Storm-bleached black and white ridge west of Pincher Creek.

In Alberta, some love snow

My name is Bob and I’m a chionophiliac; I love snow and snowstorms. If this confession does not start my recovery, it at least differentiates me from snowbird chionophobics who have an intense aversion to snow and a fear of being snowbound.

My name is Bob and I’m a chionophiliac; I love snow and snowstorms.

If this confession does not start my recovery, it at least differentiates me from snowbird chionophobics who have an intense aversion to snow and a fear of being snowbound.

The recent two snowstorms totaling nearly 60 cm renewed my worries about my secret addiction.

Like most normal people, I hate hail and wind storms, bitterly cold weather, and agonize over the deaths by starvation and suffocation that spring blizzards cause to wild creatures.

Add driving in snowstorms to my aversions; my worst ever was four-wheeling in a snowstorm from Conrad, Mont., to Red Deer to attend my own Grey Cup party.

But, unlike almost everyone, I crave regular fixes of heavy, swirling snow, and get jumpy in dry winters.

I prefer having winter when we should, because, if we don’t, we’ll surely get it when we shouldn’t, as in too many recent alleged summers.

My addiction has deepened since I became physically unable to shovel snow five years ago, and have since been reduced to staying inside, warm and snug, and watching others shovel, and blow snow: neighbours, anonymous good Samaritans, our contract service, even Herself out there, sweeping, scooping and scraping cleanup.

I enjoy studying snowstorms out the window as they bleach the world into a black and white photograph.

The Stump Ranch cabin is superb for fireside storm watching, with its huge picture windows, and a crackling and humming airtight stove.

In Winter: Five Windows on the Season, the Anansi Press printing of Adam Gopnik’s 2001 Massey Lectures, the author frequently invokes the famous line from Francois Villon’s The Ballad of Dead Ladies, which translates: “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”

“Melted,” Gopnik answers, but adds the memories of them linger on and we see other storms, other times, other places, in the swirling snow out the window.

I have experienced snowstorms in every month except July.

The first I remember distinctly blew in on Brooks after the tricking and treating was done on Halloween.

The next morning the town cop, Rex Potter, turned up at the slough just south of the CPR station, where we were clearing a hockey “rink,” and randomly “arrested” four louts from among us and summarily sentenced them to hand-pumping all four tires on his “Baby Austin” that “someone” had flattened the night before.

Strangely, I can’t recall one decent blizzard from the four winters I lived in Edmonton while attending U of A.

But, during that time, I attended a Canadian University Press conference in Winnipeg, and went through considerable suffering to get to the legendary intersection of Portage and Main, to experience a blizzard blowing in from all points of the compass.

In two out of my three winters in Halifax to attend Dalhousie Law School, there were Atlantic blizzards that paralyzed the city for three days, with a metre of heavy snow on the level.

Back on the campus, paths from building to building had been cleared between shoulder-high walls of snow.

Back in Alberta, some of my best snowstorm-blizzard memories come from the Ram River system.

There was the late August, 1963, blizzard that suddenly blew in as my dad, Mac Johnston and I, hauled in cutthroats where Hummingbird Creek joined the South Ram until our numb hands could no longer wrangle the worms onto our hooks.

Far up the North Ram, Wayne Williams, Barry Mitchell, Karnik Shishmanian and I woke in tents nearly flattened by an early blizzard of wet snow.

That afternoon, chest waders kept me dry below the shoulders while hunting elk and mule deer.

In the swirling snow I spotted seven big animals … all feral horses.

Next morning was as bright and clear as the mornings after the thick, swirling ice fog finally lifted in late August at our Forbidden Creek fly camp, and legendary guide Dewey Browning would let John Horn and I climb again on our week-long sheep hunt.

So many snows of yesteryear from Pincher Creek. … In mid-September 1970, we got 46 cm of snow overnight, and the next morning, I learned that my friend and mentor, Allen H. Bill, longtime outdoors columnist at The Calgary Herald, had died.

I waded to, then went fishing on the creek to be alone with the trees bowing low with wet snow, and then quit because I felt it disrespectful how good the fishing was.

One May, Herself went to Pincher Creek to visit her mother and sister, just before the worst blizzard of my life arrived. Transmission towers crumpled: Central Alberta was powerless for three days.

In Red Deer, I cooked for the kids on an alcohol fondue stove.

We gathered around the wood-burning fireplace to eat and watch the storm.

When was this? Maybe the late 1970s, or May 12 to 13, 1986, but memories, even the Internet, fail me. Whichever, those snows have long melted; maybe I need to watch just one more small snowstorm to recover … get the memories swirling again. …

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at

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