Do You Want to Build a Snow Fort? Posted on January 29th, 2020 by

We emerged from the dark tunnel into the blinding light of the early morning sun and pulled off of the road to our hiking area, ðinsfjarðarvatn, one of the small fjords between Siglufjörður and Ólafsfjörður.

A map of the hiking area and paths one can take.

I, for one, did not know what to expect today. I only knew that we were hiking for two hours in “that area between the two tunnels that we passed that one time.” That being said, most of us were excited and itching to be outside.

Almost immediately after exiting the bus (and donning our traction devices in case there was hidden ice under the newly fallen snow), a snowball fight ensued. No one was safe, particularly Jeff. This was it, my first snowball fight. I collected some of the wet, sticky snow and compacted it down into the perfect ball, then lobbed it in the direction of the instigator of the fight and the fearless leader of our battalion. Little did I know that the snowball was headed directly for Jeff’s face (sorry dude, it was my first snowball…). That did it. Snowball fight over immediately. No more snowballs for me.

Click here to see a little bit of the snowball action!

Once we began our hike, I was struck at how white our surroundings were. The amount of snow paired with the fog and the untouched mountains surrounding us emphasized the color even more. It was both beautiful and enchanting.
We marched along, almost single file, relying on the path of those ahead of us and stepping where they stepped. We paused at a rock after about fifteen minutes. A few of us wanted to play in the snow. To me, someone who has never really built a snowman let alone seen snow like this, I was beyond excited to delve into the snow day activities that most of my peers have experienced because of their long relationship with snow. We were given leave to do just that and the troops marched on, leaving us to indulge in our fun.

Snow has always held that childlike innocence associated with outside play. For some, it reminds them of their youth and building snow-creatures. For others, like myself, it offers new opportunities for interacting with the land and experiencing moments of wonder that are often lacking in the ‘adult world’. Yet another perspective was revealed to me in both a passing comment and our discussion on the bus after the hike: for some, snow equals danger.

As the group continued on their hike and some stayed back to play, Jeff told us to not go up much higher on the mountain than where we were now. We all agreed but a minute later someone asked why he said that. Avalanches was the quick reply followed by sounds of understanding.

Examples of avalanche mitigation in Siglufjörður, barriers and berms.

Later, on the bus, Jeff discussed how and why avalanches occur (a specific type of snow combined with a specific slope of the mountain) as well as different ways to deal with avalanches, both passive (barriers, monitors, building restrictions) and active (directly causing the avalanches to control them through various means). We also learned about the devastation that occurs due to avalanches like the destruction of buildings, road closures, people becoming trapped, and loss of life.

Again, this offered another perspective when it comes to the physical landscape and how others interact with said landscape. Questions and concerns of avalanches never occurred to me while we were packing snow and creating shapes while others hiked, but it is often a great worry of those who live in these communities. Of course snow can mean many things as well as evoke many emotions and memories associated with the white slush, but many of us are not weighed down with the worry of losing our life due to snow falling in the perfect conditions for a giant wall of it to slide down a mountain.

As the hikers returned on the path they used to leave us, we knelt down behind the fort we built. Once we felt that they were in range, we sprang up and began pelting them with snowballs. Tired from the long hike they just endeavored and caught off guard because of the camouflage our fort provided, many did not fire back (except Jeff of course).

While snow will always hold that sense of play and childlike wonder in my eyes, it now reminds me that something that can be seen as pure and awe-inspiring can also mean danger and destruction to whole communities.



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