Promises from the BBC weather had been running high. A dump of snow was set to grip England and Wales in ‘Arctic Conditions’. Blizzards were promised. Super market shelves were emptying fast. Fit and healthy people freaked out at the prospect of not being able to make the 1/2 mile drive to the local Tesco Express to purchase emergency rations. in the warm comfort of their car. Fantastic!!!
Powder days in England are rare. From time to time they come along, but natural selection and time has ground down the Pennines and even the peaks of Snowdonia to the point were consistent snow in the winter is confined to history. Add to that global warming and its no wonder why the majority of UK skiers, -even dedicated snowheads, head to the Alps and further afield for their turns. Indeed in two weeks time I’ll be heading out for off-piste adventures in the Swiss Alps myself. However this weekend was going to be different. According to BBC promises this was going to be a rare chance to grab turns on home soil. No flights, no queues for airline security, baggage handling, lift passes or lift lines, no energy sapping high altitude accommodation needed.
Six o’clock Saturday morning and with snow reported in Wales and roads passable we headed out 80 miles west from Manchester to the mountains of Snowdonia. Hopefully there would be enough fresh to get turns in on the Caernaddaeu range. 90 minutes later (Alps bound travellers still not at the boarding gate) it was not looking good. We headed further SW into the Welsh hills in search of snow deep enough to ski in. But when we got there the Berwyns were living up to their name. Bare! High winds had stripped the peaks of the snow that had fallen. However, having invested an early start and with cloud covering the peaks we attached skis and boards to our packs in the hopes of finding pockets of snow higher up.
Walking from the car park in Llandrillo, locals walking back from the village store greeted us with friendly smiles and hellos. Half a mile along the trail prospects started looking a little more promising. 15cm of snow had been blown into 1.5 m drifts and tree protected areas held patches of skiable snow. 1,000 ft higher and things were not looking so good. The expansive upper slopes of the Berwyns were white, but had been stripped of any skiable depth of snow. Another 500ft higher it was game over. Sweeping views failed to reveal any powder pockets within a 10 mile radius. After consuming sandwiches and flasks of coffee sheltering from a biting easterly wind it was time to call it quits and head for home.
A cheapskates approach? Unnecessary slog uphill when better turns could have ben had at the local indoor snowdome? A waste of time? In some people’s eyes maybe, but back home and surrounded by home comforts that evening, reflecting on a day in the mountains I’m happy with my lot. To me a day in the mountains is always worth the effort. We’ve enjoyed the anticipation and excitement of waiting for the working week to finish, packing gear and exchanging business suits for sallopetts and gortex. We’ve been to new places, encountered new panoramas and engaged in the local village culture where English is still for some a second language. First turns of the year are in the bag -despite poor conditions it was just about possible to ski the path and most of the road right back down to the village.
We saw bison foraging in snow covered fields and passed locals shooting pheasants with shotguns and talking with a very different accents and using unfamiliar phrases. Past trips to Jackson Hole echoed in my mind.
The BBC may be bad at forecasting winter weather and great at over sensationalising the impact that 10cm of snow, but Wales or Wyoming? I’m just fine….As long as I’m clicking into my bindings and enjoying downtime with friends, I’m just fine.