Finding Joy In Winter

Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Map)

Winter 2014-15


The 2014-15 winter came in like a lamb. It only snowed just a few days before I left for the holidays & then it didn't snow all that much while I was gone either.

(Amazingly it didn't snow in St John's until February, so they no longer can complain about anything weather related until the end of time.)

I'm not sure if this small amount of snowfall led to me shovelling upon my return, but I found myself at the skatepark regardless. The above picture is from January 23rd, but I have little snow shovels on my calendar for the 19th, 20th, 21st & 22nd. Shovelling for 4 straight days, there was slim hope towards winter laying off, but I was invested and now found myself pondering and planning snow clearing every day.

I cleared snow on the 24th and 26th, then improved my record keeping by marking that I spent 1.5 hours there on the 28th. The above picture comes from the 28th, after the day's exercise & once night had settled in.

Leaving work at this time in January, you only have about a half-hour of daylight anyway. I was now spending this time at the skatepark witnessing every last bit of light leave the sky.

January 29 - shovelled for 45 minutes.

On January 31st I tried to break through the bottom layer of ice. We still weren't getting a crazy amount of snow & I had moved most of it off of the ramps, leaving only a thin layer of ice atop bubbles and water. I showed up and tried slamming the shovel into the ground & also stepped onto the back of the shovel, but the freezing temps and very thin ice couldn't be defeated. Nonetheless, this lack of snow & visible blacktop meant that the ground could warm and there was a possibility of hope.

After January 31st, I wouldn't see the skatepark's blacktop for the next two months.

There's a common misconception that's worth addressing here. About half of the people I told about this shovelling, thought it meant that I could shovel for an hour & then ride my bike after. Especially considering the atrocious winter of Corner Brook, this isn't the case. My only goal or reward was to reduce the winter's length. All of this effort was to ensure that come April, less snow would have to melt & the park wouldn't turn into one giant ice sheet for an additional 2 or 3 weeks. If I could keep the park relatively clear, then once it started warming up after 5 months of winter, the blacktop and metal ramps could warm, meaning things would be hurried along.

I had zero hope that there would be any day in February where it would be possible to ride (even if I grew excited by visible pavement on Jan 31st).

Sunday February 1 - Light Snow.
Tuesday February 3 - 8 inches of snow.

I attacked the new snow dumping for 70 minutes on February 3rd and then 1hr40m on February 4th. Every load of snow in my shovel & dumped down the hill, was one less recycle bin-sized volume of snow that would need to melt come spring.

This marked the start of where I found approximately 2 hours to be an agreeable amount of shovel time. The work of a satisfying February 4th is shown above.

Some of the funniest and most fun times would come when I went out shovelling during the storms. With snow battering me in angled winds and my face bundled up against the cold, I shovelled for a half an hour on February 5th as we got another 3 inches. I would've shovelled for longer, but it seemed silly in the wake of the forecast.

We would get 16 inches of snow on Friday the 6th. I spent the weekend inside, save for walking to the Liquor Store and shovelling my own driveway. Where after snowfalls of 1.5 inches, 8 inches or 3 inches, there's still hope and reason to clear the skatepark, 16 inches of snow squashed all of that.

Not shovelling the skatepark would last for 3 days. What else was I going to do with everything covered in this dumb pow? Go back to riding in the parking garage with salty grimy floors and 7 foot ceilings? Simply count away the days while staying inside? Spend money irresponsibly on trips to get away?

Monday February 9th - 45 minutes shovelling. 2 hours shovelling.

As much snow as we get here, 16 inches is still a significant amount. The city is really good at handling the awful monotony of 5 inches of snow, 7 inches, 4 inches, 5 inches, day after day after day - but over a foot of snow still slows the wheels of commerce in Corner Brook.

The parking lot next to the skatepark is some sort of ambulance gathering place, so it was cleared. Parking my car and pulling out my scoop, the snow was now as high as the wood fence I typically scissor over. The start of my work would involve plodding forward in thigh-deep snow, already growing exhausted at simply trying to move forward.

