snowfall and our youngest son, who was a grade-schooler at the time, bugged me to make a snow pile.

Using our powerful modern tractor, I created a snow pile that was large enough to have its own gravity field. I figured that just climbing to the top of the heap would be enough to scare the bejeebers out of the lad.

I figured wrong. He scrambled up the pile and strapped a newfangled device called a “snowboard” onto his feet. I could barely watch, assuming that multiple bumps and bruises would shortly ensue.

Displaying a level of athleticism that I could only dream of, the boy shot down the pile, carved elegant curves in the powder below and glided to a graceful stop.

“What do you think?” I asked, assuming that he would be overwhelmed.

“I’m a little disappointed,” he replied. “I wish we had more snow.”

Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at and in bookstores nationwide.