Why You Should Visit Siberia in the Winter (Seriously)

Posted by Ed 10 mths ago
“Siberia is a wardrobe problem,” remarks Olga Rimaeva, a round-faced babushka descended from seventeenth-century Polish exiles: too hot in summer, too cold in winter. I meet her in the eastern Siberian village of Bolshoi Kunaley.
She’s dressed in a full-length fur coat, possibly fox but definitely not sable, the booty that in the sixteenth century drew Russian Cossacks across the Ural Mountains dividing European Russia and Siberia and made the czars’ colonists of this remote territory outstandingly rich. With Siberia’s temperatures dipping below minus 13 degrees in March, I’ve gone with Canada Goose instead.
 So it’s not the cold that’s making me jittery when I step onto frozen Lake Baikal—the world’s oldest and deepest lake, with a surface area bigger than Belgium. (Under the ice, Baikal is a wildlife freak show of ghostly, transparent fish and bug-eyed seals shaped like footballs, whose predecessors allegedly got trapped in the lake some two to three million years ago when the continental plates had their last big shift.)
Baikal’s ice may be at its thickest right now, but I’m still on edge: Every five years this region registers a major earthquake.
I’ve come to Siberia because I like frozen wildernesses. I’ve visited Antarctica twice—the interior and the coast—and I’ve traversed Arctic Lapland by both snowmobile and dogsled. Even if I’m a century too late to plant a flag, there’s still a mystique in the virginity of endless white, a power Siberia has held over me ever since I noticed it on a bedside lamp I had as a child.
 That same lamp—a globe, which showed Siberia glowing over nine percent of the world’s landmass—also fed my appetite for exotic names. When my mother switched off the light each evening, I dreamed of Timbuktu. Or Ouagadougou, even Brazzaville. Siberia was a name full of poetry, derived from the Cossack word Si-bir, meaning “sleeping land,” or Sumbyr, like “slumber”—or Wissibur, “whisper.” 

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