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Yellowknife

Yellowknife: home of the world’s best-looking snowflakes


Northerners. We’re no strangers to the flaky white stuff, from shovelling and snow castles to catching flakes on our tongues. But when did you last see a snowflake up close?

One man now claims to have taken the highest-resolution photographs of snowflakes ever seen – and he travelled, in part, to Yellowknife to do it. 

Nathan Myhrvold is a chef, scientist, author and photographer who was once Microsoft’s chief technology officer. Two years ago, he decided to use his talents to capture the unique beauty of snowflakes in detail.

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“Since I was a kid, I was fascinated by how cool snowflakes look,” he told Cabin Radio from Seattle.

“I wanted to do something that was higher-resolution and higher-quality than anything that’s been done before.”

Nathan Myhrvold is a chef, scientist, author and photographer. Photo: Modernist Cuisine Gallery

It wasn’t easy. 

Myhrvold said it took 18 months to build a camera capable of capturing a snowflake’s microscopic detail. He faced challenges like the effects of extreme cold on equipment and how to keep sharp focus with a very short depth of field. 

For each snowflake, Myhrvold took 100 frames in quick succession then stacked them for the whole image to be in focus. The final photographs each combine one gigapixel of data.

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“Nobody who’s ever published a snowflake picture has ever used anything like that – and for lots of good technical reasons, it’s very difficult – but I found a way to do it,” Myhrvold said.

“There’s no snowflake photography that I’m aware of that goes anywhere near that close.”

In December, Forbes declared Myhrvold had taken the highest-resolution photo of a snowflake ever achieved.

The “Ice Queen” in Yellowknife. Nathan Myhrvold/Modernist Cuisine Gallery

His journey to do so involved pre-pandemic travel to Fairbanks, Alaska, Timmins in Ontario, and Yellowknife.

He said those locations were ideal as they have plenty of snow and the temperature stays below -15C throughout the day in winter. Another key factor: finding a hotel room with a balcony. 

“People think you’re very strange when you ask, in the middle of winter, to have a balcony. Who the hell wants to go out on a balcony when it’s -15C?” Myhrvold said.

A balcony allowed him to take photographs outside, so the snowflakes didn’t melt, while still being able to run power cables into his hotel room. 

Myhrvold, who has authored several cookbooks and calls himself a “huge foodie,” said Yellowknife had the best food of the three locations. His favourite spot? Bullocks Bistro. 

Snowflakes in Fairbanks, Alaska. Nathan Myhrvold/Modernist Cuisine Gallery

“There was this guy that gave us a ride from the airport. He told us about Bullocks Bistro and he said that the fish and chips was the best in Canada,” Myhrvold said. 

“I think Bullocks has the best fish and chips on Earth. And it isn’t even close.”

Myhrvold said once travel is allowed again, he’d like to come back to Yellowknife to capture more unique snowflakes with his camera.

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