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Winter gauze delivers chaos and fun action

After winter storms pound the East Coast, sledders and snowboarders take to the hills for fresh-powder fun.

On a sun-sparkled morning after one of New England's most spectacular snowstorms in years, first-grader Rafael Konsella is still figuring out the logistics of sledding.

Trudging up a snow-covered hill in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood, he calls plaintively to his mother, who's standing high above, "Mom, can you get my sled?"

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The trouble is, he's left it down at the bottom.

"No, Rafi, turn around and go get it!" says Patricia, laughing, as she tries to keep her toddler daughter, Nuala, bundled against a fierce wind.

In the aftermath of a storm that has paralyzed airports and interstates across the Northeast and Midwest, the gray skies have largely cleared - and the fun has begun. Skis, sleds, and snowboards, are emerging from the dusty corners of darkened closets - and the regions' wintry traditions are swinging into full force.

For Boston resident Paul Heimlicher, the storm created two hours worth of driveway shoveling. But with that finished, he's now doing his fatherly duty: Trying out the family's toboggan.

"I gotta test it out for the kids, you know - gotta make a pathway" in the snow, he says as he pushes off and coasts down a powdery hill.

Where are his two kids? "Well, they're waking up slowly," he says - and probably playing with the video games, pool table, and ping-pong table they got for Christmas. But he'd rather be out here - where the sun is shining through the ice-coated trees, adding a sparkle to Boston's emerald necklace, a string of parks that runs through several neighborhoods.

In Hellertown, Pa., Taylor Cameron, a college sophomore, found the eight inches of new snow perfect for mounting his snowboard and going to "jump some rails" in a park. Usually skateboarders perform these gymnastic feats of leaping onto handrails and high curbs with their boards. And they often get harangued by the police for doing it. But, with the fresh snow on the ground, Mr. Cameron says it was too tempting. "The cops went by but they didn't have a clue what we were doing," he says.

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Cameron and his sister Hadley hoped to head for Blue Mountain in the Poconos, which reports 15 inches of new snow. Early Thursday morning, the wait for lifts at the ski area with the steepest vertical drop in Pennsylvania were still a reasonable six-to-eight minutes as local residents dug out. "We're going to do some nightskiing," says Hadley.

In New York State, the storm dumped two feet of new snow in the Catskills. At the Holiday Mountain Ski Area, Kevin Koppenal, one of the managers, says it should bring some of the best skiing of the year "once people dig out of their driveways and the road crews finish plowing the roads."

Indeed such a storm creates plenty of hazards and hassles. It has been blamed for the deaths of 19 people. Hundreds of thousands were without power. And many planes were delayed. At airports across the region, cots and blankets were still available for stranded passengers.

Snow fell everywhere from the Grand Canyon, which got a light dusting, to Missouri, which got up to a foot. It's the latest storm in a string of eclectic weather events during a year in which El Niño is wreaking havoc on normal patterns.

In New York City, the storm created slippery sidewalks and slushy conditions. At Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, one commuter van sped along the curb, throwing up a wall of cold slushy water on pedestrians waiting for the light to change. "I think he did that on purpose," said one soaked victim.

Back at the hill in Boston, after a half-dozen more sled runs, young Rafael is getting the hang of it. He even tries to stand up and surf the hill on his red plastic sled. "Rafi, on your bottom please," says Patricia. With Nuala crying because of the cold, Patricia informs Rafi that he's only got two runs left before they have to go inside. Echoing the cry of kids across the ages, he protests, "But Mom, I don't want to go yet."

Material from the wires was used in this report