That wind is a powerful shaper of landscape is evident in sastrugi—the irregular ridges, corrugations, hills, peaks, and valleys that windblown snow makes. Sastrugi vary in height—from a few inches to many feet— and can be soft or rock hard. “Lilliputian canyonlands,” writer Stephen J. Pyne calls them in his book The Ice. These sometimes spooky, whimsical shapes are often aligned parallel to the prevailing wind, with steep, concave, or overhanging ends facing the wind. A snowfield covered with sastrugi can look like the top of a lemon meringue pie, or like a desert sandscape, sculpted by wind into curvaceous dunes. The word comes from the Russian zastrugi, meaning a small ridge or furrow in the snow. In his last journal, British explorer Robert Falcon Scott defines them in the singular: “Sastrugus: an irregularity formed by the wind on a snow-plain. ‘Snow wave’ is not completely descriptive, as the sastrugus often has a fantastic shape unlike the conception of an ordinary wave” (Scott’s Last Expedition).

Gretchen Legler