51 words for snow

The eskimos are said to have fifty different words for snow. It’s not remotely true of course, but so goes the modern legend that we love to retell. I guess it’s a romanticization of the relationship to a natural phenomenon (and of the idea of indigenous people in tune with nature), probably saying less about eskimos and more about the people repeating the saying. We want to be closer to nature.

I think it’s often true that the modern human, with her apartment complexes and information feeds, secretly longs after the woods, mountains and rivers she has organized away. She desires a deeper sense of snow.

Perhaps those of us up here in the northern part of the world ought to have a slimmer version of the same myth, with our long winters. Thirty words for snow? Twenty? I probably have no more than a handful, but I sure know snow.

Truth to be told, I am sick of winter. See, we Swedes have a short summer. Spring comes late, and autumn always seem to arrive too early. Then we face many months of snow, cold and darkness. We count the day as blessed whenever our pale skin gets some sunshine, and we huddle in our brightly lit homes to keep the cold and the dark away. This winter I started longing for spring already in october.

Funny, then, that I enjoy the winterous landscapes of Skyrim so much.

Perhaps it is the contrast between sitting comfortably in a warm and bright apartment while exploring a steep mountain in an intense snow storm. Perhaps it is all the mysteries awaiting the curious who chooses to leave the beaten path. Or maybe it is the diversity of environments – the many variations on the theme “snow”.

Most of Skyrim is clad in snow, and yet it never ceases to surprise you. Moving from area to area, you encounter one unique snow landscape after another. The intense snow storm that seems to drown the world in white, the strong cold wind that blows newly-fallen snow from nearby ridges, the green grove that receives the year’s first snow, the…

Even as a swede, I have no words for many of the types of snow Bethesda has captured. That is not a reflection on my vocabulary but a celebration of Bethesda’s world design. If the saying about the eskimos had not been false, it’s easy to believe that even they would run out of words. I don’t know what strange country Skyrim’s art director comes from, but wherever that might be his people must speak a language with 51 words for snow.

It’s not only the variation. Each type of snow filled environment has been carefully crafted, giving you a rare sense of climate and weather. It genuinely surprised me how cold I felt when I climbed the game’s first mountain. Not only do the areas immerse you, but they evoke specific feelings. You will feel cold, but also melancholic, hopeful, filled with awe and so on. Couple the strong artistic vision of each landscape with the variation of environments and you experience an ever-changing emotional state as you walk the land.

With my dislike of winter, I would not have expected Skyrim’s defining feature – the one that made me fall in love with the game – to be snow.