Where I live in Austria it snows in winter. Not just up in the distant mountains, but down on the ground, out in the streets, and along the Autobahn. The first few times it snowed I was in a winter wonderland of magical happiness. I skipped around the streets in my new boots, marvelled at the silence the blanket of snow created and drank hot tea while staring out onto pretty white fields.
And then it snowed again… and again. And then it melted… well, half melted. And that’s when I found out that sometimes snow is a big pain in the ass.
Winter tyres are great, but they don’t solve everything
Cars here are specially fitted with winter tyres from October to April, and driving on snow is a widely accepted and safe practice. But in the beginning it completely freaked me out. When I’m practically having to ice skate across the car park to get to my car, how on earth will I drive? Well, turns out the tyres have more traction than my shoes! Thank goodness.
The thing I eventually realised about driving in the snow, is that apart from certain situations that can get quite dicey, most of the time it’s more of an annoyance than anything. It’s like the first rain after a drought. Everyone is being super cautious (and so they should be), so you have to allow twice as much time to get anywhere. And if you get stuck behind the snow plough (but thank goodness he’s out there cleaning the streets), then you might as well just kick back and turn up the tunes cause you’re not going anywhere fast.
Wait – where can I park?
Once you get used to snow in Austria, as long as you skip that part when it’s really dumping down, life goes back to normal pretty quick. Oh, except there’s nowhere to park. Because the snow ploughs (thank goodness) clear the streets and dump all the snow on the sides. And a lot of the time, even if the bad weather’s over, that build up of snow in Austrian winter temperatures takes a very long time to melt away.
Why are my feet wet again?
Crisp, new, dry snow is a joy to walk on and makes a pleasant soft crunching noise (you know it). But unless the conditions stay perfect days in a row (and by perfect I mean damn cold), then the snow starts melting, and turns to slush. You step into what you think is a hard patch of snow and sink ankle-deep in water. If you’re lucky and you’re out and about when it starts raining just above zero degrees, then you get to experience slush-rain. Whereas snow cascades lightly off your jacket and beanie, slush-rain melts instantly into huge globs of wet. And during this time the streets are covered in water, or a dirty mix of slush-water. So every time you go out, not only do you have to avoid stepping in puddles, you also have to avoid passing cars spraying cold grotty slush at you. You learn pretty quick – buy waterproof shoes, carry an umbrella if things look dicey, and give vehicles a wide berth.
The brutal reality of ice
Sometimes snow only half turns to slush due to slightly warmer daytime temperatures. And then, that half-melted layer coating the street that caused no problems yesterday, becomes a solid sheet of ice during the freezing night. The next morning, you better remember to walk carefully or you’ll go A over T… and believe me, it’s no fun.
Even if you avoid it all, there’s still shovelling to be done
You can stay indoors and hide away from the snow. But if you own a property, you have to shovel your driveway. I was always confused. Why bother? Why not just wait for it to melt of its own accord? Well, firstly for all the reasons above, and secondly, if you drive on it, the heat (or something) packs it down harder, and basically it turns to ice and gets stuck there way longer than normal. So yeah, pick up the shovel, you won’t be sorry.
These days I enjoy the fat flakes of snow as they cascade from the sky. I wake to the sound of the snow plough in the streets and the over-eager residents shovelling in the pre-dawn. I take the chance to put on my snow boots and crunch through the fresh stuff, and exercise indoors when it hits that ugly ice/slush phase. I don’t have to love the snow, but it does make it all the nicer when the sun shines, the snow melts and you know that spring is on the way.