Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
Wilson Alwyn Bentley was a snowflake man. So much so that he came to be known as “Snowflake.” Bentley was a Vermont man; it’s easy to understand his fascination with snow. I was just in Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, last weekend. Driving down Route 2 at night with the high beams on as the light catches the white flakes rushing horizontally at the windshield creates the feeling of warp speed.
A couple of years ago, you could hardly get through a winter week without someone telling a version of the Eskimos-words-for-snow story. We've only got one word for snow, the story went, but those Eskimos have 20, or a hundred, or a thousand, depending on the yarn-spinning skills of the teller. Hm, we'd say, ain’t it interesting how much language determines experience and vice versa. It turns out, unfortunately, that this story isn't true. As Steven Pinker pointed out in The Language Instinct, Inuit languages have about a dozen words for snow, roughly the same as English: snow, sleet, slush, and so forth.
But it makes sense that stories about snow have come to stand as metaphors for the variety of experience in general. Snow changes everything. It is a world-cloaker and a land-blanketer. When the snow comes, everything gets slower and more deliberate. Just look at how it falls, meandering without a care in the world. Contrast this with the rain, which quickens things most of the time.