Home - Photos - Books - Science - Videos    
   Frequently Asked Questions    
   Designer Snowflakes    
 

If you wanted to find some especially well-formed snow crystals, where would you look? Of course, you need a snowy climate, but not all snow is the same; some locations are better than others. So where are the best snowflake spots? Where does one find the greatest snow on earth?

Since I live in Southern California and I like to photograph snowflakes, I go traveling in search of good crystals. Here are some spots I know about.


Northern Ontario
This one of my favorite snowflake spots, especially the small town of Cochrane, Ontario. Temperatures around -15 C (5 F) are best for finding large stellar snow crystals (see the morphology diagram), and this is about the average temperature in Cochrane in January. There is also little wind around Cochrane, and there are frequent light snowfalls. I have taken many of my best photographs in Cochrane.

Fairbanks, Alaska
Visting Fairbanks in January feels a bit like visiting another planet ... one that's far from the sun! The temperature gets down to -40 C (-40 F) frequently, the sun barely makes it above the horizon (I took this photo at noon), and one can occasionally witnexx spectacular aurora lighting up the night sky.

Overall the weather is often too cold for good snowflakes in Fairbanks, but I have found some beautifully faceted crystals there.

Northern Sweden
I had a nice visit to the town of Kiruna one winter, and I managed to find and photograph some spectacular stellar crystals one afternoon. It doesn't snow especially often in Kiruna, but the crystals can be nice when it does.

I have learned that packed snow on the streets is a good indicator of a good snowflake location. This tells me: 1) it probably snows often, and 2) the snow doesn't melt quickly.

Vermont
Wilson Bentley started taking snowflake photographs in Jericho, Vermont, beginning in 1885, and his well-known work identified Vermont as an excellent snowflake location. I took this photo in nearby Burlington, looking over Lake Champlain. The steam rising off the lake puts copius amounts of water vapor into the atmosphere for making snowflakes.

Northern Japan
The northern island of Hokkaido is known for its excellent snow, and snow crystals, as documented at length by physicist Ukichiro Nakaya in the 1930s. I took this picture in Asahikawa, showing the Snow Crystals museum during a nice snowfall.

There are probably many other excellent snowflake spots out there. The Baltic States look pretty good, as are parts of Russia. I suspect the area around Lake Baikal in Siberia has some awesome snowflakes, so that's high on my to-visit list. 

If you happen to live in a cold climate, you might have a look at your local snowflakes and see how they measure up. Start with an inexpensive magnifier, and consider it a challenge to find your first capped column or fernlike stellar dendrite. From there, you can try a camera with some macro capability (it might be a nothing more than a smartphone with an inexpensive clip-on macro lens attachment) and see what pictures you can take. Perhaps you too will be bitten (or frost-bitten?) by the snowflake photography bug.