Fifty words for snow

Yellowstone Newspapers

They say the Eskimos have 50 words for snow. I don’t speak Eskimo, so I can’t verify that — but I expect it’s true, as I myself have developed quite a few snow terms.

Having lived in snow country since 1984, I’m intimately acquainted with the attributes of frozen precipitation. After all, I’ve been moving it around for over 30 years. 

It doesn’t take much time with a snow shovel to learn there is more than one kind of snow. For example:

Fluffy snow: Very, very dry snow that doesn’t pack together. You can’t shovel fluffy snow. It’s too light and…well…fluffy. Pushing it with a snow shovel or deck broom does a pretty good job, as long as the wind isn’t blowing it right back where it was. But I’ve always wished I had a high-powered leaf blower, as I suspect that is the ultimate fluffy snow removal tool.

Packed snow: This is drift snow. Somehow when the wind moves snow that has already fallen, all of the air spaces go out of it. The result is hard enough to walk on, and must be cut out in blocks to remove. This is the other end of the spectrum from fluffy snow. You can shovel it with effort, but it might be just as easy to use the blocks you’ve cut with your snow shovel to build an igloo.

Crusty snow: After the storm comes the sun, yay! Don’t go celebrating too long, however. All that solar power on the freshly fallen snow means overnight it goes from removable to indelible. The best tool for chopping through the icy crust is a lawn edger (leaf blower, lawn edger – do you see the theme developing here?).

Compressed snow: This is what happens when your husband drives or tramps over the snow before you can remove it. Each footprint or tire print becomes welded to the ground. You can shovel all you want, but those tracks of compressed snow are still there. Left overnight, they turn into another category of white stuff, ice slick snow. Enjoy, because you will now have them to look at (or slip on) until spring.

Styrofoam snow: When the snow falls in tiny white beads that look just like the filling in a beanbag chair, it’s Styrofoam snow. Don’t try to fill a chair with it, though, unless your posterior needs cooling.

Squeaky snow: The noise snow makes when you walk on it in below zero temperatures. Removing squeaky snow isn’t harder, just colder. A pair of heated gloves makes the work survivable, but leads me to wonder: why hasn’t anyone invented a heated snow shovel?

Pretty snow: This is Hollywood movie snow. Huge flakes drift gently down, coating everything with a glistening blanket of white and causing trees to “bloom” with silvery crystalline blossoms. You may as well stop shoveling for a moment and enjoy the pretty snow, as it won’t last long. Within minutes the view is likely to turn to the more typical Montana snowfall: tiny, icy pellets being hurtled horizontally past you on the wind.

Stinging snow: What you get if you are looking into the wind at the moment when the pretty snow turns to tiny, icy pellets being hurtled at you horizontally.

Sticky snow: The snow shoveler’s nightmare, sticky snow makes snow removal 186 times more difficult. You bend, you scoop, you lift, you toss…and the snow remains firmly attached to the shovel. Every few scoops you must bang the shovel onto some hard surface to knock the sticky snow off it. With all the non-stick surfaces in use on kitchen tools today, you’d think snow shovel technology would be more advanced. “Look! This sticky snow just slides right off, along with this melted cheese. Order before the next snowstorm, and we’ll send you two Gotham Steel Non-Stick Shovels for just $19.99 plus shipping and handling.”

My snow dictionary doesn’t end here. Over the many hundreds of hours I have spent moving snow, I’ve developed quite a few other terms for it. However, the majority of these can’t be shared in polite company —something I am sure is true of at least half of those 50 Eskimo words as well.
(Deb Hill is the managing editor of Lewistown News- Argus.)