Contributed photos
Students in Kari Barlund’s class cheer on a classmate as he slid his snow snake down the chute.

By Barbie Porter


The snow snake games have become a right of passage for some Frazee-Vergas Elementary students. While COVID-19 altered the annual event, Native Club advisor Heather Perrine found a way to ensure this year’s sixth graders didn’t miss out.

For those unfamiliar with the snow snake games, it all starts with a picking out a stick from the school forest. Normally, the sixth graders head out to the forest in the fall. Before the hunt for the perfect stick begins, the Native Club brings in a presenter to share with the kids the story behind the snow snake, explain the games and share a little about the native culture with an offering to Mother Earth.

“We couldn’t do that because of COVID,” Perrine said. “So, I went to the school forest.”

Perrine returned to the school with ample sticks. The sticks were by no means twigs. Most stand at least four feet tall and have a solid thickness to them. Perrine brought the sticks to each sixth grade classroom on different days, and let each student pick out a stick. Perrine also took over the duties explaining the relevance of the snow snake in native culture.

After the sticks were dispersed, the students were put to the task of debarking them. Perrine visited each classroom one day a week, so completing the debarking process took some time. When the kids were ready for the next stage, the classes were brought to the high school where shop teachers offered assistance and tools to sand the sticks as a prep for the painting process.

Perrine said the kids were excited to start painting  and were told to create designs and art on the stick that they felt was a good representation of themselves. She added some incorporated  Native signs they learned as well. Once the painting was done, the sticks were sealed and allowed to dry. Then the competition is traditionally held.

“We had to downsize this year,” Perrine said.

In past years, the games were presided  over by Bob Shimek, who works at Circle of Life Academy in White Earth. The school, which  is about 30 miles north of Frazee, began hosting the games in 1992. The games include using the stick, or snow snake, to complete challenges that test hand-eye coordination, precision in throwing and ability to hit a moving target. This year, the event was scaled back to one  event. 

Perrine’s husband Travis dug a trench in the snow, which is later packed down. The students are put to the task of sliding their sticks down the trench. That is easier said than done for some, but certainly not for Brandon Gieser. The student in Kari Barlund’s class recorded a top slide distance of 63 feet. 

With the three throws allotted in the event, class tallies were added to determine which group won the furthest combined distance. Nancy Moore’s class took the honor with 872 feet as well as the classroom trophy.

Perrine said the idea for a classroom trophy came about after hearing many students ask who won last year and what was the top score for an event. The first year Native Club advisor said she was glad to add some fun to an already highly anticipated annual event.

In addition to the classroom trophy, each sixth grade class had one snow snake chosen as the most creative design of the class by judges. In Barlund’s class, Gage Heisler took top honors. In Moore’s class, Shawndra St. Germain was given the most creative award. In Sam Bergren’s class, Xerina Noel showcased her creative skills to earn the award.