Keep your cool in the snow

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As the country lies under a blanket of snow for the second winter running, it’s about time we started getting to grips with extreme weather conditions. Róisín Inglelooks ways to beat the freeze

WOMEN TEETERING across ice-rink roads in high heels, teenagers in runners taking tumbles on paths and people who should know better using fish slices to de-ice the car – the cold hard truth is that as a nation we don’t do snow, at least not very well.

We may have to get used to the extreme conditions though – and fast. Some experts are warning that the recent weather is a sign we are in for a freezing winter and to make matters potentially worse (or better if you are a snow fan) earlier this week, English weather boffin Prof Mike Lockwood predicted more snow-filled winters could be on the cards due to a link between low solar activity and a phenomenon known as “jet stream blocking”.

Liam Keegan of the Climatology and Observations division of Met Éireann was cautious in his response this week, saying that while “it’s interesting, the jury is very much out on that kind of short-term prediction”.

However, even the faintest prospect of snowy winters may motivate us to embrace the elements Scandinavian-style.

Norwegian Susanne Schiager who is doing a masters in international relations at UCD has been bemused by this nation’s reaction to the early arrival of winter. She finds it odd that many people are not wearing appropriate clothing. “My boots, which are very practical in this weather, seem to be getting a lot of strange looks, and most people don’t seem to have proper winter shoes, jackets or even snow shovels – I saw one man shovelling snow with a wooden sign. I also don’t understand why you don’t have winter tyres on your cars. It’s scary watching all these cars driving around knowing they don’t have the proper tyres,” she says.

Admittedly our snowy episodes are sporadic but scenes of panic in outdoor shops across the country since the first flakes fell suggest we may need to be educated on the basics of extreme-weather survival.

“I think we have a mental block about extreme weather in this country,” says Ken Costigan, manager of the Great Outdoors on Chatham Street in Dublin which has run out of crampons and other winter essentials after a run on the shop last week. (Calm down, he has more of pretty much everything snow-related on order.) Costigan usually cycles to work but has been taking the Dart because of the snow and has been “amazed” by what passes for your average Dubliner’s winter wardrobe.

“I am standing on the platform snug and warm, my down jacket on, my winter boots keeping my feet cosy, hand warmers in my pockets and I see people stamping their feet and clapping their hands together to keep warm because they are dressed totally inappropriately,” he says. “I don’t think people realise what a range of gear there is out there. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to stay comfortable”.

He has noticed many women wearing Ugg boots. “They may look lovely and warm but only in your house. As soon as you get down the road in this weather you will go on your backside and they are not waterproof. You could spend half the amount of proper snow boots and you’d be much better off,” he says.

He and his family have a “winter box” that gets taken out as soon as temperatures drop. It’s something he recommends for everyone. “It just means that when the snow comes you have a stash of stuff, everything from sleds to snow boots, that will make it easier to stay safe and comfortable and enjoy the weather.”

Mother-of-four Anna Cannon, originally from Sweden but now living in snowy Co Wicklow, agrees. She set up her company, rainbusters.ie, because she felt Irish children got a raw deal when it came to winter clothes. “I see children walking around in this weather in jeans and bad shoes that mean they have soaking, freezing toes which is really dangerous,” she says. “I think there is a fear of the weather here whereas in Sweden we embrace it.” Cannon’s top tips include storing warm blankets, extra clothing, boots and gloves, water, a torch and a shovel in the car in case you are stuck.

Keeping a sack of grit (Woody’s are selling 10kg sacks for €6.99), a shovel and a sled by the door is also handy. Communities can create a Winter Plan along the lines of Neighbourhood Watch, with people taking turns to clear and grit paths especially for older neighbours. Cannon says snow shoes are a must – “leather boots aren’t waterproof and can get ruined by salted snow” – and layered clothing topped with waterproof trousers, jackets and gloves are essential. “I make sure the kids are wearing gear that allows them to have the most fun without getting wet,” she says. “They can literally roll around the snow,” she says.

Cannon’s snow-based family traditions back home in Sweden include an outdoor sauna. “After the sauna every single member of the family would roll around naked in the snow,” she says, admitting that it’s unlikely this particular snow custom will catch on with her neighbours in Avoca, Co Wicklow.

For some, rather than being a challenge the snowy weather is an opportunity for a rare kind of outdoor adventure. Róisín Finlay, editor of Irish magazine Outsider says as long as you have the right gear, everybody who is able should get out and explore.

“Since the cold weather last year, there are a lot more providers offering guided hikes and ice climbs around the country. It’s a wonderful opportunity to experience a familiar landscape in a brand new way,” she says.

She recommends winter walking or snow and ice climbing tours from companies such as Outdoors Ireland in Co Kerry, led by Nathan Kingerley. Encouraged by last winter’s icy weather, Kingerley began marketing his winter adventures in September. It paid off and he brought his first group up the Magillycuddy Reeks this week.

“Without wishing too much doom and gloom on the country or Dublin Airport, we are one of the few companies that hopes for weather conditions like these,” he says.

“The main appeal for people is being able to do proper snow and ice climbing which is something you usually have to go to Scotland for. You have crampons on your feet and an ice axe in your hand and it’s just a completely different environment in this weather. . . the frozen lakes and the ice on the cliffs are pretty wonderful and the snow just fills the mountain with a beautiful silence.”

Your essential winter kit

Children’s clothesKit out little people with keenly priced Scandinavian style thermal sets, waterproof dungarees, jackets, mittens and sturdy wellies from rainbusters.ie or the Rainbusters shop in Gorey Co Wexford. This dungaree and jacket Rough and Tumble set with high-visibility stripes costs €44.99. Fleece-lined wellies are €24.99

GlovesWaterproof and fleece-lined are best. These are from Dakine and cost €46.90

BootsChannel your inner yeti with these waterproof purple Olang snow boots €55, Great Outdoors.

SledgeTrays are all well and good, but you can’t beat the real thing. Say hello to the Weez 2 built by TSL Snowshoes and stocked by Great Outdoors €29.95.

Hand WarmersPop these little bags in your pockets and experience a cosy glow while you wait for the bus. €2.50

Snow shovelTo clear your (and your elderly neighbour’s) drive or path. This one costs €18.95 from Paddy’s Tool Store in Shannon, Co Clare or paddystoolstore.ie

CramponsElliminate ice slippage by attaching these to your boots. Snap them up if you see them. This was the very last pair from Great Outdoors. A thousand more are on order. €24.99

Down JacketFeathers are the only way to insulate yourself in this weather. This North Face Massif Jacket stocked by Great Outdoors and most adventure stores is a great all rounder. It costs €179 but you can find less pricey options such as the Primaloft for €110.

HatFurry, fashionable and toasty warm, choose a hat with ear flaps to keep out the big chill. This one is from the Barts range and cost €39.99

SocksThick and knee high. These are €13.99 and will do the job perfectly. Great Outdoors.

Thermal layersWhat lies beneath is as important as the gear on top. Thin, thermal layers ensure you stay warm. These are €35.

Window scraperNo fish slices, just invest in a few of these for efficient ice clearing. From €1.59 from Paddy’s Tool Store

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