Block of the Week: Snow

There's no business like snow business

No feeling in the world beats waking up on a winter morning and opening the curtains to find out that it snowed overnight. The joy of seeing the world transformed, its colours hidden below a deep, fluffy layer of white, is incomparable to any other experience.

Snow is made of frozen water. You probably already know that. But you might not know that a single snowflake is made of about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 water molecules - each carefully arranged into a delicate crystal. An average snowman contains about 8,000,000,000 snowflakes, so that's a lot of water molecules - a whopping 80,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000! Don't believe us? Build a snowman, then, and count them. Go ahead. We'll wait.

In Minecraft, Snow was added on 13 July 2010 in Alpha 1.0.5. It generates naturally in rare ice plains spikes biomes. But if you're lucky, you might find an igloo made of snow in ice plains or cold taiga biomes, full of tasty loot. Creating snow is a lot easier - find any cold biome, wait for it to snow, then either collect the snowballs and combine them in a crafting grid into a snow block, or make a silk-touch shovel and go to town.

Unlike the thin layer of snow that coats normal blocks when it snows in Minecraft, snow blocks won't melt when you put bright objects next to them, and they won't be destroyed by water - making them a pretty great building material. Their only drawback is that they have almost no blast resistance, so if you're expecting a visit from a creeper (something that can never be ruled out) then be aware that you may need to do some reconstruction.

One of the most useful things you can do with snow in Minecraft is build a snow golem. Stack two snow blocks, then a pumpkin on top, and you'll spawn a snow golem that'll help defend your base against hostile mobs. They throw snowballs at anything nasty up to ten blocks away, but be aware that they'll melt away fast in warmer biomes unless you keep them frequently topped up with splash potions of fire resistance.

In the real world, people build with snow too. The Inuit peoples of Arctic Canada and north-western Greenland use compacted bricks of snow to build both temporary and semi-permanent shelters that can be as large as five rooms, housing up to 20 people. You might think that a house made of snow would be a cold place to live, but air trapped inside snow actually makes it a very good heat insulator. When temperatures drop to -45C outside, human body heat alone can keep an igloo above 0C inside.

The biggest snow-related problem in many parts of the world is how to get rid of it - because it quickly gums up transport networks. Some cities burn it. Some truck it away. Some dump it at sea. Some even keep it for cooling purposes in the summer. But my favourite approach is to build a massive castle out of it for tourists, like the city of Kemi in Finland does. Their snow chateau has an art gallery, restaurant, hotel and chapel inside where you can get married. It's an inspiration to blocky builders all over the world.