News & Politics

DC’s Snowball Kingpins Face a Snowless Winter

From left: Ami Greener, Michael Lipin and Denis Baranov. Lipin holds a tool used to make snowballs that he bought on the Internet. Photograph by Nora McGreevy.

When I met with the founders of the Washington DC Snowball Fight Association in Dupont Circle, it was a cold and rainy January day—yet another snowless day in a weirdly warm winter.

So, I had to use my imagination. Anyone who’s lived in the area long enough will remember February 2010’s Snowmageddon, when the sky dropped a whopping 17.8 inches of snow on DC’s streets and brought the city to a standstill. They also might remember when nearly 2,000 people flocked to Dupont Circle on February 6 to chuck snowballs at one another, in an epic cabin-fever-inspired fight that went totally viral.

Michael Lipin and Ami Greener organized that fight. “It was madness. It was intense. I mean, you have snow flying literally all directions,” Lipin enthuses, and gestures to the now-empty fountain, which had been overrun with gleeful snowballers. When we meet, he and Greener are wearing DCSFA official T-shirts. (“I was there in 2010,” Greener’s reads.)

Ten years later, Lipin and Greener are still at it. They and their buddy Denis Baranov are the organizers behind DCSFA. The trio predicts and organizes snowball fights on their Facebook page, which has just over 10,000 subscribers.

They also might be the DC residents most anxious to know: where on Earth is all the snow this year?

It starts to rain harder, so we retire to a cafe, where the guys order hot tea. If you pictured three college-aged dudes, well, you’re not alone. “I think many people don’t realize that we’re far from being kids,” Baranov says, grinning. “I mean, really it’s a bunch of middle-aged guys running this thing.” At 34, he’s the baby of the group; Lipin is 42, and Greener is 46.

After 2010, Lipin and Greener brought Baranov on board to help boost their social media presence. The three met through mutual friends in the 2000s, when they all moved to DC. By day, Baranov works for the United States Postal Service, Lipin is a journalist, and Greener runs his own travel agency—so organizing snowball fights is strictly a hobby. It’s also a chance for Lipin, the de-facto boss of the operation, to revel in snowy weather after living in snowless Hong Kong most of his life. Same for Greener, who grew up in Jerusalem; Baranov, who grew up in Eastern Europe, is the group’s resident “snow expert.”

Greener and Lipin launched their 2010 snowball fight via a Facebook group, on the heels of an unsuccessful first attempt in December. At the time, they lived within walking distance of Dupont, so it felt like the natural gathering point. Since then, the trio have hosted fights in Meridian Hill Park and the National Mall. No fight has topped the 2010 one, but 2016’s Star Wars-themed fight brought in hundreds of people, including many in costume. (If you come to a fight in a costume or with a television crew, you’re automatically a target, Baranov says.)

“The coolest thing is that, whatever we have right now, we grew 100 percent organically,” Baranov says. Media attention — from the Weather Channel, the Wall Street Journal, NBC, and so many others—helped spur their growth.

Lipin speculates that their success might have to do with DC’s climate. “One theory I have,” Lipin says, “is that a group like this can only take off … in a place that doesn’t snow all the time.” New York or Boston residents wouldn’t blink at a heavy snowfall, he argues. “I think it’s precisely because the big snowfalls are relatively rare in this town, that when it does happen, we can generate that excitement.”

Also, the fact that lots of DC residents’ schedules are influenced by the federal government means that city-wide snow days are a thing. “It is a DC cultural phenomenon,” Baranov agrees.

Throughout the winter, all three keep track of Capital Weather Gang’s forecasts. The key is to plan the event early enough that they can beat the snowplows, but not too early that it’s a false alarm. Lipin will post updates on the Facebook page to generate excitement. (“It’s now February. WHERE’S THE SNOW? Only 0.6 inches so far this winter. NOT COOL, MOTHER NATURE!” he posted a few days ago.)

They’ve also inspired a few copycat fights over the years. “I mean, you don’t have to be a genius to start this,” Greener says.

Ten years down the line, none of the men think they’ll give it up anytime soon. But who knows? Life happens fast. Lipin is getting married soon, Greener points out. “Soon you’ll be living in Potomac, in one of those McMansions,” he jokes.

“No, no, I won’t,” Lipin says, shaking his head. “I won’t move out of the city.”

“They all say that, but then they end up there,” Greener teases.

Either way, they’re looking forward to the next snowfall—whenever it happens. Historically, some of DC’s heaviest snowfall has happened in March. “I hope it happens,” Lipin says. “It’s just a great way to get out and have fun on a snow day with total strangers, no guilt involved, provided you don’t do anything stupid and reckless.”

“DC can be a very, you know, you go to these networking or happy hours and everyone’s like, ‘What do you do?’ And this and that. In a snowball fight, everyone’s equal,” Greener says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from. You don’t introduce yourself. You just go in and say, ‘Hey, follow me!’”

Nora McGreevy
Editorial Fellow

Nora McGreevy joined Washingtonian as an editorial fellow in January. Originally from South Bend, she has worked for The Boston Globe and the South Bend Tribune. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame.