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The white stuff

Amanda Fehd
Sun News Service
photo by Dan ThriftA Tahoe skier gets "face shots" while "bustin' the pow."
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE ” For many in Tahoe, snow is everything. Residents shovel it, companies plow it, skiers play on it, resorts depend on it.

The phone book lists 86 snow removal companies, 39 snowboard shops, 26 snowmobile stores and 80 ski shops in the Truckee-Tahoe area. Tahoe is speckled with 11 ski resorts, attracting millions of visitors a year.

So it’s no wonder we have a few more names for snow than regular Americans.

For instance, how many people in Texas would understand you if you said: “It’s dumping chicken feathers out there”?

Or it’s “puking” on the mountain?

How about if you told them you just got “deep powder,” “big air,” or “sweet freshies,” or that you “dropped some sick lines”?

Snow ” how much and what kind ” can make a big difference in our lives.

“It makes a happy day or a sad day,” said Myles Hallen, a professional snowboarder on Sierra-at-Tahoe’s snowboarding team. “It doesn’t need to be happening all the time, just once or twice a week is fine, and the rest could be bluebird.”

Hallen, who won the U.S. Snowboarding Open in 1999, now has a 2-year-old son, Preston, who “shreds,” he said.

Our reality and our language are deeply intertwined, according to linguistic theory, said Scott Lukas, chair of the anthropology and sociology department at Lake Tahoe Community College.

When you live in, work in or play in snow, you know the lingo.

When your reality means knowing just how thick, how soft, how deep, how fluffy the snow is, you come up with words that will help you communicate that.

“Some of it is built in with the snow culture here,” Lukas said. “Their vocabulary is reflective of that reality. When they are out on the hills, there’s an intimacy they have with that environment.”

Erik Roggeveen, 29, the manager of terrain parks at Squaw Valley, says understanding snow is a crucial part of his life.

“It’s very essential, you need to understand the break down from winter crystals to spring slush,” Roggeveen said. “There are so many intricacies about snow. It’s one of the most beautiful things on the planet. I love being in it, around it, working in it.”

Then there are the scientists who measure the snow, gauging water content and scrutinizing snow crystals.

About 75 percent of the Western U.S. population depends on melting snow for its drinking water, according to Kelly Redmond, a climatologist with Desert Research Institute.

“We’ve talked about this whole thing of Eskimos having 31 names for snow,” Redmond said. “If you live in a dry climate, you probably have 31 names for drought. When you are constantly faced with something, each instance matters.”

Most skiers and boarders waking up after a stormy night do one thing first: Look out the window. The second: Check the snow phone or log on to the resort Web site. The big question: How deep?

Ski resorts are “all over the map” in the way they measure their snow, Hallen said. The measurement is taken when the snow falls onto a board and is then wiped off. Hallen was unsure how many followed scientific standard.

“There is a standard for measuring snow that you can’t measure it more often than every six hours,” Redmond said. “Because the more often you measure it, the more you get.”


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