The different kinds of snow.

We have different kinds of snow up here in Lapland. Well, I am pretty sure you have that all over the world if it would actually snow all over the world. But a lot of places just have the wet snow. The ‘let’s make a snowman’ snow. Or the ‘let’s have a snowball fight’ snow. Or the ‘I don’t want to go outside’ kind of snow.

But there are actually a lot of different kinds!

We (meaning our location of Arvidsjaur) almost always start out with the ‘frost’ which is what happens when it freezes during the night and the moist from the ground comes up to the surface and freezes. Some might not call this snow though but that is what we start out with.

Then comes the snow. The first snow can be put into three different categories depending on the temperature;

  • The crappy: When it is around the 0°C or a bit above and the snow still melts somewhat, is what we would call ‘slush’ snow. Something everybody with mild winters has experienced… it is NOT pleasant but a necessary step to real winter. It is wet, it is dirty, it freezes over fast which in turn makes everything very slippery. Not fun.
  • A bit better: Packing snow! If it stays right below the 0°C so the snow is somewhat wet, then you get the ‘let’s make a snowman’ kind of snow. It can also create a pretty good layer of base snow.
  • The ‘yeah’ snow: When it is already really cold out before we get the first snow, that is when we get the ‘powder snow’! As we are located inlands away from the coast and moist, this is super duper fine snow which is dry. You would not be able to make a snow ball from this snow, it would just fall apart! This is the kind of snow that we can stomp down, pack tightly by for example driving on. By doing so you would remove all the air out of it and you would be left with a solid, dense base underneath. Perfect start of the winter!

So when winter has set in and is here to stay we will see different kinds of snow as well. On the roads there will be a lot of what you would call ‘blowing snow’. Snow that is so light and dry it will move with the wind of cars driving past or just simply if it is a windy day out (which we luckily do not get that many of as we are located inlands). This can cause dangerous driving conditions… imagine you are in the car driving, minding your own business, and a truck drives past and creates a massive cloud of blowing snow… your visibility will be down to zero. Blowing snow is common and must to be taken into consideration driving on these roads.

After we get maybe up to half a meter to a meter of this ‘powder snow’ (usually mixed with ‘packing snow’ as the temperature goes up and down) the fun can really begin. This is perfect snow for skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, dogsledding… well, all winter activities! This might surprise you as I mentioned before that this is super fine snow… one might think that you would just sink into it but no, this is actually very dense snow. It has a lot of air in it which makes up for the powdery consistency. Once you start driving your snowmobile on top of it, you press out all of the air and are left with a solid very dense base which will last all winter and that is when this snow would be called ‘packed powder’! You do however need a somewhat experienced snowmobiler to keep the tracks dense and firm. An unexperienced snowmobiler would get surprised…. When you for example start out on a dense track and then veer off just a tad to where the snow is not packed you would of course sink because of the difference in snow consistency (one has air in it, the other not)! That is how a lot of people get their snowmobiles stuck. But honestly that is part if the snowmobiling experience. We usually say that if you have not gotten stuck while out snowmobiling, you have not really been out snowmobiling! (FYI I don’t mean stuck as in you had to leave you snowmobile… you would just have to get off of your snowmobile and maybe dig yourself out. Or use a manual lift which is advisable to have with you. If you are with a guide, he could of course just simply pull you out.)(Ok, sometimes it does mean you are STUCK stuck….. that is when the sh*t hits the fan. Hopefully you will then have mobile connection so you can call someone to come and pick you up. Otherwise you better be prepared for a long, cold walk or wait.)

Because of the snow being so light and dry it can easy create into ‘snowdrifts’ on windy days. These can be big and dangerous because as I wrote earlier, this is still very dense snow. It can form a wall on the roads!

Another common type of snow we see often is something called ‘surface hoar’. Or snow crystals. We usually see these in the beginning of winters as this is somewhat similar to normal frost. It needs moist from underneath so if you would have a thick layer of powder snow, or maybe packed snow, moist would not be able to rise through it. This ‘surface hoar’ can give spectacular views where millions of crystals sparkle all around you!

Dirty snow actually has name – ‘snirt’! (yes, I am serious :D)

There is also the ‘crust’ snow when you have a warmer day in between a lot of cold days so a crust of melted snow turned to ice forms on top of the powder snow. This can actually be bearable snow, so you can walk on it, if the thickness of the crust is right. This crust can sometimes even carry a snowmobile and that is what you would call really good conditions.

But then we have the ‘spring snow’. When you have a very good base of snow which is maybe a meter or so deep, the sun will during the day melt the very top layer which will then freeze again during the night. Something similar to ‘crust’ snow but more icy and it forms a new layer almost every day!

Then in spring we go back to slush…… and a lot of snirt.


But hey, that means summer is on its way so it ain’t all bad. 🍃🍃

~Rebecca ~


Categories: Arvidsjaur, Auktsjaur, Landscape, Lapland, Living in the wild, Nature, Photography, Snow, Sunrise & sunsets, Sweden, Swedish Lapland, Wilderness Life, Winter in Lapland | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “The different kinds of snow.

  1. You make snowmobiling sound so fun. Two years in the snow and I never did that. If I’d had winter hobbies like that I just might have learned to love it. Great pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so glad you made this snow chart! I feel like people look at me like I’m crazy when we talk about the different types of snow!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Winter is back! | Wilderness Life Blog

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