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Six tips for building the best snowman

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Winter means snow, and snow means snowmen. And although everyone who’s ever stepped outside on a sunny day knows the basics of building one, there’s always room for improvement. Here’s how to go about crafting a snow sculpture that’ll be the envy of the neighborhood.

Begin with the end in mind.

Snowmen come in all shapes and sizes. Before you start numbing your hands, ask yourself: what kind of snowman do you want to make? A traditional Frosty clone? One with a cool theme? A celebrity or historical figure? A snow panorama? A little creativity here could turn your front yard into a real phenomenon.

Don’t confine yourself to snowpeople, either. Snowpuppies, snowcaterpillars, and snowcrocodiles are all achievable. Longer animals tend to work better than taller ones, which have a tendency to collapse quickly, but the only real limits are the amount of snow you have on hand and your imagination.

Use the right snow.

No matter what you choose to build, you're going to need the right snow. Powdery snow might be more fun to play in, but it’s no good for building a stable snowman. Snow that’s just above freezing – a little wet, but not slushy -- is perfect, as it packs better than the loose stuff. You can even use some water to wet it down to get the right texture.

Find the right spot.

Snowmen have notoriously short life-spans. That’s part of the fun, of course, but with a careful choice of location you can give yours the longest life possible. Although you might want to build your snowman in the middle of your front yard, have a thought for his long-term health prospects: the more sheltered his spot, the longer he’ll be around for you to enjoy. And make sure there’s a couple inches of snow below him first to help keep him cold (and keep the mud away).

Shape or roll?

Assuming you’re opting for the good, old-fashioned snowman, two schools of thought dominate here: the big snowball, and the big pile.

Rolling up snow into a two-foot ball is lots of fun, and is the best way to get that classic snowman silhouette, but the resulting damp and cold mass can be tricky to handle and a lot heavier than you remember. If you choose to roll, however, be sure to flatten the top of each ball before stacking another ball on top.

Some prefer to scrape up snow into a tall pile instead, using their hands to smooth and shape the resulting column into the right proportions. That’s easier on the back, better for the kids, and you can use a snow shovel to speed matters along.

It’s all in the face.

All kinds of household objects can be pressed into service as snowman facial accessories. Coal is traditional, but it’s not 1930 anymore, and coal’s not the household staple it once was.

Our suggestion is to raid the 'fridge or the fruit bowl. Almost any fruit or vegetable can be pressed into service as a snowman’s eyes, nose, mouth, or shirt buttons. Carrots are the obvious choice, but maybe you think they’re getting a little cliched -- try a seasonally appropriate tangerine or clementine for the Euro, Raymond Briggs look. Don’t choose something too soft or small, though, otherwise your poor snowman may find himself the target of hungry wildlife. Coins, old buttons, or scrunched-up aluminum-foil balls are less tasty and nearly as good.

And for added expression, take a spray bottle and fill it with a mixture of water and a few drops of food coloring, water-based paint, or a similar substance. A quick spritz here and there will do wonders.

Dress to impress.

Frosty had his stovepipe hat, but just like the coal, it’s unlikely you have one of those just lying about. Big floppy sunhats work well, knit caps add a cute wintery touch, and if all else fails you can always opt for an old baseball cap. Don’t forget hair, too: an old mop-head or skein of wool can be pressed into service as an impromptu wig.

Other clothing is a great option too, especially if you can get creative with a cool theme or recycle an old Halloween costume. There’s an added benefit to dressing your snowman, as a layer of insulation will help keep him frosty and fresh. Umbrellas, scarves, the ubiquitous corncob pipe, old skis, unwanted boots...go clear out your closet and see what you can find.

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