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On Second Thought

Make it snow, make it snow...

By Kevin Paul Dupont
December 12, 2010

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OK, makeup call. Feeling guilty over last week’s “Second Thought’’ that chronicled my failed attempt to build a backyard skating rink, I bring you the perfect elixir, the remedy of remedies, the be-all and end-all of personalized winter sporting endeavors.

Backyard snowmaking.

Oh yeah, get out the skis, the Flexible Flyers, the snow tubes, the big plastic saucers, and the waxed cafeteria trays. Ready your arms and legs to trace an unending string of picture-perfect snow angels, my friend, this one’s for you.

Todd Gross, the former Channel 7 meteorologist, has a passion for making winter happen on a moment’s notice. Gross grew up in Queens in New York City, a boy dreaming of turning the borough into a winter playground. If a tree can grow in Brooklyn, why not a made-to-order northeaster in Queens? The proud son of the snow-challenged yards and sidewalks east of the Empire State Building has spent the last decade refining his blizzard-on-demand.

“I like to see snow on the ground,’’ a smiling Gross said the other day, sitting inside his tidy home along Route 495’s apple country while a collection of gadgets and gizmos strewn across his backyard quietly built a rich blanket of snow stretching some 150 feet down a gentle slope. “The longer winter goes without it, I get antsy.’’

It was around the year 2000 when Gross, then a regular at Channel 7, bought an over-the-counter Backyard Blizzard, a snowmaking kit marketed by a Natick-based company. He had mixed results with that, he said, and soon began to tinker with his own homemade concoction, ostensibly as a hobby to keep his two children, Brya Sunshine Gross and Brad Sky Gross, engaged and active in winter sports and recreation.

Over the years, Gross twice reported on his snowmaking on Channel 7 and figures the first of those reports, in 2002, helped stir up a veritable blizzard of backyard snowmaking around New England.

“When I did another story in 2004, the whole idea had grown up quite a bit,’’ he recalled. “I mean, some people really get into it. They can’t stop making it. They’re out there making ski area snow — mountains of it — with huge compressors, throwing as much power at it as possible, with gas-powered generators and power washers. People can get crazy about it, obsessed.’’

Not our man Gross. He admits going big for a while, when his kids were young, but bigger means noisier, simply because larger air compressors and power washers, the two key capital investments, throw decibels as high as the snow banks. There is a fine line between being the eccentric neighbor gone Harry Potter, conjuring up winter from his magic wand, and being the nitwit next door who keeps everyone in the neighborhood up at night with his childhood fantasy run amok.

“The noise can be a problem,’’ acknowledged Gross.

But it’s impossible to find audible fault with Gross’s current gadgetry, which includes an $89 Husky air compressor and a $129 Karcher power washer, both of which run off standard house current. The rest of the wintry mix includes a tripod, power cords, hoses, water supply, and a small collection of plumbing parts/fittings and, voila, a little bit of the North Pole can be yours for approximately $500. For instructions on how to assemble (batteries not required) and maintain, check out Gross’s website: www.snowmakingathome.com.

“Your best friend is white plumbing tape,’’ confided Gross. “The tape helps with the leaks and prevents freeze-ups. Those can be the killers.’’

After leaving Channel 7, Gross continued his TV work in Springfield and later in Salt Lake City. Wherever he’s been, he has maintained the snowflake drumbeat, filing on-air packages about his passion.

“There’s just something about making snow,’’ he said. “It gives you this feeling that you have one up on Mother Nature. It’s empowering and rewarding, and if you go online, you’ll find a whole bunch of people who take it up as a passion.’’

Gross prefers to keep to his private patch of white (“I’m not the most social snowmaker’’), but he has heard of neighbors throughout New England who combine snowmaking resources to create large sledding areas. The sky’s the limit when it comes to making the snow fly and how to use it. In the Gross home, though, the whole thing can be a slightly touchy subject.

“My wife [Ava] wants it as far away from her sight as possible,’’ said the snowman of the house, sitting at the dining room table, his voice dropped to a conspiratorial tone as he chatted with a visitor. “It’s our biggest challenge here.

“Ava [originally from Manhattan] loves Florida, summer, heat. I’ve promised her that one day I’ll live with her somewhere where the weather is warm. But I love the cold weather, the snow. So we have that disparity.’’

Looking out toward the backyard, across the in-ground pool that is closed for the winter, it was all but impossible to see the snow piling up on that slope. Earlier, Gross pulled on skis and proudly displayed the fruits and flakes of his hard work. It looked far enough away and out of sight to mitigate his wife’s concerns.

“It’s really not,’’ he said with a sly smile, “but it’s a compromise.’’

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. For Gross, the weather outside is always frightful. And if it’s not, the hardware is on hand to make it happen.

Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at dupont@globe.com.