That skatepark sign in the above picture is about 8 feet high. Another 'good thing' about the 16 inches of snow was that I was getting ever closer to my goal of burying the sign completely - even though I didn't expect to come remotely close, let alone get close on February 9th.

If there was anything good about this storm, it's that it was easy to fill up the snow scoop. Put the scoop on the ground and push it forward. Continue with this until you make a little path to a dump off place on the other side of whichever hill. Then chip away a little more until you make a little cul-de-sac. Then attack another path or widen your path or clear a specific ramp...

I amused myself by clearing in different ways and tackling little goals ("clear up to the bank ramp today" or "today clear the northwest corner" or "make a big letter Z in paths", etc.)

If you're unfamiliar with snow scoops, everyone here without a snowblower swears by them; while I found them silly and used a conventional shovel for the first 3 years. I would never go back to a conventional shovel now. The snow scoop is so good at sliding forward & gathering giant amounts of snow & then disposing of it elsewhere. It's truly beautiful. Even if I were to move to a place I love, I would still bring a scoop to clear away the 22 inches of snow in my Cincinnati dream.

Tackling shovelling this skatepark with a normal shovel? No thanks.

Tuesday February 10th - 45 minutes of shovelling (lunch), 2 hours of shovelling (evening). Another 2 inches of snowfall.

It's not as if the days abruptly get longer in the winter - that usually comes with going back to daylight savings. It's with that, that every night I'd either go home & quickly shovel the driveway, or go right to the park. Soon enough it would be completely dark as I pushed snow up the embankment and spilled it down the other side (there's a small decline to the south of the CB skatepark which is a godsend for snow removal and water channelling).

There's a spin class across the street which seemed to start at 7pm. As I was typically pushing 2 hours of shovelling, I was working through their arrival and confused looks towards the guy atop the snow, digging out a central hole. This amused me, especially considering that some of these people would be mountain bikers hungry for mountain biking, maybe contemplating how those thirsty for bike riding were dealing with the winter in different ways.

There's a parkland trail next to the skatepark and you usually get about 2 or 3 people cutting through every hour. In the winter that drops to about 1 person every 2 hours, but not when there's this amount of snow. The trail was snowed in and you don't see many snowshoers down here, so no one was coming from the fluffy deep trail and into the skatepark. With my manmade hills growing by the day, suddenly I had my own little walled city, hidden from the street & difficult to penetrate. An odd, hidden space of my own, right in the heart of the city. (I often thought about people looking down from city hall or happening to walk through and hitting this random cleared area.)

I would come to enjoy the silence and peacefulness of getting into my work and zoning out here. I would put on podcasts and move snow, enjoying the time without having to interact with anyone. In addition, normally I would be going to the gym to replace summertime cycling/bmxing/hiking/walking, but here I was getting exercise doing something much more enjoyable than shuffling away on an elliptical.

I've seen how people look at me when I tell them I've found this winter activity that I enjoy and makes me happy, but it's the truth. There was something zen-like and relaxing in being out here in the calm night.

Wednesday February 11th - 1.5 hours of shovelling.
Thursday February 2th - 2 hours of shovelling. Another 2 inches of snow.

There's also a sense of satisfaction and purpose. The thing I hate the most about Corner Brook is how it feels like you're wasting 5 months of your life every year during the winter. Although I know career growth has its virtues, I have to have something else in my day-to-day. As silly as it sounds, clearing the skatepark gave me that purpose in that it was something to plan and achieve each day, something that made me happy and was good for me.

In the above picture, after 9 hours of shovelling this workweek, you can see I pretty much had conquered the 16 inches that previously plagued the park.

Although there were many days where the sun was nothing more than a dull, 3 lumen bulb hanging in a gray sky, there was the odd day that came along and ended with a beautiful winter's sunset. This was another thing I came to enjoy - being outside in the elements at sunset almost every day.

Friday February 13th - 30 minutes of shovelling (see the above paragraph about the gray sky.)

