Snow season has arrived, which means that Mother Nature has transformed your backyard into a winter wonderland. Of course, no magical snowscape is complete without a snow castle, and building one is arguably one of the best snow day activities of all time. Without Snow Queen Elsa there to use her powers, it can be a bit tricky to construct a successful snow castle safely. That's why we've enlisted snow sculpting experts to make it a fun and safe snow day for all.
Here's how to build a snow castle with your kids to play in all winter long.
Scope Out Wet, Heavy Snow
"Set yourself up for success by making sure that the snow is the right consistency," says Jessi Beyer, a mental health advocate who and has been building snow forts every winter since she was 9 years old. "Powdery snow is beautiful and fun to play in, but it doesn't stick together enough to make good snow castles and would be quite frustrating."
Wet, heavy snow is best for building because it's easy to mold and manipulate. If you've had a dry, fluffy snowfall, make snow angels and go sledding instead. You also want to be sure there are at least 4 to 6 inches of snow on the ground so you aren't digging up the lawn or any leaves or rocks.
Plan Your Plot
Before you begin building, level off a wide foundation for your snowy estate using shovels. A flat surface is essential. "An important safety requirement when building a snow castle is to make sure you are on level ground," says Kevin Lane, founder of retail shop Create A Castle who has constructed more than 1,000 snow structures. "Worst case scenario will be that you have to rebuild a tower."
Lane adds that the location you choose will make a difference for sustainability. "Try to build in an area that is shady," Lane says. "This will allow your snow castle to last longer, as the sun will become your biggest enemy—just ask Frosty!"
Courtesy of Create a Castle
Choose Your Wall Molds
In the same way you would create a sandcastle at the beach, choose at least three different size molds to form building blocks. These will become graduated towers and walls in whatever castle formation—round, square, rectangular—you prefer.
You can buy molds at a store: Create a Castle is a stone-embossed mold that snaps together, doubling as a snow and sandcastle kit. These molds, which are engineered to fit seamlessly together, are convenient and reliable. Alternatively, you can use a plastic storage container that you already have or the same molds you use in the summer with sand.
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Fill Your Molds With Snow
If you're using plastic containers or pre-designed molds, start by packing each one tightly with snow before turning it over. "Kids can help with the entire process, whether you are molding with snow or growing ice with a sprinkler," says ice crafter Brent Christensen, who developed an icicle empire called Ice Castles. "Just make sure they are always supervised."
Lane adds that this construction project can be a great way for kids to develop motor skills, spatial reasoning, creativity, and imaginative play. "The more you use the tools, the more efficient and creative you will become," Lane says.
Stack Your Formation
Your snow blocks should be stacked on the ground from largest to smallest. Construct your towers side-by-side and reinforce them with your hands by packing extra snow in between. Adults may want to use a combination of shovels, trowels, and gardening hoes to shape, pack, and add detail to the snow castle. For more experienced fort builders, ice choppers and flat head steel shovels can also do the trick.
Beyer also suggests creating your snow castle around another available structure: "The best snow fort I made was under my playground in the backyard. I stacked giant snowballs in between the structure, making sure to start with big snowballs at the bottom and smaller ones on top," she says. "Do it the other way, and your whole fort is unstable."
Be Safe and Have Fun
Extra-large snow castles and forts that can fit an adult or even multiple children will require some serious time to construct, so be sure everyone is appropriately bundled up for the long day outdoors. If the kids get too cold, Beyer suggests taking a hot cocoa break and returning to the fort an hour or so later.
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"The most important thing is just to have fun as a family," says Christensen. "Whether you build elaborate snow forts, ice castles, or a humble snowman, in the end, what you are really creating are unforgettable winter memories with your children."