The sun has risen in a crystal sky, not a cloud in sight, and it’s minus 6C outside my back door. The frost stretches across the frozen field and hangs in the air just above it. You can almost see the cold from the cosy warmth of the cottage.
By this afternoon, the clear blue sky will have filled with snow clouds as biting temperatures arrive from the east. From Russia, with gloves. The Met Office has splodged an orange warning across much of Englandshire. The snow seems to be a known known. Up to 10cm of snow will fall, and here in the village, on the top of a run of hills, we can confidently expect more.
Equally predictable is the disproportionate chaos that a few centimetres of snow will bring. Railways will grind to a halt, buses may remain in what I love to think of as their despots. Frozen, stranded travellers will huddle under their hats and tut about how the Swiss would still have things running.
But for all that, I love snow. I know it brings chaos and even catastrophe to some, but to me it’s always something magical and beautiful. I love watching it falling silently at midnight in the orange glow of the streetlights, as a child would.
I love it for another reason too: I can clamber into the freezing loft and retrieve the cross-country skis. It seems that every winter enough snow falls for at least one expedition. I can ski from right outside my front door, glide up the high street, complete a three-mile circuit round the country lanes, and end up right back at the front door.
Cross-country skiing is such a glorious pursuit that I am genuinely puzzled it’s not more popular. Thousands head for the slopes of the Alps and elsewhere to plunge down crowded slopes, queue for lifts and risk being taken out by complete strangers. I tried it once and loved it apart from the constant feeling that I was about to die. This was not helped when an out-of-control novice skied into a group of us, standing at the bottom of the slope, causing heads to clash together like skittles and the woman next to me to fall down unconscious.
Cross-country skiing, on the other hand, is relatively unlikely to cause severe injury. I had the privilege of learning in Norway, where tracks are carved into the snow through miles of undulating countryside outside the capital, Oslo. You take the tram to the outskirts of the city, strap long thin skis onto boots you can actually walk in, and off you go, cross frozen lakes, hillsides and through snow-covered trees. Out in the middle of nowhere you ski up to a cafe and enjoy a hot chocolate. It’s exhausting but exhilarating.
Since then Richmond Park, Aviemore, the South Downs and the village high street have provided fine alternative venues. You need only an inch of snow and the gear. If you love walking, it’s hard to believe you wouldn’t love cross-country skiing. The solitude can be glorious. I can remember skiing to within 30 yards of the deer in Richmond Park and us all standing, looking at each other, weighing each other up. And skiing to the sound of the skylarks on Ditchling Beacon (as mentioned last week) will take some beating.
Yes it’s hard work, and you need the basic techniques: gliding forwards, pretty much like ice-skating; herring-boning, with the skis pointing outwards at the toes, to go uphill; diagonal skating (highly likely to end in disaster), to pick up speed on good ground; and snowploughing to go downhill – extremely difficult to achieve in cross-country as only your toes are fixed and your heels are free-floating.
So I’ll welcome the Siberian snow, and the chaos it brings. It’ll remind me that we’re not masters of our universe, and it’ll give me the chance to strap on the skis again.