Staff Photo: John Bohn Gerald Rakestraw, left, Vice President and General Manager of Stone Mountain Park, left, and Laura Ramos, Marketing Manager, take a snow tubing ride on Avalanche Alley at Stone Mountain Park. Staff at Stone Mountain Park are making snow for the snow tubing venue.
STONE MOUNTAIN -- Seven-year-old Benjamin Will plunged gloved hands into the snow. Eyes narrowing, he molded handfuls of the stuff into round shapes. Stacking one on top of the other, the boy beamed at his snowman creation.
His 10-year-old sister Emily also gathered snow by the fistful, packing hard clumps into icy baseballs. From several yards away, she took aim. Benjamin never saw it coming.
While enjoying the remaining few days of their winter break, the young siblings learned the joy -- and pain -- of the powdery precipitation this week at Stone Mountain Park's Snow Mountain attraction. Scott and Mary Ann Will of St. Petersburg, Fla., drove eight hours north so their children could create memories dusted with snow.
Like thousands of others with children getting a winter break from academics, the family toasted marshmallows, drank hot chocolate and raced down icy slopes at the park, located near the southwest border of Gwinnett County
The heaps of man-made snow were a draw for Gwinnett County residents Bill and Jennifer Combs of Buford. "I'm from Kentucky originally," he said. "I was missing my snowy winters. This is great."
Unlike Bill Combs, it was young Stephanie Barnard's first time ever even seeing snow.
The 10-year-old grinned as she plummeted down family tube ride Avalanche Alley. Her father, Lee Barnard, said she enjoyed her first experience with the frozen precipitation.
The Williams Family of Cartersville also took advantage of the Stone Mountain attraction.
"We don't get a whole lot of snow, so this is really something special," said Drew Williams, who came out with wife, Cindy, and children, Miranda and Mercedes. "It's a good place to spend the holidays."
Stone Mountain's vice president and general manager said he can relate to the Williams family.
"As a father, I know I can't stop time," said Gerald Rakestraw. "My children will get older, but I can make sure that we capture precious moments together, especially during the holiday season."
Snow Mountain provides an atmosphere to "create those memories that will last a lifetime," Rakestraw said.
While snow is rare in Georgia, it's unheard of in other nearby locations. Families like The Wills from St. Petersburg, Fla., weren't likely to see it if they didn't make the journey northward.
Scott and Mary Ann Will hovered above children, Emily and Benjamin. Smiling, they snapped smartphone photos as the siblings pummeled one another with snowballs.
Children like Emily and Benjamin return to school from winter break this week. In Gwinnett County, today is the first day of class after more than two weeks of downtime.
Snow Mountain is open weekends and school holidays through Feb. 20. For more information, visit www.snowmountainpark.com.