As anyone who regularly practices winter sports will know, it is easy to become dehydrated in the mountains. And at some point or other, you may even have been tempted to eat a little handful of snow, to quench the thirst. However, it’s not the greatest idea…. But why??
Why is it inadvisable to consume fresh snow? After all, isn’t it simply solidified water? Well first of all, changing from a liquid to a solid state modifies certain chemical properties in water. And secondly, if ingested in high quantities, the short term impact of eating snow could be dangerous for your health.
When water transforms from liquid to solid, two significant elements are affected: the temperature and the mineral content. The temperature of snow could in fact lead to the body going into thermal shock, as the body rapidly loses heat. This could cause acute diarrhea, which is why you should always melt snow before drinking it.
The second factor to consider is the mineral content of the snow, as the mineral content of water is virtually non-existent when it is in the form of snow. Without minerals, snow is much less thirst-quenching than water. This could lead to over-consumption. And according to a study carried out by the WHO, consuming demineralised water can modify the body’s homeostasis. Homeostasis plays a major role in regulating our body temperature and blood flow. In summary, homeostasis maintains the body’s equilibrium, which could be disturbed by eating snow.
In addition to reports of mountaineers (such as climbers and alpinists) having experienced problems after having consumed snow, cases of brain oedema and metabolic acidosis in children who have consumed demineralised water have also been reported. In conclusion, although eating a few small snowflakes shouldn’t do too much harm, eating snow in larger quantities could be very dangerous for your health.