As a Canadian living in the snowy part of the country, we have snow: Lots of snow. Unlike the urban folklore, we do not have 200 words to describe snow. Nor do the Inuit, (whom some of you refer to as “Eskimos”) in their extensive oral tradition. We limit ourselves to only a few terms and a bit over a thousand words to explain it all.
Fluffy Snow: This is the kind that gives downhill ski folk a case of the hot n’ bothereds. Cross-country skiers like it too. Shovelling it is like trying to push a pallet-load of loose cotton balls with a tractor: It goes everywhere and always falls back into the place you’re trying to push it out of, like the driveway.
Wet Snow: Heavy, wet and sticky, a simple shovel-full weighs 80 pounds and if you don’t move it now, it will solidify into a mass that will not be moved until April. We also know it as Heart-Attack Snow, which our hospitals and ER’s dread. Every day a few dozen are rolled in, clutching their chests, hooked up to an AED by the paramedics. This is because sedentary men try to shovel it out and their primary occupation is listed as “Analyst” or “Bureaucratic Drone”, not “Stoker”, “Navvy” or “Farm Hand”.
Snowman Snow: Kids love it as it is moist and sticky and rolls up perfect, dense globes of snow perfect for the application of a carrot nose, small rocks for eyes and no hat. Usually happens early in the season when the air is warmer. It is also the ideal snow for snowballs, which have been banned by Health and Safety for fear someone could have their feelings hurt or their self-esteem bruised. Snowman Snow always results in a pile of wringing-wet woollen mittens, scarves and toques over the hot air vent in the kitchen.
Squeaky Snow: After a few days that fluffy powder coalesces into a solid that squeaks like Styrofoam underfoot. It also means the outside temperature is –10 C or lower. The only way to move it is with heavy equipment, air compressor powered chisels, or shaped charges.
Slop/Slush: In my corner of Ontario, we salt our roads and streets, which turns the snow and ice into slop about the consistency of loose oatmeal or cornbread batter that can’t freeze because the salinity is twice that of the Dead Sea. Eventually slush will freeze, but not until –40 C or so. At that temperature it freezes into sharp ridges and boot prints. If you slip and fall down on the sidewalk, the likelihood of puncturing a lung is high. Jumping onto a pile of bricks headfirst hurts less.
Snow bank Snow: In order to exist, we have to put the snow somewhere out of the parking spaces, driveways, roads and sidewalks, so we can move about in our daily activities. Snow banks are a compressed amalgamation of snow, slush, salt, road grime and the occasional mitten or hat, comingled with the usual crud that lives on the sidewalk. Think basalt, or exotic kitchen counter stone that has a little bit of everything in it including fossils, unaddressed third-class mail, lightly chopped advertising flyer mulch and that door to door guy who tried to sell you a hot water heater in December.
Drift Snow: You can slice this stuff into blocks and build a house with it. If you drive into this stuff on the highway, expect the air bags to go off. It is also the best snow anywhere for making snow forts with and for children. Grownups use it to fill the ice bucket to chill down the champagne, stepping out the back door for a few seconds to grab a pail full from the deck. In a glass with a little grenadine or crème de menthe poured over it, you have a grownup sno-cone, assuming the snow is clean. You could use that ancient bottle of Galliano (left over from your notorious Harvey Wallbanger party in June 1983) hiding in the back of the kitchen cupboard to make your own ‘Yellow Snow”
Yellow Snow: Just like the little bag of silica crystals in the packaging for the blender says, “Do Not Eat” Especially if it is found in the middle of the park.
Freezing Rain: Glaze the neighbourhood in a centimeter-thick layer of ice, everywhere, then drop the temperature to –40 C. In Ottawa this is called “February” and is usually followed by a blizzard of fluffy snow that sits on the ice as a disguise. Imagine walking on ball-bearings on a Teflon pan that has been oiled with 5W-50. You will fall down and with any luck, not face plant into a tree or a brick building. Invariably two days later, the temperature goes above freezing and all the sheets of ice fall off the buildings downtown, usually decapitating some poor unfortunate who gets whisked up by a sidewalk plow. We find them around the last week of March.
Corn Snow: Often produced by snow guns on ski hills, it is the skin equivalent of 20-grit sandpaper when you slide on it. Who needs dermabrasion treatments to look younger? Go tobogganing on corn snow for an afternoon.
Effing Snow: What we get in the first two weeks of March. Every day for two weeks, just enough to call out the plows and salt trucks to tangle the streets into a morass of front-end loaders, slush and swearing because we’ve had enough of winter. It is also the time of year when you see able-bodied people standing on eight-foot high snow banks trying to find somewhere within shovel-range to throw snow from the driveway.
Gottdamn Plow Snow: After you have spent two hours shovelling out the drift from the driveway, unearthed the car and found the approximate location of the front walkway, the City plow or grader comes by. It is piloted by a grinning sadist wearing an aloha shirt over flannels, ski-doo boots and quilted snow pants, with a battered Leafs toque and a pair of silvered sunglasses that cost more than your car payment. He proceeds to fill the end of your driveway waist-deep with everything that has landed in the 613 area code for you to dig out by hand, including an ice floe that is cousin to the one that did in the Titanic.
There, a thousand words on snow.