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Can you really ski in the Peak District?
The title is a quote from a club member on the One-List last winter in response to a posting I’d made about local snow conditions. As I got out on skis more than a dozen times locally last year I think the answer is probably “yes”. The aim of this article is to share some thoughts and maybe stimulate some debate on how to get the best out of Peak District skiing. It’s very much a personal view and other people may have quite different ideas (in which case perhaps they could share them in future articles).
At the risk of stating the obvious, you don’t get a lot of snow in the Peaks. You get a lot more than many areas of the UK and more than many parts of Scotland, but you don’t get the kind of accumulation of snow that they get in more established ski areas in Scotland and abroad. If there is a fall, it often melts before there have been further falls and so normally doesn’t consolidate (form a compact base where the snow has freeze-thawed but then been topped up with further layers). This means that you will normally be skiing in areas where your skis will run directly over whatever is under the snow whether it’s stones, tufts of grass or heather. If you are using metal edged skis they are likely to be damaged and smooth turns are going to be tricky as your skis bump over rocks and molehills! So personally my focus for local skiing is stuff you can do with wax-less, edgeless, track-type skis. Any damage due to rocks will not be as serious as damaging or pulling off a metal edge and future performance will not be seriously affected by the odd scratch. In fact, I once had a pair of skis that wore down to the wood but still worked remarkably well (until they finally broke in two!). Clearly you don’t want to use expensive skis for this sort of skiing. A second hand pair of skis with a slightly worn base would be perfectly adequate, if not ideal: my current ones cost £5 second-hand from a well known local purveyor of second hand ski gear who used to edit this newsletter.
How much snow do you need?
Not much if you using old, wax less, non-metal edged track style skis. If there are no stones it doesn’t matter if your skis occasionally touch the grass underneath the snow. Grass gives a much better surface with less snow cover than heather does. Smooth, stone-free areas with short grass are ideal as they need only a small amount of snow to become skiable. Obvious places are golf courses and parks. Areas grazed by sheep are also often ideal. You probably could ski on a heavy frost if the grass was short enough and the ground was smooth (but I’ll strongly deny any suggestions that I’ve ever done it!).
Where’s the best snow?
Snowfall is often quite variable, one field may be covered in a deep blanket of snow while the field next door is almost bare. What factors affect the snow cover? The wind direction is a big factor. Snow tends to be blown off the windward slopes and accumulate on the leeward side. For similar reasons slight dips often accumulate more snow under windy conditions. Paths in slight depressions can offer better snow under ski than the surrounding land. Temperature is also key. If it’s too warm the snow may land but then melt straight away, so the hills are more likely to have better snow cover than the surrounding low land. Temperature typically drops by about 1°C per 100m of altitude gained, so you don’t need to go too high into the hills to turn sleet into good quality snow. Having a thermometer outside you house can be an invaluable guide to when to pack the skis in the car and head for the hills. Just in case you get it wrong why not take a pair of walking boots or running shoes so you can get some exercise in even if there’s no snow?
What removes snow?
Snow cover has 3 main enemies: warm temperatures, sun and rain. Clearly if it warms up, the snow will melt. Sun will exacerbate this, so north facing slopes often hold snow for longer than south facing ones. Warm rain is also a snow killer. Tree cover can offer protection from sun and rain to some extent so forest tracks or similar can offer prolonged skiing opportunities. The harder packed the snow, the more resistant to a thaw. One year I skied almost every day for a week on the Sett Valley Trail in New Mills due to the snow having been compacted by walkers and the tree cover giving protection from the sun.
When and where to go?
Early morning is often the best time. The temperature will still be low so the snow is likely to be well frozen. Given the UK climate good snow cover in the morning may have all melted by the afternoon. Why not set your alarm clock earlier so you have time to ski before work? The hills are generally likely to have better cover than the surrounding lower areas. Certain features favour snow accumulation and preservation such as north facing slopes and slight depressions as discussed earlier. There’s no substitute for just getting out and trying places that might be good for skiing near to where you live. With experience you’ll work out the best places to go. A few of my favourite local places are listed below (there’s more information in the club handbook).
Cat & Fiddle road:
Of course if there’s snow in your local park you might as well ski there rather than heading for the hills!
Safety is an important consideration. For example you’ll have more flexibility in when you can go if you ski alone, but you need to be sure you can get out of any trouble that you run into. Being confident driving in the hills under snowing conditions is important. Your individual circumstances will dictate what opportunities you have to get out. Having to drive over high roads on you way to work can be an advantage as is having good après ski facilities at work such as a shower and a restaurant serving breakfast! If you think it might snow why not just put the skis in the car just in case? There’s nothing worse than being snowed in somewhere without your skis!
author: Richard Luke
This article is copyright of the Author and Manchester Cross-Country Ski Club.
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