Firstly, I need to admit that I love Winter.
I realize that I am part of only a small minority of people who feel this way, but with international travel still precarious at best, it might be a good idea to embrace the cold, the snow and the ice this year instead of hopping on a plane to Mexico.
One of my favorite quotes ever is: "If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow."
When I first found out that we had several trips getting cancelled this year, it was devastating. 2020 was supposed to be the year of new and exciting experiences and instead, we were grounded. Like many others, I turned to the outdoors.
I was excited to see how many people were showing up to the trails in record numbers, but quickly grew irritated and disheartened by how carelessly people were parking, all the trash left behind, the off-leash dogs and the blaring music on the once-quiet trails.
I realize the crash course on how to be good stewards for the environment probably missed quite a few people due to the sudden turn of events and a worsening pandemic that left people scrambling for something, ANYTHING to do to save their mental health.
Now that the snow has fallen, people seem less gung-ho about getting outdoors.
The right gear probably plays a factor. You can throw on a pair of Nike Frees and run up a mountain in the summer but picking up backcountry skiing isn’t quite the same. Winter activities generally require not only an investment in gear, but time to learn the techniques in order to stay safe.
Then there’s the fact that winter probably seems a little bit scary to people. It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s much darker.
But I’m here to tell you that Winter can be just as fun, if not MORE fun.
Here are a few winter activities to try as 2020 winds down:
#1: Skating on Wild Ice
Wild Ice is essentially, well, regular ice. It’s just a term some people use for skating on frozen lakes and ponds that haven’t been Zamboni’d smooth. What’s exciting about Wild Ice is that you never know what type of ice you’re going to get. It could be crystal clear, deep blue, full of cracks, bumpy, smooth, snow-covered, patchy, wet.
Once you’ve skated on Wild Ice, I doubt you’ll ever go back to skating on indoor rinks again. There’s something that makes you feel so free, probably because you're not contained to one small area.
The most important question about wild ice is: how do I know if the ice is thick enough?
The rule of thumb is that the ice should be at least 4 inches thick. Technically you can skate on ice that’s 2.5-3 inches thick but it isn’t recommended at all and those that do it should understand the risks.
The second most important question to ask is: how do I find out how thick the ice is?
Ice screws are generally used to test the thickness and those can easily be purchased at REI or other outdoor outfitters. You can spot test in random locations as you skate further out until you’re at a point where you feel comfortable.
Until you’re well-versed in wild ice, I wouldn’t use these methods to assume the thickness of ice but I have seen people without ice screws:
- eyeballing cracks in the ice to guesstimate the thickness
- Using the “100 person” test (seeing 100 other people out skating and assuming it’s probably fine because at least 1 out of those 100 would have measured it)
#2: Cross-country skiing
One of the absolute best workouts for your entire body, you have to try cross-country skiing to really understand how physically demanding it is. It’s a fantastic sport for those wanting to stay in shape this winter and have a blast while doing it. Cross-country ski trails take you far into the backcountry to enjoy stunning views, without the typical avalanche risk you’d be exposed to while backcountry skiing.
One tip to remember: dressing for cross-country skiing is NOTHING like regular resort or backcountry skiing. You will overheat and tire quickly if you overdress. Wearing light, breathable layers is your best bet. Just pack extra layers for when you stop. Same goes for your mitts and toque - leave the heavier material at home. You want to avoid getting too sweaty because you’ll likely catch a chill once you stop.
Cross-country skiing is really hard work on the way up and tons of fun on the way down. Slowing down or stopping on a downhill is still something I have yet to master, even as a trained downhill ski racer.
Look for trails in your area that are track set. The trail conditions report for your local park will have an update on the conditions and the difficulty rating, so make sure you check that before you head out the door.
It took me a long time to come around to the idea of snow shoeing. I never saw the need for it and wearing enormous, clunky contraptions on my feet only seemed to slow me down. Turns out, I had never worn them in the right scenarios.
Until you’ve endured post-holing through 4 feet of fresh snow, you’ll never truly appreciate what snow shoes can do to up your Winter hiking game.
Pack some snowshoes and a thermos of hot chocolate and head out to your favorite trail!
Just like cross-country skiing, your local park should have up-to-date trail conditions posted online.