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.