Alex Hamer
Mark 'Snooky' Brooks demonstrating Snowsnake at the Ganondagan Festival

Before We Say Goodbye to Winter, Say Hello to Snowsnake

Alex Hamer

Known as the Town of Peace, Ganondagan (ga-NON-da-gan) is the site of a former Seneca village that now features a newly built modern museum and a full size 17th century longhouse. It was also the site of the Ganondagan’s Winter Festival held last February and the site of the Annual Snowsnake competition.

A Variety of Snowsnakes.  (Photo: Alex Hamer)

The Snowsnake competition involves throwing a waxed, wooden stick (the snowsnake) - made of varying types of wood, including ash, ironwood and black mahogany, which are between 6-8 feet long.

During the festival, the demonstration track at Ganondagan was over 100 yards long with a curve to the right. Snow was stacked between 3 and 4 feet high with a trench in the middle a few inches deep. The track height, which traditionally slopes downward and rides the contour of the earth, is determined by the hosting team.

Mark Snooky Brooks demonstrating Snowsnake at the Ganondagan Festival (Photo: Alex Hamer)

Hawetagwas, aka Mark “Snooky” Brooks (Seneca, Turtle Clan,) was the demonstrator for the game. He explained that traditionally a beaver gland was used to wax the woods, though now different waxes work better, depending on the conditions of the snow track. He also says he used whale blubber in the 1970’s. “Bee’s wax is another ingredient used to make wax,” he said.

During the competition, players wear spikes or golf shoes to gain a better grip as they approach the track to throw their snake down the track. The longest throw wins.

There are four men to a team and the farthest Snake thrown earns a point. Four points win a game.

Children and adults were allowed to throw a Snowsnake down the track. 

I also gave the Snowsnake a shot. I managed to keep the snake in the track and it traveled about 70 yards. It was easy to forget the cold afternoon wind momentarily while people gathered around to learn something new. I can see why Snowsnake is considered good medicine by Hawetagwas. - Alex Hamer.  @AlxHamer on Twitter


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