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Your snow stories

We asked for your anecdotes concerning the cold stuff and you responded with dramatic escapades, joyful encounters and stories about work and play.

In our recent festive alumni email, we revealed how an Edinburgh student, researcher and alumnus each felt about snow and how it has affected an aspect of their lives. We asked for your contributions and are delighted to share a selection below. 

Thank you again to everyone who submitted a snow story. Season's greetings.

Didn't get our snow stories email? View it here. 

A happy encounter

Dr Peter McCormick was President of Save the Children's Kettering group for ten years. Here he recalls an encounter during a solo journey across the Finnmark plateau that raised £3,000 for the charity.

Dr Peter McCormick, 1963 MBChB

It was, as usual, a day of seemingly endless walking, across huge, frozen lakes in a world of white. This particular day though, I spotted something coming toward me from far ahead. As the distance between us narrowed I saw that it was a man on a sled being hauled by a team of dogs. He came to a noiseless stop and we greeted each other, and chatted about what we were both doing here. He spoke good English, as did all Norwegians I met. He learned that I had originally come from Manchester, and at the name “Manchester” became quite agitated.

“Ah – a Manchester man! I support Manchester United! Very good team!...”

And so it was, that miles from anywhere, in the middle of icebound Norwegian Lapland, with nought but snow as far as the eye could see, two strangers were discussing the fortunes of Man United. Quaint, surreal, and rather moving. 

Snow office 

Snow is no small matter for JJ Bate, who has spent the last 12 years chasing it around the globe while working as a ski instructor and instructor trainer.

Alumna JJ Bate in ski gear (left) and on top of a snowy peak (right).
Photo credits (left to right): JJ Bate, February 2018 at Silver Star in British Columbia; Eric Stevens, August 2016 at The Remarkables in New Zealand.

JJ Bate, 2009 BMedSci

When I began studying for an intercalated degree, I had already spent several years studying Medicine and several seasons teaching skiing. After I graduated it was time to pick a path, and the mountains won! During seventeen seasons (and counting) working as a ski instructor and instructor trainer, I have lived on four continents and gained permanent residence in two countries. Having literally chased snow around the globe for twelve years, I currently base myself in Whistler, British Columbia during the Northern hemisphere winter and the South Island of New Zealand during the Southern hemisphere winter.

Snow is a fascinatingly diverse medium. From the silent dispersion of near weightless powder to the dense resistance of slush, the grainy swoosh of sugar to the rasping scratch of ice, the creak of groomed snow on a cold morning to the buttery splat of fresh snow that turned to rain in the afternoon, it is tactile, ever changing and endlessly magical. Gliding over it pulls you into the present moment: speed, gravity, space, the physicality of skiing and the dance of self-expression. All this, in landscapes as diverse and beautiful as the snow that blankets them.

When it’s winter in the mountains, it is snow that unites and delights us. The best part of my job is helping people discover an activity that grants them physical and emotional freedom. Whether I’m working with a guest stepping onto snow for the first time or training a seasoned pro during their hundredth day on skis that winter, studying Sports Science Medicine furnished me with knowledge that helps me minimise risk and maximise progress.

Many people enter my industry to ski. It is those who feel drawn to teach, learn and advocate that stick around. Snow is our office, our livelihood, our playground and our home. I love snow and I love helping people enjoy it. I feel profoundly fortunate to live and work amongst such splendour.

Many forms

Social work graduate Dorothy Melville admits that while she loves snow, its many forms - powdery, soft, loose, hard - can be tricky to manage. Here she recounts a snowy outing in December 1995.

Dorothy Melville, 1992 MSW

Beinn a' Chroin saw us slogging our way up steep, snow-filled gullies, where cramponing was impossible. We struggled in knee-deep powder snow, our shadows casting blue tinged smudges on the pristine surface. Closer to the summit we were relieved to be able to crampon our way, crossing the rocks and verglas to the top.  We sat for a moment and took in the view; there’s nothing nicer than a line of white snowy peaks as far as the eye can see.

In winter the days are short, and for climbers this is always a challenge. We packed up and began our descent; we had started late so there was some pressure on us to keep going. We negotiated the icy slopes and were pleased to be back on the soft yielding snow. We stopped to remove the crampons and to eat a piece of frozen chocolate when we saw the lone figure of another climber outlined in the failing light. The person waved and we waved back, but the waving continued. A quick look through the binoculars revealed a crag-fast climber needing a bit of help.

