After nearly two years of unusually snowless conditions, the central Kenai Peninsula finally returned to normal last week when almost a foot of snow covered the area in wintry white.
The inch or so of snow that came and quickly melted Oct. 18 put the season's first snowfall date on track, too, according to Kenai resident Foster "Frosty" Walters, who enjoys keeping tabs on such things.
Since Walters first began keeping records 20 years ago, the first snow typically has come in the latter half of October. Tuesday's first significant snowfall for this year matches the Nov. 11 date of last year's first snowfall.
According to Walters' charts, last year's season total snowfall amount was 26.07 inches, compared to a 10-year average of 51.3 inches. Although 2002 wasn't the least snowiest year, it was close in 1993, only 17 inches of the white stuff fell in Kenai.
At the other end of the measuring stick, the very next year, 1994, brought 81.8 inches of snow to town.
Along with the first significant snowfall of the winter came icy roads, slick sledding hills and snowball fights galore, as area residents began settling into their winter routines.
At Johnson's Tire Service in Soldotna, things were predictably steady beginning Wednesday afternoon, as motorists decided the time was right to get snow tires put on.
"It's been a little busier," store manager Mitch Eversoll said Thursday.
Eversoll said there was a bit of a rush Wednesday after the snow began to fly.
"As usual, the weather played a factor," he said.
Wednesday's rush gave Johnson's tire-changers a bit of extra work, but by Thursday, Eversoll said things had settled back down, and motorists weren't having to wait much longer than an hour to get their tires changed out.
The drop in temperatures brought out a number of changes for pedestrians, as well. The change was most evident in the click-clack of clip-on snow shoes heard in local grocery stores, as well as the abundance of winter jackets seen around town.
But not everyone seems to agree that winter is finally here.
Seen walking around town Thursday afternoon were a few pedestrians in jeans and T-shirts typical fall attire, apparently, for true Alaskans.
Halyn Lipps, an eighth-grader at Kenai Middle School was one of those hardy souls who doesn't believe that just because there's a little snow on the ground, it's time to bring out the parka and mittens. He and his friend Andrew White walked from the middle school to the old Kenai courthouse wearing only sweatshirts, tennis shoes and in Lipps' case shorts.
Lipps, a lifelong Alaskan, said he had a simple reason for braving the 21-degree temperature in clothes more suited for southern California.
"Because I don't like pants and the winter isn't that cold to me," he said.
White himself wearing just jeans and a sweatshirt agreed that winter had yet to really arrive Thursday.
"If it drops another 10 degrees or so, it'll be too cold," he said.
Not everyone wanted to put off winter, however, as sledding hills and cross country ski trails began to see their first real action in some time.
Behind Sears Elementary School, Brandon Groth and his son Joseph got in their first sledding session of the season. Groth said conditions were ideal Thursday afternoon for sledding on the Sears hill.
"It's real good," Groth said, as 3-year-old Joseph, spent from a big day on the slopes, smiled shyly.
"He took the jump one time and decided that was good enough," Groth said before he and little Joseph headed home.
Up at the top of the hill, a group of local sledders and snowboard enthusiasts weren't quite ready to give it up as the sun began to set.
"It's nice," said Miles Richard-son, who lives across the street from the hill.
"I gotta rebuild the jump. It was better earlier before they turned it into a wall," he said, pointing to a couple of his fellow sledders. "You could get a lot of air."
Richardson wasn't too upset with the jump's redesign, though. He said he was just happy to be out on some decent snow for a change.
"Last year it was all ice," he said.
Richardson returned to sledding, joining a group of five or six kids doggedly trying to get air of the makeshift jump. Their faces and ears beet red, none seemed to mind the rapidly dropping temperatures.
They took turns trying the already-worn track in the side of the small hill, yelling back and forth across the snow as each took his or her short trip off the side.
As daylight faded, their voices echoed across the schoolyard, high-pitched and giddy at the return of the snow. Getting ever more daring, one bold soul took a running start from the top and went flying headlong toward the steep wall of snow waiting at the bottom. The result of his mad dash down could be heard in the voice of a laughing friend, waiting less-than-patiently at the top.
"Whoa, dude wipeout!" came the cry, a split second before he, too, headed for the bottom of the snow-covered hill.
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