Snow Snakes Comprehensive Study and Competition

Lesson submitted by Carolyn Olson (Art) of South Ridge School.

This year our school hosted a Snow Snake Competition where students in the 7th and 8th grade art class studied the history and art of making the snow snake, and made snakes for each grade (one student from each grade chose a snow snake for the competition). Snow snakes are specially prepared wooden sticks that are thrown on a long track made of snow. The farther the snake travels, the more points are earned.Originally the Iroquois used snow snakes as a form of communication between villages during the snowy months. It developed into a challenge sport to hone hunting and spearing skills, when the track was not being used for communication. According to Iroquois oral history, the activity pre-dates European contact, however it has also been traced to Woodland tribes in the mid 1800s during the fur trade. Many tribes continue the tradition today.


  1. Students will re-establish a cultural activity into their school and community life.
  2. Students will demonstrate their understanding of Newton's Laws of Motion.
  3. Students will accurately use meters and centimeters to create a 1 meter long snow snake with a consistent repeating motif along the top face using a wood burner (color is optional).
  4. Students will better understand resistance and kinetic friction.
  5. Students will compete in a snow snake competition.
  6. (Optional): Students will help build an optimum snow snake track based on land slope and track tilt.

Materials Needed


Art Materials


Activity Process


Share videos provided in the resource section to give students an idea of the game and how communities participate.


Demonstrate how to safely carve wood using a carving knife: always carve away from yourself, wear safety glasses, do not work in a crowded area, stay relaxed, take short breaks/critiques, and always sheath or encase the knife when not in use.


  1. Share resources, making connections to history and science. Show various snakes. Download supplement for track tips, snake types, and roles.
  2. Group students into 3s and each team identifies Shiner, Thrower, and Marker (all students create a snow snake).
  3. Students create 3 "to scale" drawings - side, top, and front views - on roll tape. Drawings should include notations of weight vs. length ratio of snow snake.
  4. Students journal on snow snake history, team roles, and design ideas. Guest artist visits to critique student work.
  5. Demonstrate safety with knives. Studio work carving.
  6. Build a testing track marked in meters.
  7. Test #1 (no lacquer or wax - clean wood) on track. Use Force Contraption to test for kinetic friction. Students record how far their snakes traveled.
  8. Class critique of what worked/what needs revision. Check shape and textures. Sand and apply first coat of finish or wax. Maintain track.
  9. Test #2. Sand (with progressively finer papers) and apply 1 coat lacquer. When dry, test snow snakes on track. Record data.
  10. Final adjustments and testing. Record all throws as they relate to adjustments.
  11. Draw repeating motif on top of snake and woodburn design.
  12. Add weights (optional) to head.
  13. Prepare for competition.
  14. Students compete with their snow snake, keep records, and post their notes in the hallway outside the art studio.


The Winter Homecoming Snow Snake Competition is held during the day. Students carry all of the snakes out to the track and line them up "nose up" along the bank of the track. Older snakes are placed at meter markings starting with 10 meters down the track. Competitors (one from each grade) choose their snow snake. Best of three throws wins. "Markers" place themselves along the track where they suspect the snake will stop. Records are kept.The snow snakes were displayed in the school hallways and district art exhibition.


Students are expected to participate in all activities to the best of their ability. Project Rubric for 8th Grade Snow Snake1. Completed entry in journal (40%): Two test-run records of how far the snow snake went, the force of the snake sliding down the track, and the date/air temp, as well as revisions to the snow snake as a result of the test runs; Hypothesis drawing showing their best snow snake design and discussion why this should work; A "to scale" drawing of snow snake - front, side and top views; History and cultural interconnections of the snow snake; Limitations of the assignment (due dates, materials, measurements and weights, optional items); Safety notes; Concluding discussion2. Completed Snow Snake (50%): Clean carved nose, bottom, and tail; Finished bottom; Spot color with oil sticks optional; Wood burned design - repeating motif in centimeters, no words or numbers. Name burned into side; Clean burn marks, lines and geometric shapes; Care of studio, tools, and materials3. Participation in Snow Snake competition (10%)

Vocabulary Words


The weather plays a role in how the snake travels along the snow. Cross-country ski waxes are designed for the temperature. The first year we worked with snow snakes (2011) was cold! Making the track too early, especially in a cold windy area, is heart breaking: one night of blowing snow and the track is filled in. It can be a lot of work. High school students were a great help (along with Mr. Lindner) in using the snow blower to gather the snow into the right place and pull the log to make the track. The second year, 2012, was warm with little snow. Four of us made the track the day before and it went fine. Teachers can extend this lesson by discussing weather, ice fishing, and/or spearing.

Grade Levels


Primary Content Areas

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards




Social Studies