Populations who live in parts of the world where winter is an extended, freezing affair, often have conflicted emotions about it. Some want nothing more than to escape the cold. They get themselves through the short, dark, chilly days by imagining (or, as we recommend, actually going) to sunny, warm, tropical paradises. Others fully embrace the season and look forward to exploiting its many delights. On BBC Travel this week, we are catering to the second group, with the official launch of the Snow & Skiing theme week.
I am fully in the latter camp, myself. I spend most of the year daydreaming about skiing, snow, Christmas and the many happy things that relate to these, like being out in nature, après ski cocktails, fireplaces, hot chocolate, eggnog, carols and presents. One of my favourite trips of all time - it warms my heart just recalling it - was to Austria in December, when towns are decorated like Advent calendars and public squares are filled with Christkindlmarkts, purveyors of steaming glühwein and spaetzle, and the merry crowds soaking it all in. My wife and I rounded out the experience with skiing in Innsbruck, re-enactments of The Sound of Music in Salzburg and classic coffeeshops in Vienna. It was perfect.
I have no specially affinity for being cold. I just prefer to avoid it with layers of warm clothing and toasty drinks instead of going to the Caribbean. As my roommate at the University of Alaska put it: "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear." An Alaskan native, he should know. When I would walk outside on a winter's day in Fairbanks, a mere 125 miles from the Arctic Circle, I would divert my breath up to my eyes (the only exposed area of my body) to keep them from freezing shut. I do not like freezing weather, but I love warming myself up after playing in the snow or skiing.
That said, for five years now I have kicked off the New Year by taking a plunge in the icy waters of New York's Coney Island, a tradition I was introduced to while living in Dublin, where I joined hundreds of locals who make an annual Christmas leap from a rock at Sandycove and baptize themselves in the freezing Irish Sea. Afterwards, I warmed myself with the locally made contents of a flask while my feet turned a troubling patina of blue. I am not an official Polar Bear (a semi-organized grouping of charitable clubs that make plunges into freezing waters), but I applaud the full embrace of the season.
Winter extremism is just one of the subjects we are exploring on Snow & Skiing Week. Suemedha Snood has written about Unusual snow sports and activities around the world, like the Polar Bears. And in a similar vein, Kerry Christiani wrote about The craziest events in the Alps. If you really want to go extreme, follow Jeff Rubin's advice to Planning your dream Antarctic vacation. Other fun, but cold, winter destinations we are spotlighting this week include Chill out in China: Harbin's Ice and Snow Festival by David Eimer and from Lonely Planet magazine (a BBC publication), we have pieces on Snowbound Slovenia by Charlotte Hobson and a Mini guide to Reykjavík, Iceland.
And if your principal winter activity is, like mine, skiing, you will appreciate Robert Reid's Best après-ski' spots of the Americas and Ms Snood's Travelwise column this week, which takes a historical look at the birth of public ski areas. Come back all week for more fun in the... snow!