Visit Västerbotten

Snow – the way you relate to life

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 from.
     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 butter.
    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.