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Snowzilla rises again

Joshua Saul

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Joshua Saul photo
A pile of snow is accumulating in Billy Ray Powers' Airport Heights yard, home of the legendary Snowzilla. Powers says the snow that dumped on Anchorage this week is "too wispy" to begin construction, but promises Snowzilla will return this winter.

Billy Ray Powers, the man behind Snowzilla, was out this week shoveling snow from the sidewalk up onto the huge stockpile in front of his house. He said now that there's a new mayor in City Hall, he doesn't expect the headaches he had under the old one.

Mayor Dan Sullivan's spokeswoman, Sarah Erkmann, said the mayor tries to stay out of people's interests, and as long there aren't any serious safety issues the municipality won't get involved.

"Until it becomes an issue, we're not going to get out in front of it," Erkmann said.

In winters past, Powers and Snowzilla have encountered some resistance. Neighbors started to complain after the snowman's annual reemergence led to gawkers, and increased traffic, on narrow Airport Heights streets. Last winter, a municipal code enforcer told Powers the large snowman violated nuisance laws and ordered it taken down. Powers thinks anyone who doesn't like the snowman is a bit of a Grinch, but admits that he does have a lot of stuff in his yard.

Besides the run-ins with City Hall, Snowzilla has had some interesting times over the years. In 2005 some local boys stole the snowman's corncob pipe Powers and a neighbor had built out of manila folders, glue sticks, and a ski pole. Powers and a vigilante crew of kids tracked the culprits' footprints through the snow, and after some tough talk the pipe was recovered. Last year, after the municipality ordered Snowzilla leveled, the snowman mysteriously rose from the dead overnight, taller than ever.

Fed on a healthy diet of Southcentral snowfall, Powers' creation has grown since its birth in 2005, when it was about 16 feet tall; last year's resurrected Snowzilla was closer to 25. In the past the building process has involved scaffolding and sleds filled with snow pulled from neighbor's yards, and always a pack of kids warming up around the Powers' wood stove.

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Dispatch file photo
Last year, Snowzilla (pictured here in December 2008) was resurrected overnight by anonymous builders after the municipality ordered him taken down.

But talk of height and scaffolding is all a little hypothetical at this point, since Snowzilla is still just a pile of snow. It's admittedly a very large pile of snow, but as of now no spherical shapes are present. Forming those shapes, however, is pretty complicated.

"There's a lot more to a snowman that meets the eye," Powers said, packing a snowball to demonstrate. The snow sets up and becomes hard based on moisture content and the size of the crystals.

Well, Anchorage got buried this week. How's that snow been?

"This snow right here is too wispy; it's not snowman snow," Powers said. He's still stockpiling it in order to gain the requisite bulk Snowzilla will need to look good, but what he really craves is wetter snow.

Powers hopes he doesn't have to wait too long. He says timing is everything when you have a celebrity snowman, and he wants to have Snowzilla ready soon so it can be part of the holiday season.

"A good snowman at Halloween wouldn't be nearly as fun as a snowman at Christmas," he said.

Under the yellow glow of a streetlight, Powers points out tree branches to show how high the snowman was in past years. Tall isn't his first priority, he says; the most important thing to him is that the snowman has presence.

"Handsome is what we're talking about," he said. "What we want is a snowman that you just feel like you want to give him a hug."

Contact Joshua Saul at jsaul_alaskadispatch.com .