Packing Snow vs Building Snow vs…..

It is widely known that Eskimoes have some incredibly large number of words for “snow,” with different terms for all the many types of snow one is likely to encounter when living as an Eskimo.

In Iowa in the 80s, we kids knew only two kinds: the powdery kind that wasn’t really good for much, and the wetter, heavier kind that could be used for building snowmen, snowballs, or (in theory) a snow fort. The former we simply called “snow.” The latter was known as “building snow” when I was younger, and “packing snow” when I got older.

When I moved to Atlanta, kids didn’t seem to have a term for “packing snow,” since they only encountered about one day every four years. I remember hearing people refer to having seen “the perfect kind of snow for building stuff,” but that’s about it.

A quick look around on google books shows that the term “packing snow” is fairly well known, but it doesn’t come up in print all that often. I’m not sure there’s an “official” term for good building snow.

What do YOU call it?

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  1. Anonymous

    Growing up in Alaska (Anchorage, 1970s), we didn't really distinguish between snow, perhaps because most of the snow we got was dry and hard to make into snowballs and snowmen. Early wet snow was just called "good for making snowballs."

    For what it's worth, what we once called Eskimoes really don't have a lot of words for different kinds of snow. It's a popular urban myth. Had the Inuit had these different words, I think they would have become part of broader Alaskan culture.

  2. Anonymous

    In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which gets more snow than any place East of the Rockies in the continental US, there is a word for flattening down snow. It is "panking." When there is a lot of snow, you don't bother shoveling it, you pank it down. In the olden days loggers used teams of horses with log sleighs to pank snow down on the roads. If snow is good for panking, it is good for making snowballs.

    The kind of snow that is in little pellets is popcorn snow, not at all good for snowballs. If you pack ice into your snowball, it is called an ice ball and it really hurts, especially if someone hits you in the face with it.

  3. Adam Selzer

    Throwing an ice ball in a snowball fight goes agains the Kids' Unwritten Code of Honor in most civilized placed. Slushballs were a gray area in my town, though.

  4. Anonymous

    Roger Ebert uses packing snow and powder

  5. Anonymous

    When I was growing up in British Columbia in the late 1990's, we only really had differentiating words for skiing/snowboarding snow; ie. powder, champagne powder, snow, slush.

    Wet snow was good for making things, when powder was the light, dry stuff.

  6. Anonymous

    Although we got both kinds in St. Louis (MO) in the 1970s, I don't remember that us kids had different words for the two kinds. Being pre-snowblower days, Dad (USN-retired) had a few names for the "wet" kind but we weren't allowed to repeat them.


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