Snowmen are like sand castles: They're signs of the season, and building them is almost irresistible when weather conditions are right. It's also fun, easy, and creative. A fresh snowfall followed by a clear day is perfect for the snow-shaping arts, though older snow can work well, too.

If you've never made a snowman before (or if it's been a while), read this writing for a quick course on building one in the classic "Frosty" shape. Then grab your gloves and a friend or two, and head out into the great white open (your yard, that is).

Dress yourself and any co-builders warmly. Layered clothing works best, as you may need to shed some as the activity warms you up. Wear water-resistant gloves or mittens if you have them, because wool or acrylic ones will get wet and icy fast. Snow pants are a nice touch, since you may need to get down on your knees at the beginning.

Shape the snowballs

The classic snowman is made out of three balls of packed snow stacked one on top of another: a big one for the base and proportionally smaller ones for the body and head.

Make the base. Grab two big handfuls of snow and pack them together into a ball in your hands. The rounder you make this first kernel, the better--any irregularities in its shape will grow along with the base as you build it.

Start rolling the ball through the snow. Snow will cling to the original snowball, making it bigger--this is the famous "snowball effect." Turn the ball in different directions as you roll it, so that all parts of the ball come in contact with the snow. This will make it grow symmetrically all around the sphere. If you roll it so that one of the ball's equator is making more contact with the snow, it will become oval instead of round, and it will also be harder to roll.

Make the base no bigger than about 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter. The size of your base determines the height of the snowman: if your base is 3 feet (1 meter) tall, the body will probably be about 2 feet (60 centimeters) in diameter, and the head about 1 foot (30 centimeters). When combined, these will make a life-size snowman, approximately 6 feet (2 meters) tall.

Make the body and the head. Shape the body and head balls the same way you made the base, and sized accordingly (the body being roughly two-thirds of the base size, the head approximately one-third the base). The body should be small enough to sit comfortably on top of the base, and the head should fit on top of the body. The one trick about the body ball is making sure it's not too big and heavy to lift onto the base when you assemble the snowman--or, if it is, that you have enough help or tools (like a makeshift ramp) to get it up there.

Assemble the snowman

Many people assemble the snowman as they go: They put the body ball on the base before they make the head. Others do it assembly line fashion: They make all the balls, then put them together. Either way, prepare the base to receive the body ball by flattening its top a little with your hands or a handy stick.

Lift the body. This is probably the hardest part of building a snowman--that ball of snow can be pretty heavy! Whether you're doing it alone or with a helper, lift it by bending your knees to squat down to its level, keeping your back straight. Embrace the ball and lift it by straightening your knees and keeping your back straight. This will help prevent injuries. Set the body squarely on top of the base.

If you can't lift it because the base is too tall and/or the body is too heavy, you can improve a ramp out of a plank of wood. Set one end on top of the base and one end in the snow, and roll the body up on top of the base.

Put on the head. Flatten the top of the body so the head can rest there. The head should be easier to lift, but if the snowman is too tall, you may need to use a chair or stepladder to set it in place. If you do use a chair or stepladder, have someone hold it steady for you. Also make sure that the steps (and your boots) are dry.

Smooth the surface. Pack handfuls of snow into the joints between the base and body, and between the body and head. This stabilizes the joints between the balls, and gives the snowman a smooth surface overall. Don't pack so much snow in that the snowman loses its "neck" and "waist," though! Pat down any loose snow on the snowman's surface.

Decorate and dress the snowman

Now it's time for your personal artistry to come out. Give your creation personality by adding features, limbs, clothing, and accessories.

Decorate the face and body. Classic snowmen usually have twigs stuck into their bodies for arms (these can be very expressive depending on their shape and angle). Adding a vertical line of coal or rock "buttons" down the front, raisins or buttons for eyes and a smiley-shaped mouth, and a carrot for a nose are other traditional touches. You can use anything you choose to make your snowman's features, however--even more snow, if it's "sticky" and mold able enough. Small, dark, water-resistant items are best, though. They show up well against the white of the snow and tend to stay put throughout the snowman's life.

Give it clothes and props. A winter scarf and hat are classic snowman garb, but you can use anything from an old coat or apron to a plastic hula skirt and lay --as long as you don't mind its getting wet and dirty. Likewise, Frosty and his kind traditionally "hold" brooms propped against their bodies or their twiggy arms, but you could choose instead to give yours a snow shovel, a sled, or an old golf club--again, anything you don't mind leaving out in the snow for a few days.

Your snowman may last for part of a day or for several days, depending on the weather. Before you go in to warm your fingers by the fire, stand next to your creation with your co-builders and immortalize it with a photograph.