The best sledges and snowgliders you can buy - and how to dress correctly for the snow
It's finally time to upgrade your snow kit, says John Cradden
Never mind the bread and milk, where can you find the sledges, toboggans, crampons and all the clothing gear you need to make the most of the snow currently being blown across the country by Storm Emma?
Of course, given the rare appearances of the white stuff in this country, you might be wondering whether it's worth investing much in the way of snow gear this week, particularly with spring supposedly round the corner.
If all you need is a cheap sledge and if you're quick, you could just pop up to your local Applegreen petrol station where, at the time of writing, you can buy two sledges for €5.
Unfortunately, Aldi and Lidl, who can usually be relied on to stock bargain-priced snowsports stuff at certain times of the year, have nothing coming up this week, we're told.
For up to €20 or so, you could pop into a Halfords, Argos or Great Outdoors and buy something like the spoon-shaped Splash and Relax Snow Gilder, or the Sno-Twin Toboggan sledge.
Hamax, a firm better known for its child bicycle seats, has a good line in sledges, and are available from 53 Degrees North, Snow + Rock in Dundrum and Dutchbikeshop.ie.
It used to produce a lovely looking top-of-the-range toboggan called the Lillehammer Maxi, which is made of solid beech wood rather than the usual plastic. They were listed as out of stock at 53 Degrees North at the time of writing, but you might still be able to find some for sale online. It's expensive at around €130 but, with care, it could become a family heirloom. It's foldable too.
You can also buy Hamax sledges at the Irish online shop of French sports retail giant Decathlon, which is at last preparing to open nine stores here, although not until 2019. The retailer also has its own winter sports brand called Wedze, which includes sledges but also a range of clothing items.
Indeed, you and your family might not stay outdoors for long if your clothes, gloves and footwear are not waterproof or insulated enough against freezing snow, or if you end up feeling the cold too quickly. But a bit of common sense can go a longer way when it comes to your choice of clothing in this weather. Roisin Finlay, editor of outdoor and adventure magazine Outsider, recommends thinking about what you should wear like an onion.
"The best way to stay warm - and to moderate your temperature - is to wear lots of thin layers and a protective outer shell or thermal layer. That way if you are really active, like running up and down a hill to slide down, you can strip off a layer or so as you warm up and put them back on as you cool down."
A good base layer is important too, she adds. "You need something that feels good against your skin, is breathable - as in it wicks sweat away - and is warm."
You can choose a synthetic or Merino wool base layer but Finlay prefers the latter as it will still keep you warm if it gets wet, and it never smells. "A lot of Merino wool products can be worn all the time - not just when you're active or being sporty. It looks nice so you can wear it out and about or below outer layers. It can be expensive but it lasts. And synthetics can be prone to getting smelly, so ultimately you get less wear out of them."
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Smartwool and Icebreaker are two good, if expensive, brands but you'll have them for years, she says. Cheaper ones from Aldi or Lidl are good value but scratchier against your skin. A mid-layer item is a good idea too, such as one from Columbia for around €60. "Collared mid-layers with a half zip are brilliant as they offer extra neck protection when temperatures drop and additional ventilation when you get too warm."
If you go up to the mountains today...
If you are planning to take your family hiking to marvel at the spectacular whitewashed landscapes this weekend, it's worth ensuring you are dressed and kitted out for the occasion.
Recommended items include waterproof trousers, boots, gloves, fleece-lined hats, good wool or wool mix socks and neck gaiters.
"If you are heading out hiking, your pack should include lots of spares - gloves, warm hat, a neck protector, emergency shelter, a foil blanket, plenty of water, some snacks, a charged mobile phone and a head torch," says Roisin Finlay, editor of Outsider magazine. "And you should let someone know your plan."
But two items that may prove life-savers are a pair of crampons and an ice axe.
"Waterproof hiking boots or waterproof trail shoes will keep your feet dry and cosy. But you really need a specialist shoe if you want grip in the snow. These won't be suitable in normal Irish conditions so you'd be better to buy a pair of spikies or crampons that strap on to your shoes for getting around the city."
She also urges users to learn how to use them, as they can be fiddly.