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The Sami’s 300 Words for Snow

Learn more about the Sami's 300 words to describe snow.
Close up of snowflakes
© Luleå University of Technology

There are many types of snow that only the trained eye can see. For centuries, the Swedish indigenous people, the Sami, have created a large number of words for snow. They are said to have over 300 words that describe snow.

One of the reasons why so many words are needed is to be able to communicate what the situation is for their reindeer husbandry. For example, it may be necessary to describe whether the snow will allow the reindeer to walk on it, if they will be able to find food under the snow, and how the Sami themselves can travel on the snow. For all these different cases, different words are needed.

Property and Quality

It is said that the Sami have more than three hundred words for snow. Rather, it is likely the case that the Sami have fifty to three hundred words for the quality and property of the snow.

The finest snow, what we call powder snow, is called “habllek” in Sami and means dry and light dusty snow.

“Åppås” is rare but it is every skier’s dream. “Åppås” means untouched winter snow without tracks.

Something you should beware of is “rido,” which is the Sami word for avalanche. “Peat” is the Sami word for crusty snow. “Peat” is not very pleasant. It has a frozen crust day and night, but is very good for moving reindeer.

“Gida” is the time when the snow begins to melt, the snow is then warm during the day and cold at night and always creates good skiing conditions, which is then called “jådåt.” “Sabekguottát” means a membrane that carries the skis along in a straight path, but it breaks if you have to turn.

The Sami do not have a word for artificial snow.

Sami words for snow

  • gala: before where the skis sink deep into loose winter snow
  • guolldo: snowstorm
  • habllek: light, airy dust-like snow
  • jiega: ice
  • muohta: snow
  • njáhtso: wet snow
  • ridne: snow in the trees
  • ruohkadagá: bare-blown spots on the bare mountain, windswept
  • siebla: soaked snow in the spring
  • sjålkkå: trampled, hard and smooth snow
  • soavlle: lake water mixed with snow on top of the ice
  • suohpa: snow bridge over a stream in summer
  • säásj: old, coarse, loose snow, flows like coarse salt
  • tjarvva: snow crust
  • tjiegar: area where the reindeer dig in the snow and eat
  • tsievve: hard snow that the reindeer do not dig through
  • vahtsa: little fresh snow
© Luleå University of Technology
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