by Tim Barela
Torch Magazine

12/1/2011 - INTERNATIONAL -- Snowball fights can provide plenty of winter entertainment, but when the spheres of snow grow bigger than their handlers, tragedy can quickly strike.

In January 1958, The Times News of Hendersonville, N.C., reported that a giant snowball killed 24-year-old Martial Etienne while his fiancée watched helplessly.

Etienne was rolling the mammoth ball of snow to amuse his fiancée and members of her family at Les Bois in Basle, Switzerland. He had built the snowball to about 7 feet in diameter when it got away from him on a slope near the village.

Somehow, the young man became stuck to the snowball and was killed by its weight as it spun out of control toward the village. The snowball rolled over him repeatedly as it picked up speed down the hill.

In April 1989, Weekly World News told the story of a 12-year-old schoolboy from Longtown, England, who died from suffocation after being buried alive by a giant snowball.

Robin Morrell apparently slipped while pushing a huge snowball down a hill near his home on the family's 100-acre farm. When the snowball started to roll away from him, he tried to outrun it. But he tripped, fell and was pinned to the ground under the huge mass of snow and ice.

Though he was found only a few minutes later by his 15-year-old brother Colin - who frantically tried to dig him out with his bare hands - Robin had already died of suffocation.

In a similar incident in February 2005, 10-year-old Peter Strang of Aberdeenshire, England, died after being crushed by a giant snowball he and his friends had made.

"People think of snow as soft and fluffy; but if you pack enough of it together it becomes hard, compact and very heavy," said Dave Etrheim, Air Education and Training Command Ground Safety Division. "You can see people on YouTube intentionally getting run over by these giant snowballs just for a few laughs. Not smart. They are risking injury or even death. Taking the time for a little risk assessment and applying some common sense can go a long way."