For the Sami snow is more than just frozen water. It is a way to express what their whole existence is built on - the migration of the reindeer. For the skier snow is also more than just snow. It is the way you relate to your whole life.
How do you actually define the best skiing of your life? For me the answer is obvious: Snow! Or lopme as they say in South Sami. For the Sami, just as for skiers, good snow is different things on different days. Although good lopme always means good jåhtedh, good skiing conditions. You may be in a good place or a bad one, having a good day or terrible one, in the end what decides whether the skiing is good, or not, put simply is the snow.
200 words for the qualities of the snow
It is said that the Sami have more than 200
words for snow. Rather, they have 200 words for the snow's
qualities and characteristics, for its soul. That hot yearning we
call powder is called fleavmoe in South Sami.
Crust is called tsaapke. This really means a
membrane just thick enough to support the skis, but that will break
when you try anything more, such as turning.
Tsaapke we would much rather avoid.. The world's best fleavmoe can be found in Utah, USA, where they call it powder. Which is also the word fleavmoe should be translated into - "dry and light powder snow".
The Driest Snow Ever
I've skied on fleavmoe in
Sweden a few times, when there was also
varhabpehth, untouched winter snow with no tracks.
The first time this happened was more than 20 years ago, on
Kittelfjäll. After a snow fall the temperature had dropped to minus
30 degrees and the snow was drier than anything I'd seen before or
since. You could ski 300 meters on Kalfjället and when you turned
around the snow still swirled in the air where you started out
It was so atrociously cold that your feet froze in your ski-boots, it was a wonder that the old Alimak lift spluttered into life and the then hotel manager Sam Hedman, warmed mulled wine for dear life. But nobody cared, everyone enjoyed a lopme we had never come across before. Normally fleavmoe is the cold snow that falls. But because in Utah, and sometimes in the Swedish mountains, it's so cold and dry, it retains its light characteristics even when it has settled.
The Snow Always Improves with Age
Usually loose snow is slightly heavier than
fleavmoe, this is known as
heblie. After a few days this snow has normally
blown away, dispersed or restructured. Fleavmoe
and heblie are fresh produce to be consumed
without storing. Snow is always trying to achieve its own
stability, it does not improve with time. Avalanches or snowslides,
by the way, are called väjroe in Sami. We'll try
to avoid those as well.
For many the best season is spring, gïjre. When the Sami travel to the mountains, for reindeer calving, the tour skiers travel to the mountains too. Gïjre is the time of the melting snow, with warm days and cold nights. "Ritsch-ratsch" the climbing skins echo on the concrete crust, tjarve, in that little world you slipped away into. It's meditation for the modern man, to go on tour. Tjarve provides good traction for those steel edges, but isn't much fun if you ask me. There's frozen crust night and day and good conditions for moving reindeer on.
Slaptjedh for High-speed Cruising
When the sun warms tjarve it forms
slaptjedh A soft and easily traversed surface.
There's never a better chance for high-speed cruising, nor is a 50
degree chute ever safer, than in slaptjedh. The
skis coexist with snow friction free, like a warm knife through
As the Sami have so many words for snow, you wouldn't expect them to settle for just four seasons. The eight seasons of the Sami are of course closely related to life-cycle of the reindeer. The month of August is called mïetske,the time to move from the mountains down into the forest. That is the autumn/summer that is followed by autumn, tjaktje, the beginning of what we call winter, or daelvie. But for the Sami there's time for autumn/winter tjaktjedaelvie, in between.
When the Thaw Comes it's Time to Put the Skis Away
It's a little complicated to for those who
don't understand that life is never as simple as we make it seem on
the calendar. Gïjre always springs a few surprises. I have
friends who have skied jåhtedh,in the mountains on
Swedish National Day. It doesn't happen all the time, not even
often, but it happens. But gïjre also suffers from
sïeblehth-lopme, what the Swedes often call
"förfallet". A time when the snow becomes a cold quagmire of
bottomless slush. When it's high time to put the skies into storage
and dig out the mountain bike.
But that's still a few seasons away.