Pursuit of Powder


Why Snow Makes Us Happy

Snow just feels magical. Its beauty can leave you speechless, playing in it makes you feel like a kid again, and the fluffy white flakes can even have a positive effect on personal happiness. Snowy adventures can also be one of the best all-around health remedies; simultaneously clearing your mind, releasing positive reward chemicals in your brain, and increasing muscle strength and circulation—all while you’re having fun.

These feel-good effects draw people from around the globe to the snowy outdoors to find peace, play, explore the natural world, and seek thrills. The film, “Truth in Motion,” describes this unique internal experience, “Skiing is a sport where action and reaction co-exist; where sheer terror and calm serenity intersect.”

Many skiers, snowboarders, and snowsport enthusiasts say time seems to slow down, and they feel a sense of freedom and complete euphoria. In the same instance, the experience of skiing or snowboarding creates a balance of excitement and peace of mind. Simply put, playing in the snow is fun.

Here are a few more reasons why it makes you feel so good:

Smiley face made in snow during backcountry hike

Photo Credit: Amy David

You Feel Like a Kid Again

Reflect back to your most memorable winter day. Visualize the best moment; relive the sounds, smells, sights. Close your eyes and harness the emotions of that day, laughter, joy, surprise. Remember the curious wonder of catching falling snowflakes on your tongue, snowball fights, building snowmen, and snow angels.

Skiing on a powder day transports us back to the playfulness of being a carefree child. In Utah, where the slopes are famous for powder, skiers and snowboarders float down the mountain, hooting and hollering between face shots with their adrenaline pumping.

For snowmobilers, powder euphoria adds a challenge that’s mentally and physically stimulating. Snowshoers stride through fresh snow in the woods and kids fly down the sledding hills, all thriving in fresh air and surrounded by the majestic and marvelous aesthetics of snow-covered mountainscapes. The collective energy is contagious.

Helps You Appreciate Natural Beauty

When it starts to snow, it feels like there’s magic in the air—yet science explains this jaw-dropping factor of nature. Snow is a form of precipitation composed of small ice particles, and crystals form when tiny cloud molecules freeze, forming unique white flakes.

And falling snow’s not just beautiful to look at. Ever notice how quiet it is right after a snowstorm? That’s because on the ground, fresh snow acts as a sound-absorbing, acoustic material. The air between crystal flakes actually traps sound waves and dampens vibrations to create complete silence and stillness, giving you that ‘all is calm, all is bright’ sense after a big storm.

Gives You a Brain Boost

For those who take risks, seek snowy sensations, and experience adrenaline, natural chemicals in the brain elicit positive rewards that extend through the body and mind. The four major neurotransmitters released within the brain contributing to happiness are endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.

As a skier flies down a mountain, the physical challenge, sensation of cold on the face, and the landscape beauty initiate the production of endorphins in the brain’s hypothalamus and pituitary gland, acting as natural painkillers and activating opioid receptors in the brain. Another driving neural factor to seeking sensation is dopamine neurons in the basal ganglia. The dynamic movement of skiing increases the release of dopamine, which produces feelings of positive pleasure rewards; hence the strong desire to get first tracks on a powder day. More play time in the snow means more happiness-inspired chemical releases in the brain.

While the brain is spreading happiness chemicals, the body is firing on all cylinders. Fresh mountain air enters the lungs, which then oxygenates the blood pumping through the circulatory system and muscles. The joints and proprioception muscles key for balance are being fine-tuned with every movement through the snow. All these effects combine to boost our overall well-being and longevity.

Clears Your Mind

When skiing a great run, sometimes you feel fully present, forgetting the world around you. With every breath and turn, your body and mind work together flawlessly. This is the flow state. Flow state is an optimal experience when a perfect balance of skill level and challenge intersect. Snowsports enthusiasts can experience it when the level of challenge and level of skill are balanced.

The leading psychologist for this topic, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, says when flow is achieved, it’s one of the most positive human experiences. He describes it as, “a deeply rewarding and optimal experience characterized by intense focus on a specific activity to the point of becoming totally absorbed in it, and the exclusion of all other thoughts and emotions.”

The mode of reaching flow state is different for every individual, as each person has different levels of tolerance for risk, boredom, and finding the sweet spot in between. For some, it’s skiing deep powder off a steep mountain, and for others it’s a peaceful snowshoe walk through a snow-covered forest.

Skier hiking up a chute

Photo Credit: Amy David

Boosts Your Awareness

A sense of inspiration is felt when a person walks into a snow-covered forest with stellar flakes dancing from the sky while the world is silent. What ignites this passionate yet peaceful resonance in the soul? There is a glimmer of light through the clouds shining upon the white blanketed ground. This light comes from above and surrounds the quieted world with a glow so beautiful, that it’s enough to release endorphins.

How? Our eyes play a large role in this process. When humans see a beautiful landscape, the pleasure center of the brain is rewarded; hence the good feelings.

It works by the light passing through the retina, down the optic tract, and to the occipital lobe of the brain. Along this visual neural pathway are nerve cells rich with opiate receptors with morphine-like molecules known as endorphins.

The key is being aware on all levels of imagination, sensation, and intellect rather than letting life whoosh by. An imagination, playfulness, and soulful eye take vision to depths of new meaning. So next time you’re romping around the snowy mountains, take a moment to breathe in the fresh air, gaze at the jagged horizon, feel the burn in your muscles, and enjoy increased happiness.


About Author

Amy David is an outdoor sports athlete and content producer. She grew up in the mountains of Wyoming and spends the majority of her time guiding wilderness trips, producing outdoor-themed media, and seeking adrenaline rushes on skis. With a degree in the Psychology of Communication and minor in Outdoor Education and Leadership, her work fuses the outdoor and entertainment industries. Keep up with her adventures at @AmyJaneDavid.

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