Stopping in on Valentine's Day, I had cleared everything but the quarterpipe, thinking about whether I'd find it funny to leave the quarterpipe covered in snow and everything else cleared come spring. At least it would slow the scooters down & force them to take turns. It also occurred to me how petty this was, haha.

God knows I had nothing better to do on Valentine's Day, so I'm sort of puzzled as to why I didn't clear the box or bank ramp. Although if I wasn't going to clear the quarterpipe & I was going to leave the box/bank ramp to melt, I didn't really have much else to do.

I was too efficient for this Corner Brook weather!

Of course if you're looking for snow in Corner Brook, it'll come within a couple of days or even hours.

Sunday February 15th - 6 inches of snow.
Monday February 16th - 2 inches of snow. 45 minutes of shovelling, 1 hour of shovelling.

Two whole days after wondering about what last bits to clear, I was now back to square one, hauling my scoop over my head while groin-deep in snow. I put the scoop down and started pushing. The process started all over again.

The one disruption to my sanctuary was the growing excitement of a nearby building. Being out here in all of this quiet & cold, you observe everything that's going on around you, for there's no noise but the infrequent slam of car doors, street hollering or the odd car passing by.

The first week of February would bring a few vehicles and lighted rooms to a nearby building. Then the second week would bring even more cars, as well as open doors and people mulling about - people I recognized from the skatepark. By the third week, doors stayed open and people were hanging out outside as well as visibly scootering and skateboarding inside.

Now I know these people owe me nothing as I'm an anti-social hermit who barely talks to people even though I'm often at our smallish Corner Brook Skatepark. Accepting that fact, the skateboard/scooter building was higher than the surrounding snow ridges - making it uncomfortable for me as I slowly moved snow while being noted and watched like a zoo animal. The tranquility and relaxation of the quiet winter's night had suddenly disappeared.

Still I kept at it, even as we now had enough snow that there were ski-doo tracks in the skatepark instead of footprints. It was now getting to the point that there wasn't an easy, obvious hill to push the snow up and over.

The snow needed to go onto the western and southern hills so that they would drain away from the park in April. By now the hills were so high that I had to spend 10 minutes upon arrival cutting down the angle and ridge top, so that there was a path to get a 5-foot running start to push the scoop up the now 5-, 6- or 7-foot hills.

Wednesday February 18th - 1 hour, 20 minutes of shovelling. Fin.

The doors to the scooter and skateboard building were open once again as I pushed snow on to the western hills, personally accepting that I didn't care that they were outside. As I failed to push a snow scoop to the top and was now walking backwards, finally, this one guy I know from back when he used to bike, yelled out about coming inside. I looked up and calmly, happily nodded, accepting that yes, I would come bike inside a vacant building instead of defeatedly shovelling snow.

It almost felt weird to abandon my goal after all of this work, but wasn't the whole point of this so that I could ride my bike sooner? Also, was I really going to ride inside comfortably on WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY EIGHTEENTH? Where was I? Someplace where beautiful things like this can actually happen?! Chicoutimi? Windsor? Fredericton?!

I've biked in Corner Brook in February before by going to the covered, but open to the elements, parking garage. Today, taking out my bike to ride in this vacant, heated building in February and not being dressed as if I was going tobogganing, caused my brain to malfunction and barely continue like an old computer. To be able to pull up, not bundle up clothing & simply go inside and ride? This wasn't something that happened in Corner Brook. Life isn't meant to this meaningful or joyful here. (People can bring joy or meaning here, but the city itself almost never plays a role.)

It was funny to share this space with all these people I'd seen throughout the years, but hadn't ever really talked to. I still wonder if the one friend who invited me even asked anyone else if it was okay for me to come inside, haha.

Once again though, I couldn't believe I was biking inside. It might not look like much, but the floor was smooth and I have enough rail tricks I want to do that I could busy myself aplenty. The building itself was also interesting, so it was special to be able to explore the stockrooms, hallways and staircases via bicycle.

