The conditions were finally right this winter for creating the elaborate snow train and ice slide Donnie White and his kids had been planning since 2018. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

The conditions were finally right this winter for creating the elaborate snow train and ice slide Donnie White and his kids had been planning since 2018. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

Red Deer dad and kids make their own polar express snow train in their backyard

Donnie White says it’s about making memories and encouraging outdoor play

Three Red Deer siblings are ‘all aboard’ for some outdoor fun on an elaborate train slide they built with their dad, Donnie White.

Despite frigid highs in the mid -2o C range this week, Minette, age 10, Mateo, eight, and Jasper, five, have thrown on their parkas and snow pants and climbed onto the snow sculpture that features a five-and-a-half-foot tall train engine, as well as a coal car and two passenger cars.

The kids glide down an impressive ice slide that starts on top of the snowy coal car and flows down through two hollowed out passenger cars to exit the back of the train.

The sculpture and slide take up half the family’s backyard in the Bower neighbourhood and were created over a two- to three-week period in December.

But the children’s dad revealed the train project was actually a much longer time coming.

He and the children had first planned to build a Polar Express-type train in their yard three winters ago — after White had honed his carving skills on two other labour-intensive yard projects. He previously constructed an ice sailing ship in 2018 and an ice castle in 2017, while the family was still living in Anders.

But the weather just wouldn’t cooperate with this plan: “We had mild winters for the last two or three years and I didn’t do anything at all… We didn’t want to put all that effort in and only have it around for a few days,” he recalled.

This year’s deep-freeze was the perfect opportunity for finally making the snow train. “If you’re busy you don’t notice (the cold) so much,” reasoned White.

Although the pandemic has curtailed a lot of family activities, that isn’t why he embarked on the project with his children. “I would have done it anyway,” he said — for the shared memories.

“It’s just for fun, something to do with the kids… I thought maybe it will inspire them to do something cool for their kids someday.””

The White siblings are home schooled and haven’t yet succumbed to the allure of electronics, so White also wanted to encourage more outdoor play with the project.

And he believes the train has sparked his kids’ imaginations. Even in the deep cold, the three sometimes play out in the yard for over an hour on the slide, he added.

At night, the train is lit up with lights that cast a colourful glow on the packed snow.

White’s previous winter sculptures, the castle and ship slides, were built out of cubes of ice cut out of a friend’s private pond.

The snow train required packing snow into bins to make cubes, then stacking these cubes and gluing them with a bit of water at the joints, before carving them into shapes, said White.

He got extra inventive, using bin lids as forms, to make thin ice windows for the train engine and cars.

“Next winter, the kids want me to make a dragon slide,” he added — so the Whites will be hoping for another typically cold central Alberta winter.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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