11/2/12: Angel Dust

Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll have worked out that the mountains are cold right now. But how cold is cold? How do you explain -21°C to someone who hasn't experienced it?

First, you get up in the morning. Your windows have fought the elements hard, boasting thick condensation from your warm house while you watched TV last night. Now it's frozen, aditting defeat, a sheen of ice fused to the interior of the glass in your house. You turn on the tap; the pipes are frozen, hot & cold. You walk down to the garage to turn the water off, cursing your luck at having to brush your teeth at work again. You unlock the garage, turn the lever, walk out, lock it again...and a sliver of flesh sticks to the exposed key, tearing a fragile fingerprint.

You give up and go to work, then go snowboarding at lunchtime. At -21°C, the cold is everywhere; despite your multiple layers and insulators, the breeze snakes its way through your vent zips, boot seams and glove stitching. It gets under your helmet and whitens your ears, and the exposed skin on your face is frostnipped in minutes. Forget the buff; your warm breath wettens the material near your mouth and fuses it to your lips.

The one redeeming thing about the cold snap Chamonix is experiencing right now is the angel dust. The French call it 'le froid qui tombe', the falling cold, and it's a phenomenon that is so breathtakingly magical it's worth braving the chill. As you ski through the light midday mist, ice crystals lighter than air swirl around you, a floating world of rainbow-coloured diamonds. You soar through the light, feeling like you are seeing stars, but you've not got up too fast, you're just experiencing angel dust; one of the loveliest things you can have happen to you up there.

Piste conditions are fabulous, off piste hard and scratchy. There's been wind up high so there's no powder in the hills...just in the air.

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