Piles of dirty snow are a Canadian kid’s kingdom

“I call this one Danger Rock,” my seven-year-old gleefully proclaims from atop a dirty mound of snow in our Regina neighbourhood.

To get to the top, he sidestepped pieces of broken plastic and pulled himself up over jagged chunks of brown ice, only once slamming his face into the ice he was attempting to summit.

He stares down the steep cliff, with several dirty brown and yellowish boulders of snow at the bottom to cushion his fall.

“It’s really fun if you don’t get hurt,” he calls while happily taking his chances. 

Lot mountains are created when snow is removed from the surface of a parking lot and piled into unintentional playgrounds. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

“Danger Rock” is the newest attraction in our neighbourhood playground, formed when the nearby housing project cleared its parking lot, pushing all the filthy snow into a giant pile that was quickly claimed by neighbourhood children. 

Cities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on playground equipment when all kids really want is a giant pile of filthy snow to push each other off.– Nichole Huck

I once sat on the playground committee for this very park. We spent hours and tens of thousands of dollars installing playground equipment, slides and swings safely distanced from the other equipment to prevent injuries. We even covered the entire ground with wood chips to make sure any falls would be cushioned.

On Tuesday, my children walked straight past this significant investment to get to the dirty mound of snow. 

One way to protect your lot mountain from interlopers is to have a healthy supply of snowballs at the ready. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

It’s not the first “lot mountain” my kids have discovered this winter. Every outing becomes a search for freshly cleared parking lots to see what glorious fortresses have been created. Some contain hidden treasures such as empty gin bottles, but others are pristine snow castles, complete with built-in thrones (elevated flat areas perfect for reigning over your younger siblings). 

I know, I know. Sliding down a mound of snow in an icy parking lot comes with safety concerns. We warn our kids to be careful and stay away from busy parking lots. 

But I get it. 

Four-year-old Nico discovered this ice pile in the Canadian Tire parking lot in Melfort, Sask. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

I, too, was a child of the Prairies. There was no greater thrill than when the guy who drove the plow came to push all the schoolyard snow into one giant pile.

Every recess a bloody game of “King of the Castle” played out. Whoever could bully their way to the top and remain rooted the longest would reign over the schoolyard until next recess.

It’s really fun if you don’t get hurt.– Frank Huck Fraser 

The largest and meanest kids had the obvious advantage, but every so often a wild card would emerge. The skinny kid with the Co-op toque would stand at the top of the hill, arms raised in the air like Rocky, only to be unceremoniously dethroned moments later by the linebacker-like precision of a Grade 8 alpha.

These icy parking lot piles often require teamwork to scale. (Nichole Huck/CBC )

That kind of violent game is no longer tolerated on school playgrounds, but in a year where children are not supposed to be mingling with kids outside their household, these antics play out among siblings far from the eyes of schoolyard supervisors.

They seek out these pop-up palaces tucked behind grocery stores and on the edges of church parking lots to settle birth-order tensions. It’s the wild west of winter play, safe from the overarching safety requirements imposed on playgrounds.

Cities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on playground equipment when all kids really want is a giant pile of filthy snow to push each other off.

While ground was being broken on a new multimillion-dollar pool this summer, I watched neighbourhood kids embracing the giant pile of sand trucked in for the construction and crawling in and out of the concrete tubes and other industrial materials.

Playing on these icy palaces can be hard on the knees. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

Don’t get me wrong, playgrounds and pools are essential, especially for summer, but what this prairie city could use is more hills, more icy inclines to launch ourselves down. We prairie folk are starved for elevation.

We take our cues from nearby ski hills strategically placed at the top of valleys. We’ve learned that if we can’t go up, we can always go down. Perhaps we moved too soon, filling in the “wow”-inspiring Capital Pointe hole.

As my kids stand atop their icy kingdom, marvelling at the sunset disappearing behind the Independent grocery store, I’m grateful they know the joy of discovering these temporary temples of childhood creativity.

It’s worth the filthy and torn snowpants and the occasional injured wrist. We who choose to make our lives in the deep-freeze of the Prairies truly know how to appreciate the beauty around us, no matter how filthy that beauty may be.

Long live Danger Rock. At least till the next good stretch of warm weather.


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