Cultural Attitudes Towards Snow

I have lived in many places in my life – California, Texas, North Carolina, Colorado, and Minnesota. Even though they are all in the continental US, they are very different places, and one of the main differences is weather. And one of the main differences in the cultures of these places is attitudes towards weather.

I was much younger when we lived in California, but we lived down the San Joaquin Valley and didn’t get snow that I remember. The only times I saw snow were when we visited the mountains and on our frequent trips to Colorado.

Coloradoans value their snow, as well they should. It is the lifeblood the ski and tourism industry! However I would have to say it is a love-hate relationship as a good blizzard can paralyze travel through the mountains. No matter how many plows you have, you can’t keep those steep-sided passages clear. In addition there’s always the danger of avalanches. Many times as you drive through the mountains you can see sleek tree-bare corridors where avalanches are prone to going, a reminder of the deadliness of snow combined with altitude.

For Texans, at least those in the south of the state, snow is a novelty. People do travel hundreds of miles – to Colorado, in fact – in order to enjoy the snow. Down in Houston, we got a sprinkling perhaps once in five years. (More commonly we had ice storms, beautiful, destructive episodes that killed trees and prevented school). In Texas, we greeted snow with wonder and delight (and a bit of confusion). It was a gift, a transient visitor. I’m sure if it stayed for more than a day, we would have found it tiresome.

It was somewhat similar in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Snow is rare enough that they don’t have the infrastructure to deal with it but common enough that you have maybe one or two good snowfalls a winter, with the consequent driver craziness and cancellation of events. I fondly remember sledding on cafeteria trays at Davidson College after a particularly good snowfall. I think that only happened once unfortunately.

But in Minnesota… snow is a fact of life! The only question is how much, and whether it is enough to ski on. This has been a weird year in that regard; the ground was dry and bare in January and has been covered more or less continuously since. In fact we just had a good snowfall the last couple days. People whine about the snow, of course, having to shovel it and scrape it and get through it to work, but probably no more than people complain about the intolerable heat anywhere else.

Humans are remarkable adapters and in Minnesota people have adapted to more extreme winters than are seen in many other parts of the United States. But I don’t feel that Minnesotans complain as much as might be warranted… instead, they prize stoicism, endurance, and cold-weather tolerance. They are even proud of their  winters. 

I think that’s because Minnesotans are mentally and physically equipped for the winter. The whole apparatus has been designed to deal with the huge amounts of snow and the constant presence of cold. So long coats, snow shovels, four wheel drive vehicles, snow plows, skiing equipment… these are universal in the Gopher State.

Some people make the dubious claim that Eskimos a multitude of words for snow. Even though we Americans don’t have so many words, we do have a variety of attitudes and coping mechanisms for dealing with the “unpredictable white mess.”  Because that’s the heart of the matter; the unpredictability of Snow and the need to be prepared. So enjoy the clear sunny days but have your snow shovel ready!


One thought on “Cultural Attitudes Towards Snow

  1. I’ve lived around the country, as well, so I know what you’re talking about.

    One of the nice things about California is that snow isn’t something we deal with, it’s something we can choose to visit! A trip to the mountains is different from digging your car out to get to work.

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