An ode to snow

Laura Pritchett on the joy of snow.

  • Children play in the snow in Colorado.

    Nancy Dadisman
 

Snow’s excellence needs no elucidation from me, and yet, in this snow-specific season (with lit-up snowflakes on city streets and large snowflakes dangling from the ceilings of department stores), it’s good to revisit one’s reasons for amor. Staying aware is how we stay in love, after all.

*

Snow, for example, helps you see trees better. This is especially true if you’re staring at white aspen trunks when the sky is dusk blue, l’heure bleu. A blue spruce surrounded by white is equally thrilling: That bluegreen-grayagain color just isn’t as visible without the white. Some of us like to talk to these trees. It’s consoling to know we’re not alone. Thoreau writes: “I frequently tramped 8 or 10 miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or an old acquaintance among the pines.” Amen, brother.

*

Another thing to love about snow? The sub-genres. Snow has many names (Eskimos’ 100 words for snow and all — although, in fact, there’s no one Eskimo language, and nearly all languages have multiple words for anything that surrounds them at all times). I’m guessing we Westerners have at least 1,000 words or phrases for snow, including, “I can’t get to work today, I have a cold,” which roughly translates as “fresh powder.”

*

Ever since the early 1900s, skiers have created their own terminology to describe snow, including “powder snow” and “sticky snow” and “Sierra cement” and the more creative “champagne powder,” and, my favorite, “mashed potato snow,” meaning the sticky-heavy stuff.

*

I personally like the Spanish word for snowflake. Copo de nieve: It’s so lilting that it sounds like snow.

*

Technically, a snowflake is really a conglomerate of snow crystals.

*

Snow forts are obviously something to love — an essential component of life and a reason to venture to new locales. Last year, my son and I cross-country skied to one of Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division huts. Forget the sauna up there; upon arrival, he immediately did what any good human should do, which is build a huge dragon-looking snow fort to guard us. It had a tunnel through its belly and everything. And although we were at 11,200 feet, and some of us had elevation-induced headaches, everyone pitched in. It was a wonder to behold.

*

There is no wealth but time. Snow reminds me of this. Something about the way it drifts down, sometimes right into your eyes, blinding you, evokes the brevity of life.

*

Another thing about snow: It makes one remember the importance of mountain passes. Colorado has 49 mountain passes traversed by paved highways, 10 by improved roads, 16 by unimproved roads, and 29 traversed by trail. That’s a total of 104 passes. We Coloradans get to know them pretty well, of course: Wolf Creek Pass makes me wince; Cameron Pass offers snowstorms in the summer; Kenosha is lovely; Monarch has a good name but seems awfully steep on icy days; La Veta reminds me of la vida, life, which is what you will re-appreciate when going over it. Rabbit Ears has the coolest name, and Independence Pass is the state’s highest at 12,103 feet.

*

Each year, Colorado has 300 days of sunshine and gets an average of 300 inches of snow. We balance out! I call this the 300-300 effect. Colorado also has the national record for a single day’s snowfall, in 1913, when 63 inches of snow fell in Georgetown.

*

Waking up to unexpected snow is a wonder. The problem with life these days is weatherpeople. They ruin everything, even though they never get it quite right. The exception is Ed Green, who once said, “If you don’t have the urge to throw a snowball, something is wrong with you.” At least, that’s how I remember it. I was just a kid watching the local weatherman, thinking an adult finally had something intelligent to say.

*

Sociologists should study the role of snow in family gatherings. In years when there isn’t much snow and holiday meals get served outside on the deck, we tend to get along better.

*

Likewise, someone should study the effect of snow on people’s careers. Case in point: the mesmerizing qualities of frozen white crystals on one’s windshield — and how they bloom out in the instant they melt due to your defroster — and how this can make you late for work. Or, a big snow. Which causes the immediate onset of ski-lift daydreaming. Which will make you miss work entirely.

*

Snow brings capital-J Joy, that larger Joy, purposeless Joy, experiencing Joy, finding Joy, throwing Joy around like snowballs. It’s simply hard to look at snow and not feel a twinge of Joy — and that, perhaps, is what I love best about snow. The nectarean nature of the snow, and of the joy it brings — well, it’s worth a love letter from time to time.

Laura Pritchett’s newest novel, Stars Go Blue, will be released this June from Counterpoint Press.

High Country News Classifieds
  • YELLOWSTONE TREASURES: THE TRAVELER'S COMPANION TO THE NATIONAL PARK
    Dreaming of a trip to Yellowstone Park? This book makes you the tour guide for your group! Janet Chapple shares plenty of history anecdotes and...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • SAGE GROUSE CCAA COORDINATOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, headquartered in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a full-time Sage Grouse CCAA Coordinator. This position is part of a collaborative effort...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST
    Executive Director, Okanogan Land Trust Position Announcement Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, family farms, challenging politics, and big conservation opportunities? Do you have...
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Organize with Northern Plains Resource Council to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Starts $35.5k. Apply now- northernplains.org/careers
  • BEAUTIFUL, AUTHENTIC LIVE YULE LOG CENTERPIECE
    - beautiful 12" yule log made from holly wood, live fragrant firs, rich green and white holly, pinecones and red berries. $78 includes shipping. Our...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA
    Crazy Horse Memorial, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is currently accepting applications and nominations for the Director of Programs for The Indian University...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL® MANAGER OF RESIDENCE LIFE FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA®
    Crazy Horse Memorial is currently accepting applications for the Manager of Residence Life for The Indian University of North America. This position is responsible for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Are you an art lover who dreams of living in the mountains? Is fundraising second nature to you? Do you have experience managing creative people?...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Public Lands Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the multiple-use management of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, seeks an experienced leader...
  • COLD WEATHER CRAFTS
    Unique handmade gifts from the Gunnison Valley. Soy lotion candles, jewelry, art, custom photo mandalas and more. Check out the website and buy Christmas locally...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.