And now for the weather… (Public Service Post)
Hello Britain. I’m having a bit of a day off from trying to make the world a better place, as my brain isn’t handling it too well and a little preservation now will go a long way down the line. This is an excellent moment to write the blog I’ve wanted to write all week, but haven’t stopped long enough to type out. Hopefully this means I’ve had time to work out better advice for you all.
Last year, I had the pleasure of experiencing life in Canada for 3 weeks last February, and having plenty of other information at my disposal, I’ve decided to write some thoughts and advice for the general public in dealing with these increasingly harsh winters (OK, so we get this straight, I’m saying this is the third in a series, and that there’s not specific reason it will continue worsening – it could or this could be the worst of the cycle). Lets start with something basic:
I have seen plenty of evidence that British people (especially those in York) are wearing the wrong things on their feet. This isn’t because I’ve been staring at feet, its because the surface of the snow shows the effects. Seriously, carry your work shoes in a bag, and put something more suitable on.
But this isn’t my main gripe. Its the people who think Wellies are the correct footgear for snow. They’re not. You need footwear that does 3 things – keeps your feet warm, gives you grip and supports your ankles. Wellies do none of these things.
A female friend last night informed me that a pair of smartish toe-protector boots costs £30 and does the trick. My walking boots are more expensive (and I got them cheap because a company was going bust). Whatever your solution, Wellies should remain dedicated to mud, not snow!
Thermal base layers. Don’t call them “Long Underwear” or everyone will cringe. Base Layers are amazing things. They allow you to wear smart clothes whilst standing in –10. I did it last night whilst watching the river freeze. You can get two “grades” in M&S – in Britain you won’t be needing the more extreme set. When at home, take off your regular trousers and wear your base layer – its like sitting around in PJ’s.
First, things will take longer. Stop pretending they won’t. Stop expecting the council to make the road in winter look like it did in summer. And start looking at which paths and roads have the best surface. Not the blackest, the best.
Packed down snow with a small amount of powdery snow on top is the ideal, especially for bikes. I’ve taken to using the sledge trails instead of the paths along the river, as the paths are the aforementioned gritty sandy stuff, and the packed down sledge trails are bliss. I haven’t fallen off yet.
Learn to walk on snow. For crying out loud, teach your kids to have confidence on snow and stop telling them to be scared of it. Remember, a fall on snow is going to be safer than a fall on tarmac. Don’t walk on tarmac if its cold enough for black-ice. The snow will be better – especially if its starting to become more powdery like last night.
Yes, you can cycle in snow. And the big secret? You’ll be a better cyclist in summer as well. Its technically difficult, and you have to go slow, but its not that hard. I used to think you needed a mountain bike, but anything other than racing wheels will do. Just practice, don’t fret, don’t let yourself be hurried or you’ll have an accident. Just remember – you direct the front wheel, the back will follow. If you slide around a bit, who cares, as long as you stay upright. I haven’t fallen yet, but I’ve had a few swerves that would make nice YouTube clips.
Lets start with the big myth – Winter Tyres and Chains/Spikes. The former are advisable, the latter are illegal. You can get winter tyres in Britain, though more likely further north. If you’re in Scotland you’re reading this – go get a set now. If you’re in England, please consider them. Expensive, yes. The normal ones take up space, yes. But then in March you can go get them swapped, and next December, you can swap them again (or November if we’re lucky).
Chains, on the other hand, damage surfaces; spikes are unthinkable. The reason you know about them is because they appear in movies, and movies aren’t normally set in cities experiencing cold conditions – they’re likely to be set in extremes.
More Exciting Gear
If you’re going on hills, get mini-crampons. You can get some that will just go over a pair of walking boots. If you’re going for long walks across open snow, get snow shoes – they’re meant to be a fun activity!
If you’re going to think about more exotic kit, don’t just look at travel brochures and try using stuff designed for steep alpine climbs with solid bindings on skis. Look at the terrain around you – Britain is quite flat, really. You need skis that you can propel yourself forwards on without having to get a lift up a mountain. This is why I’m buying Nordic skiing kit, not Alpine.
The main thing here is that the skis ‘camber’ – the middle is raised off the snow. Get waxless skis – wax is too much faff for too little gain unless you’re racing. Get track skis – both cheaper and narrower. Remember these skis don’t have edges, though, as they’re for going places, not messing around showing off fancy turns.
I would be getting all my kit from Braemar Mountain Sports, but they’ve sold out on basic boots and bindings, so I’m getting those from XC-Elite Sports on the continent. If they arrive before this snow leaves, it’ll be a minor miracle, though we’re pretty likely to get more later in the season.
York lies at 53 degrees North. This is higher than any major habitation in North America, and Edinburgh is north of Moscow. This kind of weather is normal, but for the currents that keep us warm in winter. This isn’t even the same scale of event as the mini ice age 150 years ago. This may be the worst winter we’ll ever get, but it won’t be the last hard winter we see in Britain. Try and enjoy it!