Monday, January 10, 2011

Curious Snow Sculptures - A Hypothesis

In an earlier post, I presented some photos of unusual snow sculptures that were observed on a high wind-swept ridge in the Stansbury Mountains.

Here is my hypothesis, which is somewhat similar to that of one reader (Will).  At some point, there was freshly fallen snow on the ridge, which was packed down by an animal.  Eventually, the wind increased, and the freshly fallen snow was more easily removed than the packed snow, leaving the trail of snow pedestals above.

Will suggest that it could have been a deer, but the lack of a second set of parallel tracks suggests it may have been a different animal.  One possible candidate is the long-tailed weasel, which I occasionally see in the high mountains of Utah, even in winter (although in winter, they are usually white, in contrast to the photo below).

Photo: National Park Service/Wikipedia Commons
The long-tailed weasel runs by pushing off their back legs and landing on its front legs.  It then moves its hind legs forward, so that the hind paws are directly behind the front paws in a compact area.  Perhaps this is the animal that packed the snow in a pattern as seen in the photo.

There may be some other candidates as well...or maybe better hypotheses.  


  1. I agree with your theory. Despite the resemblance to snow rollers, I can't imagine how they would end up in a line like that. Also, these appear smooth rather than layered. Were there just these 8 shown in the picture, or did they go further?

  2. The full track is about twice as long as that pictured. Eventually they peter out on both ends. Either there was an isolated layer of freshly fallen snow that was run through and then removed, or the wind speed was just right in that one area. Neat stuff.

  3. It could be coyote. The size seems to match, there's a slight offset between every other track, and the very narrow space between left and right tracks is typical. Even when weasels are jumping, the tracks I see are a bit bigger, and they tend to make a dumbbell shape because their bodies are so long. That's what I would say if I saw these on a snowshoe field trip, anyway.