Don’t be put off visiting Siberia’s Lake Baikal in the colder months as there are more than enough ways to keep warm. AMY ADAMS reports.

When it comes to extremes of season, few places have much on Siberia’s Lake Baikal. From a steamy, beach holiday 35°C+ in summer, the temperature plummets come winter, often registering -50°C in January. Visiting the north shore village of Listvyanka, in February, you should come back in summer” becomes a worn refrain. But while it might be convenient leaving the arctic explorer garb at home, and no doubt taking a dip in the world’s deepest lake is wonderfully refreshing, in winter the ‘Pearl of Siberia’ has a magic all of its own. Lake Baikal freezes into a vast, icy playground, the snow-covered shores make Narnia look as pretty as a car park, and best of all you get to appreciate the Russian banya – a toasty experience more than worth the intermittent threat of losing your fingers to frostbite.

Put your foot down

While the vast sprawl of the taiga, a forest the size of the US, looks impenetrable from afar, one way to delve into its coniferous depths is by snowmobile. Wrapped up snug, we brum in procession from the village of Listvyanka through narrow, winding paths flanked by pine trees. With our guide, Fyodor, keeping a beady eye on us and the well-beaten road there’s not much room for error, until we reach a river. Though nearby Lake Baikal freezes thick enough to hold cars, Fyodor seems a little dubious about the crossing, filling none of us with reassurance as he gets off his vehicle and tentatively tiptoes out onto the surface. Still, it seems to satisfy him and with brief instructions not to stop in the middle we’re off, skimming over the ice safely to the other side. With this test passed, our guide steps up a gear and we whizz through the undergrowth, flying off bumps and hurtling around corners until one of us ploughs into a snow drift and it’s back down to beginner level.

Hit the slopes

There’s plenty of cross-country skiing to be done around the shores of Lake Baikal, but if you’d rather let the forces of gravity propel you head to the ski lift near Listvyanka, just up behind the Aquarium. You can rent ski and snowboard equipment, and while there’s only one way up there are plenty of ways down, not all of them signposted. The two main pistes are gentle and wide making it perfect for learners and, even though I was there on a public holiday, it didn’t get overcrowded.

If you fancy a break from the downhill action, or from Sabrina’s Boys, Boys, Boys blaring endlessly at the lift station, there’s a viewpoint a short walk from the top of the chair lift. Here, by a wish tree covered in coloured ribbons, you can see the frozen lake melting into the Angara – the only river that flows from Baikal.

Step on it

In January the crystal-clear waters of Lake Baikal begin to freeze over, thickening to as much as two metres during the course of the winter. When it’s deemed hard enough the lake becomes a short cut from Listvyanka to Irkutsk (the biggest city on the lake shore) with cars skimming across the surface. Even seeing this it’s unnerving when you first step out onto the lake, leaving the giant glacier mints that rim the edges for the vast desert of ice beyond. Watch out for the thunderous grating as the ice moves beneath you, or the changes in texture that send you flying on your arse like King Kong at Central Park.

Lake-walking is a novelty in itself but there’s plenty more to do – from an ice roundabout to snowmobiling. The locals even drive their cars onto the lake dragging sledges behind them which beats a hill and bin bag any day.

Steamy windows

While the Russian banya (a kind of wooden steam room) is becoming fashionable across the world, to many villagers they remain little more than a practical substitute for a shower. At Victor and Olga’s house, where I’m staying in Listvyanka, the banya consists of a two-roomed outhouse. The first is where you change and the second, heated by a stove, is where you wash. In a huge pan you mix hot and cold water to the required temperature and slosh it all over you. Once you get over the adult fear of soaking the entire room it’s one of the best cleansing experiences you’ll ever have, provided you don’t overdo the hot tap and scorch yourself. The room gets so hot that by the time you emerge into the wintry evening you’re grateful for the minus temperatures.

• Amy Adams travelled to Lake Baikal with Global Village (0870-442 4848; on their Super Trans-Sib. Prices start at £1300.