Then There’s Hanki

Finnish Lore in Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains

The Finnish language has myriad words for snow, be it slushy, icy, powdery or sleety. There’s even one for the frost that develops on a car windshield after a particularly bitter night.

Then there’s hanki.

It has no English equivalent, but the closest we can get is crust not frozen enough to support weight, and just enough to make you think it will. I know about the term thanks to a “Yooper,” a native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [UP], to whom I’d talked the day before a backcountry ski trip to Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains. After listening, he kicked the snow at our feet.

“Ya know what we Finns call this?” he said in a distinctive UP accent. “Hanki. Crust. It’s a hell of a time to walk through if the temperatures don’t drop.”

The word bounces in my head three days later, as myself and eight others spend the morning skinning along an old railroad grade, only slightly less overgrown than the surrounding underbrush. After a warm March night, temperatures have risen dangerously close to the mid-30s. There’s not much we can do, so we duck our heads and forge on…

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