A cold commodity
January 16, 2013
Driggs Mayor formed a bond with snow long ago
Driggs Mayor Dan Powers is someone who knows snow better than most, but the best snow he’s seen in a while is that stuff being carved outside city hall. Please see this week's Valley Citizen for full coverage of the Great Snow Fest. Citizen photo by Hope Strong
It’s debatable whether or not Eskimos have more descriptive words for snow than Dan Powers does, but the Mayor of Driggs has an unequivocal love for the frozen white stuff.
And though Powers’ favorite snow is typically freshly fallen and in great amounts, he has developed an affection for the snow that is used to construct the blocks in downtown Driggs during the Great Snow Fest.
While getting his master’s degree in engineering at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Powers, a native of Ashburnham, Mass., also wrote a thesis on snow science. The US Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab provided Powers an opportunity to gain an advanced understanding of snow, but he’s happy to continue his education each winter in the local backcountry surrounding Teton Valley.
“The snow is way better here,” Powers said. “I haven’t been out for a while, but I usually get out two or three times a week.”
A huge supporter of the Great Snow Fest from the beginning, Powers was interested in how to build a better block of snow for sculptors of the snoscapes outside city hall. Last year was the first time he helped orchestrate the block construction, and it was a bit of a mystery. This year, everyone had a better idea of what it would take, but frigid temperatures introduced a variable.
“I was curious about the puzzle, taking sugary snow and creating a compacted block,” Powers said. “There’s plenty of science in that puzzle. Because we were using snowpack that was cold and shallow, it was very granular. This year, we had a little better idea of what we were doing, but it made me nervous when it got so cold over the weekend.”
Following a successful stomping session last Friday, temperatures dropped well below zero degrees, nearing -30 degrees in town. Powers was hoping the blocks would hold up.
“In the mountains at higher altitudes, the snowpack is pretty solid. But in Driggs, the snow has had a chance to recrystallize and weaken,” Powers said. “With the really cold weather, I was a little worried that the proper bonds wouldn’t form before we removed the forms this week.”
While stomping the blocks at the end of last week, the snow was a little like quicksand. The harder you stomped, the deeper your boots disappeared into the snow. With such cold weather, it was possible vapor transfer might not take place.
“I encouraged all the stompers to go at it slow and steady,” Powers said. “In the end, I think we did a better job than last year. Many of the sculptors are happy with what they have to work on.”
Though the forecast for midweek is sunny skies, Powers doesn’t put much stock in what the weatherman predicts for the valley. He’s hoping for temperatures around 20 degrees and a little bit of cloud cover so carvers won’t have to spend too much time shielding their works of art from the sun.
“Many of the sculptures were fragile last year, and I worried they wouldn’t hold up,” Powers said. “But they did, and I’m sure we’ll have a great showing again this year.”
With his love of snow not limited to the ski slopes, Powers felt great pride in what lies right outside city hall during the Great Snow Fest.