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Winter has come and for me, that means skiing. I love the sensation of moving across the snow in the unique Australian alpine environment. I do cross-country skiing, which is rather like bushwalking on skis. Cross-country skiers don’t use chair lifts or tows to reach the tops of slopes before hurtling down at high speed. Instead we go everywhere by our own efforts, and that may mean grunting up hills before swooping down the other side. It also means we can move away from the crowds in the resorts and head for quieter areas. We see other skiers, but not too many of them, and a few birds, but there are always animal tracks to remind us that we share the environment with other creatures who are able to survive despite the mantle of snow across the land.


Cross-country skiing originated in Scandinavia where it was known as langlauf and it was simply a means of transport. From there it has evolved into a pastime and a sport enjoyed by people in many parts of the world. Only a small part of south-eastern Australia gets snow every winter, and it only lasts for about ten or twelve weeks, from mid-June to mid-September, so during those weeks I ski as often as I can. I’m lucky enough to live close to the mountains so it is easy for me to go up for a day or weekend.


It wasn’t until I started skiing (quite late in life) that I realised how many different types of snow there can be. When I was studying sociology as an undergraduate we learned that culture and language are interdependent, one affects the other. As an example, we were told that the Indigenous peoples of Arctic regions had many different words to describe snow. Because it was a constant feature of their environment they were able to observe and label subtle differences in snow quality. ‘How odd’, I thought at the time, ‘snow is snow’. I know better now. On clear winter mornings after a hard frost the snow is icy and unforgiving. In the spring, warmer days mean that the snow becomes soft and sticky, like skiing on porridge. On the best of days the snow is crisp and dry, like icing sugar powder.


As you can see from my descriptions, the English language is not very useful when describing snow. It does, however, have a wealth of words for almost all occasions and there are many times when finding just the right words can put your message across in a stylish and memorable way. Contact me if you’re looking for the right words for your report, business or personal letter.