This person was stuck in a shallow frozen gully, and was frightened to move. We positioned ourselves below and to the side of the gully, we talked her down by guiding her foot placements to rock and hard snow until she reached safety beside us. As we made our way over, the hitherto comforting snow became frustratingly deep snow doing a very good job of slowing us down and for good measure was now beginning to fall in large loose flakes sparkling in what was left of the sunshine. Still a long way to go.

Happily, all three of us managed down that night, thanks to the moonlight which lit up the grasses on each side of the track making it look as if there were silent fixed fireworks lighting our way back to the car.

Careful now!

A "magical" ride on a snowmobile in 2006 left Paul Heinowski with a special souvenir.

Paul Heinowski, 1971 BSc

In 2006, my wife, Liz, and I went on a winter holiday to Finland. My wife's main aim was to see the reindeer, but the booking form stipulated that we had to book three activities. In order to see the reindeer, we had to book a snowmobile ride as well. I made sure that our insurance covered this, and I must have had some sort of premonition! On arrival at the resort, we were shown to a log cabin with built-in sauna. We had dinner in the hotel and made our way to the cabin and went to bed.

In the morning, we walked a couple of miles to the shop. It was a real winter wonderland, the tops of the trees bowed over under the weight of snow. I was glad we hadn't gone self-catering as the shop seemed to be stocked mainly with crispbread and tins of reindeer meat! The snowmobile ride began at 2pm, beginning with a rundown of things to remember when driving. One of these was if you topple over, don't stick your leg out. Off we went as part of a convoy, me driving and Liz on the pillion. It was magical, whizzing through the forest, humming Jingle Bells to myself.

Needless to say, we did topple over, and I did stick my leg out! Liz flew over my head and landed safely in a snowdrift. I had broken my leg very badly, and unfortunately it took two or three days to get it X-rayed and get me to hospital. It was badly swollen but they did their very best and managed to save it. I was 16 days in Oulu University Hospital before I managed to rejoin my wife. I still have all the ceramic bone grafts and metalwork in my leg, but I am very glad of it. But I won't ever be going back on a snowmobile!

Tractor to the rescue

Snow assumes an adversarial role in this half-century-old memory from Dr Paterson-Brown.

Dr P Paterson-Brown, 1955 MBChB

Many years ago; well in the bad winter of 1960 something, I was called out to a semi remote farm to see an ill baby. My car stuck in a snowdrift and I had to turn back. I phoned the mother and she said the wee one was better; I said if there was a change to phone me back. She did three hours later.

I ventured forth again but this time I had a spade and a partner with me. I got within about 500 yards of the cottage when I slid into a ditch. My partner walked on and attended to the baby. I knocked on the door of a nearby cottage and four Polish forestry workers came and lifted my two-door little Ford out of the ditch.

My partner and I returned home. An ambulance was called to take the baby and mum into the local hospital. The ambulance slid into the ditch exactly where I had earlier. This time a tractor was required. In the end everybody was able to return to their own home without further trouble and the baby completely recovered.

Fieldwork in 1963

The UK winter of 1962-63 was one of the coldest on record. This demanded extra perseverance from Professor David E Smith and fellow university members during their field trip to the Lake of Menteith area.

Professor David E Smith, 1965 PhD

I'll bet my snow story beats most in terms of age!

I graduated from Edinburgh with a PhD in Geography in 1965. My work was on sea level change, specifically in the Forth Valley. In 1963 my fieldwork took me to the area around Lake of Menteith, where I had to put down boreholes in the carselands. In the January of that year we had arguably the coldest spell of weather for many years, eclipsing the famous 1947 winter (in terms of temperature, not snowfall). My boreholes had to be made in virtual permafrost, involving hacking at the surface of the ground for a metre or so before any boring could be made. But I and fellow students plus staff (notably Dr Brian Sissons and Professor Chalmers Clapperton, both recently deceased, and Dr Roger Kirby and Dr Robin Cullingford) were able to complete the work successfully.

We later went on to contribute to knowledge of sea level change in Scotland, and also to the start of research into tsunamis in North West Europe, of which the Storegga Tsunami is now very well known and the subject of many research papers.

The winter of 1962-1963 in Scotland saw ice floes on the Forth and even in the Firth of Forth. Student life in Edinburgh at the time was quite cold, but we survived! Hope that this evokes memories in some and anticipation in others. It will be sad if global climate change makes the events of 1962-3 and 1947 something of memories reserved for those of some antiquity.