On Friday my friend Lucas calls me to suggest we cross country ski in Corn Hill the following day. That night I call my parents to quiz them about the snow conditions. It sounds pretty good although after a 15 minute conversation with each of them, I'm still a bit puzzled. It sounds crusty but ok-ish. Over the years my parents have become pretty adept at describing snow conditions but its still a struggle sometimes. And I have to hand it to them. This is not any easy task. The English language has a real shortage of snow words. Obviously the English didn't invent skiing.
We've only got a few specific words to describe snow in English "soft, sticky, hard, crusty, fresh, powder, corn" for example. With these words in our repertoire we can fumble through most scenarios and get creative "well its sticky and soft but in some places you break through the crust and underneath its powdery". What a headache of adjectives. And snow character depends on a slew of factors such as how it fell, wind, melting, daily temperature, age, and whether a track has been set. It's usually different in the woods than in the open and changes throughout the day. Imagine there was one word that could, in just a few syllables, communicate that there is a light crust above a base that is dense. And that with another word you could explain that its icy in the usual places (i.e. around evergreen trees), or windblown in the fields. Could there be a word that explains how your edges will perform on the descent?
Now describing snow may not seem particularly important for Southern New Brunswick. Afterall this isn't the Arctic and we don't have a mountain snow affect. But I would say snow language is particularly important in our region....because it varies so much! We ride a weather rollercoaster all winter long thanks to competing weather systems. As well, the snow conditions will be different from Hampton to Sussex and again when you go into Waterford. Distance from the Bay affects weather and so does the hills. It may be subtle but elevation affect snow falls around here. Higher areas in the Fundy Highlands are significantly snowier than the Kennebecasis Valley (Just look for the snowy ridgelines as you drive along the Transcanada to Saint John).
I discuss the conditions with Lucas. The consensus? Let's go for it.
We drive out to the Corn Hill on saturday morning, meet up with the rest of the gang and find a bumper crop of snow in the fields. There is just a very thin crust on top with loose snow underneath. Once a trail is broken you can glide on cold powdery snow. The conditions are good. Even the beginners in our group are ripping it up!
The downhills are fast and the flats are effortless. A few of us take a 3 hour loop through rolling fields and forest. Searching out some good descents before turning back, face to the wind, for a bitterly cold ski home.
So I wish that I could describe the conditions in a few simple words but I can't. All I can suggest is to be curious. Take the time to learn the quirks of your own local skiing areas. Armed with this local knowledge maybe together we can create a new vocabulary for snow conditions and in the process improve our understanding of the natural world.
Drop me a line and tell me how you describe your snow.
Skiing along the stream in Coyote Valley
Before the Steep descent into the Marr Valley
graham waugh cross country skiing new brunswick local motion sussex saint john moncton corn hill skiing