Blizzard of 1996 photo: Patrick Serfass sledding at the Capitol

Photo by Patrick Serfass

On January 7th, 1996 – snow began falling on the Washington, D.C. area. Power outages and traffic troubles would soon follow. But before a simple snowfall would transform into the “Blizzard of 1996”, one D.C. teen would find the perfect “hill” to take a ride to remember.

Patrick Serfass has vivid memories of the blizzard of 1996. Not because of the icy wallop it packed on the D.C. area, but because it spawned a colorful childhood memory – a memory documented in a photo that would truly stand the test of time.

“I can't believe that photo has had such staying power,” said Serfass. “Every couple of years someone comes across it and contacts me.”

The snapshot is one like many families took during the storm – kids having fun and sledding during an historic winter snow. But Patrick’s photo was a little different. Instead of the usual neighborhood sleigh ride, Patrick and his siblings were taking advantage of a makeshift course built on the snowy steps of the Capitol.

“My parents wouldn't let me drive the station wagon to Rock Creek Park to find the steeper hills,” said Serfass. “So this long set of stairs was the closest thing we could find to a good, fast hill to take advantage of all the fresh snow.”

On January 7th, 1996, an Associated Press photographer snapped a 17-year-old Patrick barreling down the Capitol steps as his brother and sister kept watch for the Capitol Police. It was an innocent moment of childhood antics captured forever in time. Patrick’s mother says friends and family saw the photo in various news publications around the world, including Hong Kong.

There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram and certainly no words like “viral” to describe the global reach of this simple, yet captivating picture.

These days, Patrick Serfass is a 34-year-old professional who still lives on Capitol Hill. He revisited his old sledding-stomping ground a few years ago during Snowpocalypse 2010. He’s also married and has a 2-year-old son who he will surely share the joys of sleigh riding with, as well as his fond memories of the blizzard of ’96.

“I remember sledding until we were too tired to hike the stairs anymore,” said Serfass. “If you can't tell, we really had a lot of fun.”