I would walk into the skatepark now and again on my lunch hour, watching as the daily 3 or 4 inches of bullshit snow blanketed the park. The above picture is from February 20th, 2 days after I stopped shovelling.

I ended up stopping and checking out the skatepark more often than not. The vacant building was a hookup through one guy, so he needed to be there & he needed to want to stay there if I wanted to bike. I was obviously, unabashedly appreciative of him, but there were times he wasn't there. So I checked on the nearby skatepark while I was in the area.

His absence amazingly didn't happen much during that first week - I swear he lived there and I don't know how someone wants to ride two flat rails that much, haha - but by the start of March, I'd show up and he'd be leaving or I'd show up and he'd want to close up after 20 minutes. Some of these times too, it was only the two of us there and only myself riding. While we like each other well enough, I'm sure he had other places to be than hanging out with some weirdo while not using the flat rails himself.

Sadly, March 5th would be the last day I'd find the building open.

It's not like the snow stopped either. Horrible storms came in addition to the daily garbage, covering the skatepark & creating doubt that early-to-mid April is usually when hope returns to Corner Brook.

I stopped recording snowfall amounts, but...

Tuesday March 10th - 35 minutes of shovelling.
Wednesday March 11th - 1 hour, 30 minutes of shovelling.

This relatively minor amount of shovelling wasn't making much of a dent, mostly because the first 3 months of 2015 saw us get more snow than we usually average for the year. Where Corner Brook annually averages a disgusting 165 inches of snow, the first 3 months of 2015 brought 171 inches (14' 3") alone.

This was a big part of how we got to 225 inches (close to 19 feet) of snow this winter, even after a slow start.

^Cutting through while out on a walk. March 18th.

By the end of March, it was still cold, but at least it wasn't snowing as much. I stopped recording the daily snowfall as I thought I was done shovelling, but suddenly without an indoor spot, what was I going to do, go to Marbs1?

Things had to start getting better soon, right? It sure didn't feel like it with all negative temperatures in the forecast and no relief from snow, but I had to remind myself it was March 30th. Even in hellacious Corner Brook, the 20-inch snowfall average of March, leads into the 9.5-inch snowfall average of April. The daily average climbs to 2.6°C/37°F.

1 - Marbs is the local ski hill. It's 10 minutes from my
house and apparently the best hill in Atlantic Canada.

Friday March 27th - 45 minutes of shovelling.
Monday March 30th - 45 minutes of shovelling.

Even without hope for better weather, I couldn't contain my excitement to go work on the park and see where it was after a month or so of deferred maintenance.

There wasn't an insane amount of snow, so only a few days were spent clearing the standing pow from the most important areas. Following that, I was very excited to make holes and check the ice depth. Without any chinks in the armour, it was a difficult job just to chip ice down to the pavement with the shovel. From there it was a matter of making a triangle and chipping the triangle out. Then chipping another slice & another, until a circle was made.

I thought maybe the one bank ramp that was free of snow might be my salvation from this hard work, but with the sun sometimes heating it, the snow it used to house had simply melted down to the base. There wasn't any hope for using the bank edge to get at weaker ice, for the bank met the pavement with doubly thick ice where it had refrozen.

Tuesday March 31st - 75 minutes of shovelling.
Wednesday April 1st - 45 minutes of shovelling, 35 minutes of shovelling.
(Went to St. John's for Good Friday)
Tuesday April 7th - 90 minutes of shovelling.

Shovelling had changed by this point. Breaking apart the ice and flinging slabs onto the 7 foot hills was intensely satisfying, but there was only so much smashing down with the metal shovel I could do before profusely sweating with tired arms. I would then grab the scoop and attack the standing snow in other places, a task that was easier and only used my back, legs and forearms as I pushed the snow up, across & down the hills 15 feet away.

Thursday April 9th - 90 minutes of shovelling.

Finally a small amount of rain came and finally the temp would go above zero degrees celsius (32°F). With that, I was shocked at the green grass & pavement as I approached the park. I knew that this was where water flowed down to the sewer & it was paramount to ridding myself of these god awful hills, but scraping it down to the ice, I didn't realize the grass would make such a quick appearance!

Nearing 3 months of coming here through sideways snow, through working in thermal underwear/rainpants/rainjacket/balaclava/toque and still staying cold enough to not shed layers, through scoopful after scoopful without any let was so beautiful to step over the fence and feel the squishy skatepark grass under foot.

I crouched down and ran my fingers through the enticing and confounding surface, like someone arriving at a beach after bushwhacking for days.

My spirits already lifted, the next day was then something out of my wildest dreams.

Saturday April 11th - Four hours shovelling.

8°C/46°F. Light rain.

I decked myself out in rain gear and danced into the skatepark. The area of black top had already grown with the sunny breaks in recent days and then furthermore in the rain and warm temps. The edges were all weak ice plateaus with running water underneath, where I could walk circles along the edge and break off large chunks. From there, they were big enough and now softer, that I hacked & hacked, attacking the peninsulas left behind by happily breaking away huge, thick slabs.

There was no way I went into the day thinking I'd shovel more than 2 hours, but even on normal days, I usually showed up to work for one hour, but ended up closer to two with all of the excitement, progress and sense of purpose/achievement. On this day I shot right to 2 hours, then it was another 30 minutes, then another, then a whole 'nother hour. I couldn't stop. Suddenly life wasn't so damn difficult. Don't get me wrong, I was still sweating and tired, but my efforts were resulting in sizable rewards.

Monday April 13th - 45 minutes shovelling, 45 minutes shovelling.

Monday April 13th - Dry blacktop.

The ice had retreated further with the temperature going a few degrees above freezing again today. In addition, I had been attacking the main space by removing all of the weaker, smaller slabs. The first 45 minutes were used to attack one last, resilient sheet until the entire thing moved & I was able to push it away (pro-tip: pushing a giant, car hood-sized ice slab up a melting snow hill doesn't work too well.)

By the afternoon I couldn't believe it. There were a couple of tiny dry spots earlier in the day, but now a whole area was clear. The pavement was visibly drying during my time here to create...a rideable space?

For the first time in 4 months? 4.5 months?

Not only was it nice to do circles on dry, salt-free ground; the day's warmth also felt great. I was riding outside in a t-shirt, after every activity over the last 5 months involved thinking and planning what warm clothes to wear & then taking 5-10 minutes to bundle up.

Tuesday, April 14th - 1 hour of shovelling.

April 14th brought an amazing day of 14°C/57°F and rain. The standing "snow on ground" depth fell by a total of 5cm to 2ft 7in (i.e. about as much as you can expect to disappear in a single spring's day).

My work now was mostly chipping away ice, which was even more weakened by this point. I had seen how the meltwater flowed through over the last few days, so I strategically chipped away at certain parts, to try and keep the rainwater off to the snowy sides of the park.

A funny thing happened the next day, a day which was moderately warm and sunny. I went to check on the skatepark & I looked down from the elevated parking lot of the old post office, only to see about 20 kids sharing the space you see in the picture above! For all of the "oh you have to enjoy winter and take up winter activities" people, to seeing so many people squeezed into the above area. It looked like trying to do a trick in a jam-packed, tiny warehouse.

When I started this adventure, it didn't even occur to me that I could still be snow clearing at the time of my upcoming, scheduled vacation on April 24th. Leaving in 8 days and busy before vacation, the idea of sharing 1/2 the skatepark with 20 skateboarders and scooterers held no appeal. My last day of snow clearing was the 14th and the quarterpipe melted off on its own, I guess. (I see that the "snow on ground" is still listed as 52 cm(20") on the day I left, 20 cm(8") on April 31 and finally 0 cm by May 3rd.)

If I wasn't around there's a good chance the skatepark wouldn't have been usable into the month of May. So in the end, my shovelling and work over the winter meant getting to ride 2 to 2.5 weeks early. And that's over the course of the worst Corner Brook winter in 25 years.

The time & effort was worth it to me.


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