Brrr: Parents fight for sleds as Europe shivers

PARIS – Snow settling near France's Mediterranean shores. German parents battling to buy sleds. British horse races called off over too much ice.

A European cold snap — awfully cold in some places — saw snow clog roads and airports Friday, knock out electricity and induce hoorays from schoolchildren kept home from school. The low temperatures, prompted by an Arctic weather system, are set to continue through the weekend.

Britain, already deep in its longest cold spell in nearly 30 years, registered its chilliest night yet this season: minus 22.3 degrees Celsius minus 8.1 Fahrenheit in the Scottish Highlands village of Altnaharra.

British authorities have used up so much grit on icy roads that on Friday they started to run out, leaving thousands of secondary roads and sidewalks untreated and turning them into sheets of black ice that stretched for blocks. Poland, too, saw shortages of salt for spilling on streets.

Gatwick Airport officials said 18,000 tons of snow had been removed from runways in recent days. A dozen flights were canceled out of Marseille-Provence airport in southern France. France's busiest airport, Charles de Gaulle, planned to cancel 25 percent of its flights on Saturday.

France's weather service issued an avalanche warning for the Alps and the Pyrenees for this weekend after days of heavy snowfall and strong winds. Some travelers abandoned plans to head to the ski slopes because of closed roads.

Last weekend, avalanches killed seven people in Switzerland at the start of its ski season.

For desperate parents from Britain to Berlin, the biggest challenge hasn't been snow-choked roads but finding a sled.

Manufacturers of all types of snow-slipping vehicles, from traditional wooden-runner sleds to plastic bobsleds with breaks, are thrilled at the boom after years of fearing they had become victims of global warming.

"There hasn't been a run on sleds like this one since at least 25 years," said Michael Ress, owner Ress Kutschen sled factory in Schwebheim, Germany.

Ress' eight employees are currently working at maximum capacity, putting together 100 beech-wood sleds per day. The entire forthcoming production of this season's 3,000 sleds, which go for euro35 $50, already has been sold in advance.

"We're running out of supplies," said Ress, adding that he was forced to order certain metal parts from Asia because his usual German suppliers were out of stock.

In London, the harsh weather dominated Friday's Cabinet meeting. British union officials pleaded with employers to offer hot drinks to people working outside. A charity call center set up to help the elderly cope with the snow and ice was shut down because workers could not get to the office.

Deep snow in Lanarkshire, Scotland, left Alec Allison using a tractor to clear it from the roads of his farm. But that didn't help his sheep. At one point, he used a long stick to search snowdrifts where he found and freed one of his sheep.

In Merseyside in northwest England, construction workers helped rescue a flock of swans trapped in a frozen lake. The RSPCA animal welfare organization said it had received about 100 calls since Wednesday reporting ducks and swans stuck in ice on ponds and lakes.

In France, snow piled up from Normandy to Marseilles on the Mediterranean shore. Some 30 centimeters 11.8 inches of snow fell on Arles and Avignon in southern France, according to the regional traffic center, and snowdrifts piled higher than a meter 3.3 feet. Snowstorms cut electricity to thousands of homes.

Much of Spain was also shivering. A nature park in the normally temperate Murcia region in the southeast turned on heaters at a pen housing three giraffes more accustomed to savannah-like climes.

Baetz reported from Berlin. Associated Press writers Gregory Katz and Jill Lawless in London, Ariel David in Rome, Ian MacDougall in Olso, Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm, Daniel Woolls in Madrid, Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.