As winter snow accumulates, and one walks or drives over each layer of newly arrived snow, it develops into what we call hard pack.  Hard pack is a relatively innocuous substance, somewhere between ice and snow, that is, until it begins to get warm.  Then the hard pack develops a layer of ice on the surface, and becomes increasingly slick.  As break-up arrives the hard pack turns into slush, several inches thick or thicker dependent upon the amount of snow that winter and the amount of shoveling or plowing that did or did not get done.

If you were wondering, hard pack is most commonly considered BAD.  Especially during break up.

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In many places, spring is seen as the season of new beginnings.  New life, new season, new relationships.  Ah, the romance of spring.  Alaska is no different.  You may then, ask yourself, why a large part of an Alaskan spring is referred to as Break up.  Well, it has nothing to do with personal relationships- unless the garbage and transfer station treasures emerging from under the snow in your neighbor’s yard offend you.  Or the emerging garbage and transfer station treasures in your own yard offend your neighbor.  NO, break up in Alaska is all about the arrival of warmer weather and winters own agonizingly slow release on the landscape.

We like our break ups long, slow, and hard in Alaska.  Usually at least 4 weeks, longer if we can drag it out.  Break up begins with a few days, usually in late March (but seemingly a bit earlier each year), when the daytime temperatures rise above freezing and the snow begins to melt.  Also commonly announced by someones car going into the river on the Fairbanks ice-bridge.

By early to mid-April, the snow has begun to melt in full force and the ground may even begin to show on south facing slopes.  By the end of April, the snow is mostly gone and the ice on the rivers is going out.

We celebrate break up with a balance of utility and mindless exuberance associated with finally see the end of winter.  We welcome it with break up boots, t-shirts, muddy cars, mud puddle dances and drive byes in the afternoon and the cracking of ice every morning.  It is one of the most hopeful times of year, the promise of green-up and summer just around the corner.