Top 5 Ways to Beat the Winter Cold
For those of us in the northern half of the United States, winter can feel like a bit of a drag. It takes a bit more thought and preparation to have fun outside when the temperatures drop. Using the guide below will help you conquer the cold and find things to do in even the most brutal months of the year.
The below list focuses on activities for temperatures below freezing. If you're in area that cools down in the winter but doesn't get quite that cold, you can do most of the things you love to do in other seasons. Just make sure to dress in layers. The right clothing makes all the difference, especially when temperatures fluctuate throughout the day.
1. Skiing or Snowboarding
When the temperatures drop for the long haul and there's a solid base of snow built up, there's no better way to conquer the elements than on the slopes. There's no feeling quite like taking a chairlift to the top of a beautiful snowy mountain and gliding down it on skis or a snowboard. Skiing and snowboarding are also great activities for the whole family.
If you're a beginner, the first decision you should consider is whether you'd like to ski or snowboard. For many, skiing is an easier activity to pick up and learn, but it ultimately comes down to personal preference. As a kid, my dad taught me how to ski shortly after I could walk. Then, I decided snowboarding was cooler so I decided to learn how to do it. For me, it was a big challenge to learn how to snowboard. On a snowboard, both feet are connected. This can be a tough concept for those who are accustomed to having both feet move independently on skis.
If you've ever done other activities that relate - like water skiing, skateboarding, wakeboarding - that's also something to consider. Familiarity with these sports may shrink your learning curve.
Whether you decide to try skiing or snowboarding, it's worthwhile to purchase a half-day lesson at the resort. It will save you a ton of time and frustration and fast-track your learning. You won't leave that lesson as a pro, but you'll have a serious head start.
Once you get a little coaching, it's all about trial and error. I spent a couple winters driving from my college campus to a nearby resort to teach classes in the winter. I'd always tell people that after a half-day lesson they just need to get out and go on their own. At a certain point, a person looking over your shoulder just makes you nervous and frustrated. The only way we all learn is by figuring out ways that work for us.
2. Ice Fishing
If you live near any bodies of water, ice fishing is an affordable, fun way to get outside. For less than $100, you can get all the gear you need to go out and try your luck on the hard water. Typically the most expensive part of fishing is the boat, and that part isn't necessary when you're ice fishing, so it's a great way to get into the sport if you're on a budget.
The first thing to keep in mind when ice fishing is safety. Ice fishing can be a risky activity if you're unfamiliar with the body of water or new to the sport. Before you go out, be sure to evaluate the ice. Talk to a local bait shop about the ice conditions and be observant of what others are doing. If you find a lake with large groups of people fishing, odds are it's a good spot for fish and the ice is safe. If it's early or late season, or there's been some periods of temperatures above freezing in the last week or two, don't risk it.
Gear for ice fishing is pretty basic. You'll want an ice fishing rod, an ice skimmer, an auger to dig holes, a bucket with a comfortable seat, basic tackle and live bait. You can get all of this gear for under $100. Again, utilize your local bait shops for advice on bait and tackle. They know what works best in their waters.
Depending on the depth of the area you're fishing and water clarity, you can sight-fish some areas and actually look down in the hole and watch fish bite your hook. You won't find that in many other kinds of fishing.
Almost anywhere in the country (including the big cities) there's a hill nearby that you can drive to with the old toboggan or new-school sled. Hit up your local Walmart and find a sled that fits your needs, then do some research to see where you can find a local hill. Oftentimes, public parks will have a hill that's perfect for a day or evening of sledding.
Sledding is a pretty basic activity, but there's a few things to keep in mind. Once you have a reliable and safe sled, you'll want to make sure the whole group has the right clothing. Make sure to layer; sledding is one of those activities that can leave you freezing one second and sweating another. When you're carrying your sled up the giant hill for the 20th time and realize you've been skipping the gym too much lately, you'll get warm.
Make sure to layer up so you can adjust to the outside temps as well as your own body temperature. Boots are the most critical piece of gear for the day. Go for an insulated pair that has great traction so you don't slip when you're climbing the hill. Plus, there's nothing worse than cold feet on a day outdoors.
4. Build an Igloo
Forget that basic snowman and build yourself an igloo. It will serve as a fun place to hang out for the kids, or a pretty great place for the adults to drink some coffee or bourbon. Plus, on a snow day, there's no better way to pass the time and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Us kids in the Midwest grew up with a keen sense of the kind of snow that's on the ground. There's a big difference between powdery snow and packing snow. If you have packing snow you can skip the steps with water below, otherwise the right consistency will be a key to success.
Follow the steps below to build a snow fortress that's the envy of the neighborhood.
- Draw an outline in the snow where you want your igloo to be. Remember, the larger it is, the more snow you'll need to build your igloo. It also needs to be large enough to sit in.
- Grab a bucket or two. You'll need to fill these with water if your snow is powdery. The water will ensure you get the right slushy mix that works for packing and will freeze outside for stability. You'll need to test a bit to get a feel for the right consistency.
- Start to build your walls by packing snow up from the ground on the line you drew. Make sure your base is strong and start to round the edges gradually as you get to the height you'd like. We opt for about eight inches in thickness for the walls. Make sure to build the entry door last.
- Once you feel like you have the structure of the igloo built, take a bucket of water and fill up a bottle that will pour out more gradually. Use that to lightly pour water all over your igloo. Let it harden for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the temperature outside.
5. Go Snowmobiling
We love outdoor machines of all kinds, but snowmobiles are hands-down one of the most fun things to ride. Snowmobiles allow you to explore all kinds of terrain - mountains, trails, ice, flatlands and more. Just make sure the area has a minimum of 4 inches of snow. Snowmobiles use a rubber track to move them, and they need a solid base of snow to grip onto. If you're riding on ice without a lot of snow, make sure your track has studs for grip or you'll spend the afternoon sliding all over.
Many states have public land that allows public snowmobiling. Oftentimes, towns that are nearby major public trailheads will have local shops that rent snowmobiles. This is a great option for those who are trying it for the first time or just aren't ready to splurge on a sled of their own. Whether you're renting from a local shop or riding on your own, make sure to check the local regulations. Some areas require you take a safety class before riding.
Snowmobiles can be dangerous machines. Snowmobiles are extremely powerful and feel a little different than most other machines we ride for fun. You should be aware of the type of sled you're riding. A trail or touring sled will have a much more forgiving suspension than others. These sleds will make bumps much more forgiving on your back as the day goes on.
Varying terrain will also greatly change the way your snowmobile handles. Heavy, untouched snow will give you a fluffy ride like you're riding on a cloud, but it can bog your sled down until your track gets grip. Packed snow will give you great traction and control, but is much less forgiving when you hit bumps.
If you are riding in a snowy area, but need to cross over pavement for any reason, be prepared to lose almost all steering capabilities. Your sled skis will simply slide and take you in the direction your machine is pointed, now matter how hard you cut the handlebars.