Snow was always of paramount importance while growing up in northern Minnesota. Walking out to the main road to put the flag out for the snow plow could be easy or difficult depending on the quality of the snow. Fine powdery snow was fun, though I would get soaking wet. Meanwhile if there were a hard surface on top of the snow so each step had a hitch when breaking through, that was about as hard as it would get. We didn’t have fifty words for snow, but the different qualities mattered. It was that somewhat nostalgic connection to snow that led me to reading Snow by Gilles Whittell.
Whittel begins with the science of snow, how snowflakes are formed and why they are all unique. It was truly fascinating. He comes at the questions of snow from his own personal fascinations with skiing and the search for the world’s best powder. So, he explores what makes good snow, where it snows the most, and why. Then, he looks at high speed skiing. I love mountaineering and polar exploration memoirs. This was different, but close enough to my own fascinations to fit right in. I particularly liked his description of his attempts to ski the fastest high-speed track in the world. Like Falstaff, he decides discretion is the better part of valor.
I enjoyed Snow a lot and not just because I felt a sort of nostalgia for snow (not that I want any here!) It is well-structured, starting from the individual flake and expanding out to the whole world of snow and world competition skiing and Snowmads. The fanaticism of some of the snowmads is fascinating. Whittell is a good writer who can take complex scientific ideas and explain them clearly. He also conveys the excitement and thrill of rushing downhill so fast you can hardly breathe. Doing one or the other is what a reader expects, doing both so well is a gift.
I received an e-galley of Snow from the publisher through NetGalley.