Set on an icy world where weather forecast is alway blizzard everywhere, I am wondering how do modern day people commute if everywhere are buried under several miles of snow? What kind of transportation could easily navigate these snow en masse and how do they avoid collision and sinking on a busy traffic?

The first safest and fastest mean of transport to cross the English Channel without breaking the bank shall be bestowed the prestigious title of Titanic. (PAX the more the merrier)

  • $\begingroup$ Heh heh. Really big slingshots! :^) $\endgroup$
    – puppetsock
    Nov 26, 2019 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ "Everywhere are buried under several miles of snow" - Does that include your cities as well? Because that kinda answers the question. $\endgroup$ Nov 26, 2019 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ There's a relatively recent strategy game called Frostpunk which might be worth looking at for inspiration. Though, in that world, it's too cold to think about much transportation beyond going out into the icy wastes and looking for survivors. $\endgroup$
    – Aaron F
    Nov 26, 2019 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ One thing that might make a difference is the temperature. Somewhere around 10F (IIRC) packed snow becomes a lot less slippery. $\endgroup$
    – JimmyJames
    Nov 26, 2019 at 22:23

5 Answers 5


For heavy traffic as well as everyday commuting, the most practical infrastructure seems to be tunnels under the snow-layer.

This is an obvious solution because, since there is 24/7 blizzard as you say, common transportation across the surface will be difficult and, in some cases like planes for example, extremely dangerous (due to the almost non-existent visibility as well as the difficulty of flying let alone landing in strong winds).

So if you have "normal" vehicles in mind (cars, trucks, etc.), tunnels are an obvious and by modern standards pretty easy solution. For mass transportation of passengers, underground trains could be constructed between settlements. Tunnels also present the advantage of having good isolation and thus being easily heated.

In the cases where operating on the surface is absolutely necessary, you would need specialized vehicles like enclosed snow trucks that protect their passengers from the cold. If absolutely necessary, individual movement on foot could be facilitated by using skis or snowshoes, although staying for any significant periods of time in blizzard-like conditions is usually strongly discouraged.

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    $\begingroup$ Pretty much. Look at how the professionals (Siberians) do it: youtu.be/OAsSYwrRJuQ $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Nov 26, 2019 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ Very first thing I thought of. In most parts of downtown Montreal, for instance, you can travel several city blocks through tunnels and underground shopping centres without having to go up to the street level -- handy in winter. $\endgroup$ Nov 26, 2019 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ The answer is more boring than I'd have thought. $\endgroup$
    – BruceWayne
    Nov 26, 2019 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ @BruceWayne mass transit is almost always boring. $\endgroup$ Nov 26, 2019 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ (for the record I was making a pun :P ) $\endgroup$
    – BruceWayne
    Nov 27, 2019 at 5:33

There are currently many cities located in alpine regions or in snowy areas. Although your scenario involves a city 'on the snow', rather than on land with snow on top, there are roads that need to connect these current-day cities together over snow.

So the options are:

  • Winter road: A road made of compacted snow. Once made it requires maintenance and has a limited lifespan, however it is conceivable that all roads in your city can be made by compacting the snow.

  • Snow road: A road which uses compaction and a degree of water (which creates ice) to enable roads that can bear higher weight traffic.

  • Ice road: A road made by melting the snow into ice to create a thick sheet of ice. This has obvious advantages in heavy-haul traffic, however vehicles need to be adapted to the road and are slow moving, often no greater than 25km/h.

For your buildings not to sink in the snow they need to be elevated to prevent heating from the building reaching the snow below and melting it. Permanent Antarctic Research Stations use insulated structures on a substructure of poles resting on wide concrete pad footings in the snow to prevent sinking.

It goes without saying that constant maintenance is required to ensure all structures and roads are sound - this would consume a fair portion of the maintenance of your city.

  • $\begingroup$ yep - Depending on the surface "layers" - either tunnels like already proposed - Or ice-roads like we use on earth in the tundra-regions during winter time. $\endgroup$
    – eagle275
    Nov 26, 2019 at 16:12

Looking at our world,




Tracked crawlers

Subways or simply trains in snowsheds, and for short distances enclosed passages to simply walk through


You mention "buried under several miles of snow" - that's going to be quite packed. If the people are generally below it, they will tunnel. If above, they will traverse the surface, and develop various schemes for bridging crevasses


Good question but it starts at an inconvenient point.

I would suggest this sort of process:

  1. Assume an icy world.
  2. Assume humans are living there.


  1. Figure out what they're eating and how they're making agriculture work.
  2. Determine if that permits the formation of cities as we know them.
  3. Figure out how the farms can transport sufficient food into the cities.


  1. Figure out how people move around within cities.

Personally I think #6 is probably not going to be the most interesting worldbuilding question to answer about this place, but that's just me.

  • $\begingroup$ Would have to agree the food issue is probably key to survivability (at least assuming the kind of oil deposits below not unheard of in frozen areas of our own planet). But, the transit stuff may get a disproportionate emphasis in storytelling simply because it's more fun to cover. $\endgroup$ Nov 26, 2019 at 16:30

Well, there are places on Earth in which it's snow-covered winter for the majority of the year. Surface transportation still operates.

One trick to transport is that snow (and ice) has a very low coefficient of friction, so sliding is the most practical mode, rather than wheels. Pedestrian transportation is usually skis (sliding on snow) or skates (sliding on ice), the commonality being sliding in the forward direction and not backwards to to the side. Skis distribute weight over snow (as do the less-efficient snowshoes) but skates are better where that's not a concern.

Vehicular traffic usually consists of skis or skates and some sort of gripping propulsion. A sleigh consists of skate-like runners pulled by a draft animal like a horse or dog. Snowmobiles are skis propelled by a gripping belt.

In cities near where I live it's not unusual to drive the same cars and trucks that are used elsewhere, but the tires are specially adapted to snow or ice by using different rubber formulations for better friction at low temperatures, different geometries (thinner tires are better in the snow, for example), and sometimes metal spikes or chains to improve traction on the reduced-friction surfaces.

The other consideration, other than lower friction, is usually visibility. Winters are dark most of the day, and even in the light a blizzard is hard to see in. The driving snow can stare your eyes and lead you off the (invisible) road and completely disorient you. We have specialized headlights on vehicles that are lower than regular headlights (they pick up the relief better) but you can still get quickly disoriented and it's amazing how quickly tracks disappear in a blizzard, and how easy it is to get lost when you can't see more than 1 meter in front of your face. If you're looking at surface transportation in constant blizzard conditions, I think the only practical solution is some sort of rail with heating or constant clearing operations.


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