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In balmy L.A., snow is a production

It costs green to make the white stuff, but locals say it's worth it. To Easterners, we're flakes.

December 03, 2006|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

Thirty tons of snow are forecast to fall today in the balmy Bixby Knolls area of Long Beach.

More is on tap in Calabasas and Azusa, where daytime highs could reach the mid-70s under sunny skies.

This is holiday season in Los Angeles and, as in chilly New England and the Midwest, children are donning bright-colored mittens and boots to go play in the white stuff.

But like so much else in Southern California, this snow is different.

Sure, it is cold and wet and white, but it emerges from a powerful chipping machine capable of transforming giant blocks of ice into authentic-looking flakes.

And while real snow is free, the man-made kind sells for $150 or more a ton.

To furnish children, many of whom had never seen snow, with 30 tons of it for sledding and making snow angels, the city of Hawthorne used $5,000 in donated funds.

Kourtney Kaufman, 7, of Carson grinned widely Saturday after a friend stuffed a snowball into the neck of her pink jersey as she played in the Hawthorne snow patch in 79-degree heat.

"It's cold. Freezing. Soaking wet," she said with relish.

Faux snow, some call it. Even as snowdrifts and icy windshields plague much of the nation, Angelenos long for winter.

So, in this land of cinematic illusion, they make it up.

Those in the snow-making business report that these pre-holiday snow-making fests are increasingly popular among cities, schools and shopping malls -- even among parents in the tonier-than-thou children's birthday party set.

That bewilders Northeast and Midwestern residents, some of whom pay $5,000 each season just to keep their driveways free of snow. To them, it is one more example of why Californians -- surfers, yogis, celebrities, organic green tea drinkers, Arnold and all -- are unlike most everyone else.

After blizzards swept the nation's midsection last week, municipal workers clearing snow-clogged streets were not entirely amused to hear about these West Coast snow follies.

"We don't have any of that going on around here," said Gary Steinly, a harried city engineer working around-the-clock Friday to oversee snow removal in Kansas City, Mo., where thousands were left without heat.

In snow-walloped Milwaukee, city spokeswoman Eileen Force had no time to comment: "We're just swamped here, and my other phone is ringing."

In Buffalo, N.Y., fabled for its blizzards, a city spokesman offered snow-craving Angelenos some advice.

"Rather than go to some ersatz celebration, they might want to come here and see the real thing," said Peter Cutler, communications director for the mayor of Buffalo, where an October storm dropped 22 inches of snow and cut power to 400,000 households.

Yet for many Southern Californians, snow fests are not entirely frivolous.

Like so many local rituals -- tumbleweed Santas, light-wrapped palms and refrigerated tulip bulbs among them -- the tradition springs largely from the fact that most people here come from somewhere else.

Many grew up in snow country, and others have relatives who at this moment are scraping windshields and shoveling walkways back East.

While Angelenos can be smug about their Rose Parade cerulean blue skies, some admit they feel like they're missing out.

"The downside of the good weather is that you don't have any bad weather," said Mark Hardison, Hawthorne's assistant parks and recreation director, who came up with the idea of adding snow to the city's holiday parade this year.

Some who left colder climates for Los Angeles decades ago still fantasize about snow.

"I have to see the snow every year. Otherwise, it just doesn't feel like home," said Pittsburgh native Richard Anderson, 48, of San Fernando, who takes his family to the mountains each winter.

So it is only fitting that Anderson works in the snow-making business as a dispatcher and driver at the Van Nuys office of Union Ice Co. The firm showered Wilmington on Saturday with 10 tons of snow, courtesy of the Port of Los Angeles. Children swiftly mastered the art of snowball fights, only to find that packed ice can deliver a hard punch.

"I thought it was going to be a lot softer," said a puzzled Daniel Hernandez, 7, of Carson, whose only previous experience with snow was seeing movies such as "Happy Feet."

He wants more snow, lots of it. "I wish I had got a snow house, and that the city was covered with snow. And that I could skate to school."

Anderson says he understands why warm-weather children and adults crave snow.

He celebrated his grandson Ethan's second birthday by making 7 tons of snow in the frontyard and then teaching the boy to make a snowman.

"Now he knows what the carrot's for," he said. "He knows what the pieces of charcoal are for that usually go on the barbecue. He knows what the beanie is for, the Pittsburgh Steelers cap, right here in San Fernando."

Those in the snow-making business say they recognize the irony of charging for snow at the same time that other cities are spending millions to remove it.

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