It’s February in North Dakota, and the temperature is hovering around 12 degrees as Shannon O’Connor gets ready to toss some more brats on the grill.
“I think we need that potato sausage,” he said to Mike Peterson, a longtime friend who spent part of Thursday, Feb. 20, hanging out in the massive snow fort O’Connor carved from a snowbank outside the apartment he shares with his wife near downtown Grand Forks.
The fort -- which he has not named, even as perhaps-too-on-the-nose phrases like “man cave” occasionally get thrown around -- is a grownup version of the wintertime childhood staple. Roughly equal parts igloo, rec room and open-air home away from home, the elementary school teacher’s creation sports a small grill, a cubby to store food to put on that grill and a bench, made of snow, for drinking beer and telling tales. Tiki torches in one “room” and candles in the other cast a warm, flickering glow on the walls.
O’Connor, 50, said he used to hollow out snow drifts to make forts in his hometown of Portal, North Dakota.
“But nothing like this,” he told the Herald.
It’s the result of an evening about a month ago when O’Connor, looking for a workout, started digging in the snow instead of hitting the stationary bike inside the apartment. It took four to five hours to hollow out the snowpile, and he’s had a handful of friends over since.
“I was blown away,” Peterson said. Thursday was his second visit.
O’Connor, a longtime outdoorsman who likes to snowmobile, snowshoe and downhill ski, said he plans to sleep in his fort. He and Peterson, 36, might order a pizza the next time they get together there.
“This is a way to embrace winter,” O’Connor said. “Otherwise, I’d be sitting inside, maybe watching Netflix, instead of sitting outside telling stories with a buddy of mine.”
This winter has yielded a lot of snow for O’Connor to work with. Grand Forks Streets Department crews said in February that they’ve already hauled away a winter’s worth of snowfall: 4,600 10-ton truckloads as of Feb. 1.
And O’Connor’s fort is reminiscent of one built in 2016 by the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals, which paid Opp Construction $7,000 to help make “Grand Fort” -- a warming house in Town Square made from brightly painted culverts buried underneath a thick layer of January snow.
That one, however, did not come with a grill.