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The Snow Exchange
Nathan Davies


It was only after I had reached the top of the mountain and looked down it with my Dad that I realised just how sorry it looked. Where there should have been crisp slopes of densely packed powder, there was a thinly disguised hill side, all too often showing large expanses of damp grass. When there should have been thick frozen flakes of snow falling, there was a form of freezing rain that helped to turn the slush beneath my skis to inch thick armour plate. It was not how I had envisioned spending my Christmas; having travelled all the way across the Atlantic, from the South West of England to the western edge of Massachusetts in the American Northeast, I was expecting it to be a little more, well, white.

Normally you can count on there being snow in New England between the months of November and March. There is even a scientific, meterological reason for why they should have it. The Great Lakes effect, as it is known, is the result of the cold, dry air moving south out of Canada colliding with the warmer, wetter air rising up out of the Wisconsin/Michigan area and freezing it. The prevailing winds usually carry the newly formed snow clouds directly east over New York and the rest of the Northeastern states, however, it was not the case this year. The wind pushed the cold weather off too far to both the north and south, leaving those of us who have come to expect the Berkshire mountains to be covered in snow feeling warm, wet and more than a little foolish.

When we had visited before it had always been in January, with perfect weather from the moment we arrived; heavy snow falls, powerful gusts of wind and such a chill in the air that would take your breath away, literally. It was these very qualitites that lured the family west for Christmas instead this year. "Since when does it ever snow in England?" We thought. I should have known there and then that we would be disappointed.

On Christmas day in Great Barrington (Mass.), much to our dismay, it was actually warm and bright, with only the occasional shower. If it wasn't for the distinctly colonial style of the buildings, the accents of the people (some of whom actually worked regular office hours Christmas day!) , and the general feeling of awkwardness that comes with being in another country at a time of celebration, I could have imagined myself at home. It really didn't feel like Christmas at all. There were very few decorations hung around our apartment, the tree was plastic and only two feet tall; there was no Christmas message from the Queen and the turkey was plugged with a strange button that popped up to tell us when it was done. Worse, for us at least, there was no snow to make snowmen, or snow balls, or to put down your sisters neck. This, however, did not stop us from skiing.

In a truly American attempt to defy the elemests themselves, the ski resorts deployed their divisions of "snow-blowers"; giant fan-like contraptions that sprayed the slopes and skiers alike with an icey cold, wet, white mess. Not as good as the real thing but, when not caught in its artificial blizzard, enough to remind us what we went for and to even believe we had at least fared better than our friends back home. But the joke, it seems, was on us. While we had been away, spending Christmas in a country so full of different religions that it only embraced the spirit of the holiday for two days, the snow that had passed us by had blown itself across to England. In our absence there had been snowmen, snowball fights, even skiing in Scotland and we had missed it all.

As I looked out on the icy puddles that lined the road home, the only reminder that the snow had been, I realised that if we had only kept Christmas at home, as is our tradtion, the snow would have come to us.


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