Ski and snowboard instructors may know the "snow snake" as an imaginary creature who rises up out of the snow and bites the edges of children's skis or snowboards, causing them to fall.
In "Sonder the Snow Snake," however, former nordic and telemark ski instructor Annie B. Fox re-envisions the pesky interloper as a fuzzy white snake, Sonder, who learns to help rather than hinder young skiers' and snowboarders' efforts to turn under the guidance of his wise Grandslither.
Her first children's book, "Sonder the Snow Snake" is a beautifully appointed 32-page hardbound book with Japanese-inspired watercolor illustrations of snowy mountain landscapes, computer illustrations and a sweet storyline crafted by the now Boulder-based author/illustrator.
"The book does have an intentional Japanese feel," said Fox. "It is a style of art that I am very drawn to. ... The theme of the book is also very Zen-like," she said. "One of the greatest lessons in Buddhism is patience."
The story traces the young snow snake's efforts to get good at something - first at making snow angels, then at snow tunnels and eventually at helping children to turn. Impatient at first, Sonder must learn the hard way - by causing a young skier to crash - that time, practice and patience lead to success.
"When I worked at Copper Mountain ... I was in charge of about 10 first-graders every Tuesday morning for a few months," Fox said. "We would ski around on cross-country skis at Copper and sometimes a kid would fall down and I told them about the fictional snow snakes. But I realized that it was perhaps a little scary for a little kid to think about being tripped up on purpose. How mean can you be? So I let my creative and nurturing side run wild and I told the kids that the little snake was learning too, and he couldn't help it."
Sonder resembles an ermine or weasel, and his name comes from the "father of skiing," Sondre Norheim, with a revised spelling that's easier for kids to pronounce.
At the book's end, Fox includes other messages - one about the importance of wearing a helmet on the slopes, and another about risks to cold-climate-loving creatures posed by climate change - which lend the book well to use by a classroom teacher for extension activities. The author currently seeks board members for her climate education fund (www.savethesnowsnakes.org), which aims to educate underserved elementary school children about the science of climate change.