WRITER | KIM HYTINEN
Wintertime in Michigan is perfect for rekindling snowy adventures. Grab a snow shovel or two, round up your family, dress in your warmest winter gear, and head outside to create some cool snow projects while making memories to last a lifetime. Whether you want to build a jolly ol’ snowman, a snow fort, sled hill, or even an igloo, a good Michigan winter will bring with it all the essentials for arctic family fun at home!
“It’s always a struggle to find the motivation to get outdoors in the wintertime,” said Lauren Oxlade, Outdoor Interpreter for the City of Rochester Hills. “I have the pleasure of serving our residents through outdoor engagement opportunities such as kayaking classes, river floats, private programs for groups such as scouts, seniors, and special needs as well as assisting our residents with wildlife issues and questions.”
When the chill hits the air, Oxlade can be found outside with her naturalist coworker, Lance Devoe, serving hot chocolate and s’mores over an open fire at the city’s sledding hill. Many communities have outdoor recreational activities for all ages, making it easy to plan a family day full of fun. Offerings include snowshoeing; winter wildlife, where they teach winter adaptations and tracking; and an event called Snowford and Campfire. During this event, families work as a team to build a hut using natural materials found throughout the park while learning about winter survival, including starting a fire with flint and steel.
But if staying home when the snow flies is more your style, there are plenty of playful outdoor activities to explore. The more snow, the better! For building activities, you’ll want packing snow – the kind that’s dense and forms a solid snowball. You’ll also want some simple tools like snow shovels, molds made specifically for creating snow blocks or household items that can be turned into molds (milk cartons, small plastic bins, pails), and water (to spray or pour over your structure to harden it into ice).
The most common snow structure built in backyards is called a quinzhee. It resembles an igloo but is made of loose snow gathered into a large pile and then hollowed out. Its ease makes it popular, but it tends to be dangerous due to the structure’s instability. Important steps must be taken to ensure the safety of your quinzhee and reduce the likelihood of it collapsing. Once the center of the heap has been carved away, make sure to spray it with water to reinforce its strength.
Another popular snow creation is a fort or castle. Built for hours of snowball-dodging fun, these are easy and fast to build. Forts can be constructed by rolling snow into large boulders and stacking them on top of one another. Make a mortar to fill in gaps by mixing water with snow to create slush that will harden overnight. Another method is to create blocks of snow using molds and then stacking the frozen squares to make a wall.
For extra fun, experiment with sheets, towels, or blankets sprayed with water, hung, and left to harden in the cold winter air. Hang them up straight to create walls or drape them wet over chairs and other surfaces to allow them to freeze into a variety of shapes. Lined rubber gloves will keep your hands dry and toasty.
A little more challenging is the backyard igloo crafted from snow blocks in a circular pattern. The basic igloo requires that blocks are bigger at the bottom and reduced in size as they wind toward the top. Blocks often have the top lopped off at a slant to allow for gentle sloping the higher it goes. It’s crucial to have a small fist-sized opening near the top for venting. And, almost last, cut out a doorway. Spray the igloo with water to harden it and give it strength.
Still have more snow? How about a backyard sled hill? Make a huge snow mound at least 5 feet high. As you create the slope, build in raised edges to keep participants from unintentionally veering off the slide. On the backside, carve out steps for an easier climb. When complete, spray the sloped side with water to make the surface super slick. A sled hill or slide is a quick remedy for winter boredom!
If you can make a snowball, you can make a snow shelter – and decorating them can be as fun as building them! Freeze objects in a pan of water and place them in your designs or use them as windows. String up some outdoor lights and add some furniture. Let creativity be your guide.
And when you need a break from building, there are still many fun things to do outside. Oxlade recommends bird watching as a way to spend those short winter days. Birds that overwinter in Michigan, such as Chickadees, are extremely active in the winter.
Winter in Michigan is cold, but it sure won’t be boring with all of these ideas for fun.