50 Grades of Snow

When I grew up, I read somewhere that the Inuit had a large number of words to describe snow. At the time, snow was just snow for me – white and cold. After living in Scandinavia for a while, I start to understand the different types of snow and ice.

Slippery or not?

To know the types of snow and ice is important. It can help to answer the main question: Is the street slippery or not? When I first came to Scandinavia, I quickly realized that snow is not just snow. For example, when it is below minus 12 degrees, almost any snow that is on normal streets is very compact and hard, making it easy to walk. Just like on the normal asphalt.

If the temperature get warmer, the “ugly” range is from -3 until +2 degrees. Here the snow is not really melting yet, but instead becomes more fluffy and dangerously slippery. Above +2 degrees, it is so warm, that the snow is just wet. It is not nice to walk on, but it is less slippery similarly to when it is raining.

Icy road topped with sand to make walking easier

Icy road topped with sand to make walking easier

If the temperature then falls again and it freezes, the wet snow becomes ice. Then again it can become very slippery. Drops the temperature again below -5 even the icy parts are easier to walk on.

Snow clasification

This snow classification is of course not an exact science. To be able to describe the snow conditions is also important for skiing. After going on a cross-country tour, I was asked by a Norwegian colleague immediately how the snow was, how the top layer was, the consistency and all kinds of details I had never imagined.

To know the snow also shows that you are not an outsider. People who have just arrived and walk too slow and too careful immediately stand out.