Sheer bliss it was to be alive.

Across open hilly terrain, over deliciously chilled white powder, a young woman was running yesterday. She ran hard, bending low, mittened hands grasping the back slats of a wooden sled, upon which sat a delighted child.

Her son, Alex.

She let go, and Alex, 3 1/2, whizzed on down the hill by himself. Laura Boyer stood there, panting, watching him go.

It was a perfect moment, the kind that seems to happen a lot in life when you are young and happy and lucky but that, years later, you may look back upon with tears as sacred.

Such epiphanies are rarer than we care to think. Far from surprising us that they tend to arrive in storms and snowfalls, we learn to seek them there.

Alex came up the hill with the sled.

"We're going really, really fast," Laura said, preparing him for another run.

"I gotta hold onto the strings," Alex said.

"Hold onto the strings," Laura said. "Are you ready to go really fast?"

Once again she launched him, released him.

"I work part time," she explained, watching him go. "This is my day off. My husband is working from home. He had meetings today, but he's doing them with conference calls."

She looked down the hill. Alex was standing there, eating snow.

"We told him the difference between clean and dirty snow," Laura said.

She walked down.

"One more time and then we have to go," she told him.

"But," Alex protested, "I still have sleigh rides on my mind."

Laura and Alex were not alone in seeking fun in the snow yesterday morning in the big field behind the Silver Spring YMCA, just short of the Beltway off Colesville Road in Montgomery County.

A whole bunch of kids from nearby neighborhoods were there with their moms, and--at the time a reporter arrived--one relaxed dad, Dave Wilson, carrying 5-month-old Abigail in a belly harness.

The kids ranged in age on up to 8 or so. Some of the younger ones, with parental help, had made a dear little snowman under a cedar tree. They'd used twigs for arms.

A few older boys had built a snow fort, of course.

"They woke up at 7 this morning . . ." said Alix Stock, mother of Maddy, 8, and Aaron, 6.

" . . . and started putting their snow gear on," added Anne Metcalf, mother of Meredith, 8.

"None of this sleep in garbage," Alix said.

These are at-home moms. Their hubbies went to work.

Their pal Anne Nicotera, who teaches organizational communications at Howard University but who had the day off, stood chatting with them while simultaneously attempting to supervise her 3 1/2-year-old son, Teddy Maydan ("It's complicated"), who was on the ground stuffing snow into a soggy half Kleenex box to produce a square snowball.

Suddenly, out it came.

It sat there on the snow, square.

Everyone looked. Anne sat down beside it.

"That," Teddy said, "was a square one."

Half a dozen adults and children were gathered in a big happy bunch in the middle of the snowfield. Some of the adults had been about to tow their kids home on colored plastic sleds when they ran into the other adults, also towing their kids, just emerging from the 'hood.

The adults who were leaving decided to stay and party.

Soon, kids were running every which way.

Some lay down and waved arms and legs to make snow angels. Others made snowballs, or gleefully lifted batches of snow and let it run through their fingers.

Dave Wilson gentled little Abigail in the belly harness. "Abby, this is snow!" explained Sue, her mom. "It's cold."

Then Dave extracted the infant from the harness and carefully lowered her into the snow.

"What are you doing, Dave?" said Sue, her instincts aquiver at any slightest hint of danger to her cub.

"Letting her have an experience," Dave said, cheerfully enough, though he instantly ended the "experience" in the face of mama bear's concern.

Emily Spahn, 2 1/2, managed to hurl a stick for Shasta, the Engebretsens' peppy little English shepherd.

Emily's mom, Carol Spahn, made a snowball. "Hey, Emily," she shouted, "who should I get?"

Soon, snowballs were flying and people were scampering and things kind of devolved--for just a few brief moments--into one of those great big glorious wet flurrying messes.

It was a morning to remember.