There is something magical about the first real snow storm of the season. The crisp air snaps at your nose. A blue hue casts itself against the mountain front, as shadows and low-lying clouds hover along its rutted ridges. Large flakes dance towards the ground, floating to a beat of a symphonic harmony.
I live where the Greatest Snow on Earth accumulates. Where the science behind the best skiing is legendary. Where, I in fact, have never skied. Or snowboarded. Or snow tubed. Not since my traumatic incident of sliding into, err… under our fence in our front yard, in the house of my youth.
The front yard had a dramatic, pitched slope. I’m telling you, no joke, it had to have been at least a 45-degree angle. It was also fenced in chain link that was only four feet tall. It didn’t enclose the yard either, but wrapped the front and one side between the neighbors to our right. Along the fence line, small ground shrubs with prickly thorns stood guard, peaking their bare twiggy arms from tufts of snow. I’m not sure why my parents designed the yard this way. Here we were though, kids with the Greatest Snow on Earth, our plastic sled, and this GIANT hill with little to no room to stop at the bottom, but plenty to try and navigate away from.
My older brother teased me for being scared of everything. I wanted so desperately to be just like him. I’d generally go along with whatever he had planned. Skateboarding? Um, I was afraid to stand up, so I’d sit on the board and he’d push me down the driveway. Did I mention, the driveway had the matching pitch to the front yard? Yep, that driveway. I’d crash hard at the bottom, crying.
Mom would get mad, he’d get in trouble, and then he didn’t want to play with me anymore. At least, that’s what I thought. My brother is three years, three months, and twenty-two days older than me. I was cool until he had junior high school friends. Then it was, this is my kid sister. I have to watch her.
Snow in the 1980’s was definitely different from what we have today. Sadly, a sign of the global changes. It was wet, but fluffy. It carried you well; the science, and yes it is a thing. Our geographic location, the way the mountain ranges and basins align, and even our once Great Salt Lake all have provided the perfect conditions for our snow to be the best for the slopes.
The lake effect storms came from the west, over the Great Salt Lake, bringing in a saline enriched solution that makes the snow different compared to other parts of the world. One winter the snow accumulated so much, the piles along the parking strip were taller than I was. Granted, I wasn’t very tall as a kid. Ok, I’m an average 5’ 7” now. I was always a smaller, shorter, shyer kid. Nonetheless, it was a record setting winter with piles of snow so tall, mom made one of us get out of the car to direct her out of the driveway. This was when my siblings and I still played together.
My brother, the wise-ass he was, and still is, tells my little sister and I that we’ll all get on the sled and go down the hill together. That way the track will carve out and we’ll be good to go again. So he has me crawl in at the front, our little sister in the middle, and he would ride in the back for the push we needed. Neither of them ended up in the sled at all, as I got pushed down the hill, floating on top of the fresh crisp, accumulated snow.
There I am, already afraid of doing this stupid thing anyways, blazing down the 45-degree hill, straight… for… the…
The bottom chain catches my coat hood, yanking me off the plastic sled with an immediate breaking action. I’m not only at the bottom of the yard alone, I’m stuck under the links, with my body mostly on the other side, crying. Crying because I hated the entire idea of sledding, and now I saw my short life as it flashed before my eyes and it wasn’t glorious.
I didn’t die. That, I give my brother credit for. In fact, this isn’t the last incident I put my life in his hands. I’ve gone along with some of the stupidest shit he’d come up with. Many more memories for another time. However, the first snow takes me back to sledding as a kid, right there in the front yard. The three of us, free to make stupid decisions.
I’ll always count on my brother to get me past the chains that may hold me back. He’s wise beyond his years. When you grew up in the mess we did, you had to learn to deal with things on your own quickly. My brother took the brunt of it for us. We weren’t latch-key kids, but we might as well have been.
Now, I look up at the mountain peak, a view from my front porch, and take a moment to reflect on what I am privileged to have in my life. I often take for granted, the view from my front porch. It is such a beautiful scene; the north end of the Wasatch Mountains, as the setting sun bounces its rays against it with a final daily reminder of the power of Mother Nature. Utah tends to dismiss the seasons quickly, with complaint in between and the seemingly forgotten techniques of handling each one.
It’s been an unusual summer to fall transition. It was only yesterday that we’ve switched the air conditioner to heat. It’s the beginning of November! It was in the 70’s the week before Halloween. Sweater weather hasn’t been here long, and I’m grabbing my coat to run the kids around. The leaves turned from green to gold, and from gold to fire red over a month ago. Now they are capped with snow. This too is familiar. Though, those days in my youth, seasons seemed longer, gradual, crisper.
I drive and forget the majestic landscape we are blessed with, until the snow falls, the air clears, and the bluest sky envelopes the Wasatch Mountain Range. These very mountains inspired generations of designers. They also remind me I’m small, with great potential.
Ben Lomond Peak in its glory, rises behind a view of downtown Ogden. The very peak in which inspired William Hodkinson to sketch from his fondest memories of his time in Utah, the mountain that became the Paramount logo. He recalled this image, this shape from a memory. That shape became a part of a long history he fathered.
How can I not be inspired by Nature’s crowns? The trivia of gems, like the story of Hodkinson and his connection to Ogden, Utah and so many more hidden treasures are rich in history here.
I’ve taken the landscape and the history of my home for granted for far too long. So here I sit, bundled in my warm “grandpa” sweater, set on capturing more. Not just what reminds me of my past and how it’s brought me to this point, but also how it will guide me forward. I’m holding space for the days of my youth.
While there are many wonderful mentors, loved ones, and father figures I turn to for advice and support, my brother was the first I looked up to. The person I wanted to be like. The one I hope I make proud today. So as the first snow falls here, it takes me back to all the snow days of my childhood, where there are two things I cherish deeply: the Greatest Snow and the Greatest Brother on Earth.
Sean Childers-Gray is a designer, writer, trans advocate, and educator. This essay was originally published on his Substack, The Shape of Our Dignity.