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
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Central Colorado Conservancy, located in Salida, Colorado, is seeking a Conservation Program Manager dedicated to managing the Conservancy's land protection program which includes developing and...
  • PUBLIC LANDS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a candidate with excellent communication skills and a commitment to environmental conservation for the position of Public Lands Program Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia, CO, seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking, and a creative problem-solver. WSCC is committed to creating...
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.