When we were younger, winter meant colder days, earlier darkness, and the wonders of a snowy world. On weekends, or when schools let out for weather, our free time ushered in a chance to play our way through a world made newly wondrous by fresh-fallen snow. But that wonder doesn’t last, and as we grow into adulthood, winter becomes a more frustrating season. The dark seems to come even earlier, the cold sinks deeper into our bones, and we’re burdened with seasonal stressors – driving in dense traffic becomes dangerous, and all that wondrous snow needs shoveling. That playfulness from the winters of childhood might seem a distant memory, but taking advantage of winter recreation opportunities might help revive the sense of wonder that once came with every snowfall.
‘Playfulness’ is a good word to describe many of the more accessible winter pursuits – and is perhaps one reason why, as adults, we tend to avoid winter recreation. We associate activities like snowball fights, building snow forts, and even catching snowflakes on our tongues with childhood – and therefore childishness, which can carry quite the negative connotation among grown folks. But winter’s snows bring changes to everyday landscapes, making fertile ground for changes in perspective both as it comes to the season and as it comes to what growing up actually means. As we never truly lose that desire for fun and playfulness, try to indulge it as the next snows roll around. Grab or make a sled and find a hill, start with a snowball and finish with a snow person, or, if you’re not quite ready to take it to that level, simply go for a walk in your snowy surrounds. You might be surprised at how much fun you have.
While these activities are enjoyable once you get into them, fully enjoying your time in the wintry outdoors means making sure you’re prepared for the cold. Layering is important, as is thinking about the adaptability and fabric of your layers, as these will help to prevent sweating. Sweating in your clothes will make you wet and cold faster than the snow outside – and that wetness can contribute to both hypothermia and frostbite, two of the biggest dangers in the winter. First, you’ll don a base or next-to-skin layer, which is warm yet breathable; then an insulating mid-layer, which has zippers for venting or which you can remove if you start to sweat; and, finally, an outer layer, which is chosen for its wind- and water-resistant qualities. Fabric choice is also important – cotton fabrics, like blue jeans and sweatshirts, lose their heat retention properties when damp, so opt for wool, down, or synthetic materials for your layers instead. More vigorous activities like hiking will call for lighter wear to let your excess heat vent, while more stationary activities like wildlife watching will call for heavier layers to make sure you’re trapping as much heat as possible. There’s a learning curve to layering, but mastering it means you stay warm, dry, and safe on your winter excursions.
Your winter outings can also add an extra warmth to your relationships. The holidays may have passed, but there’s nothing like shared experiences to bring people closer together. If you have kids looking to do something new, or friends or loved ones who are up for revisiting old experiences, venture into winter recreation together. In addition to the bonding that bundling up to face the cold together provides, changing the physical backdrop to your relationship makes those moments more memorable. Remember too that relationships don’t always have to be with other people – you can always take the time to touch base with yourself, with your feelings, through the lens of your experiences in the quiet of a snow-draped world. Take advantage of the changes in the world to reflect on changes you’d like to see in yourself, and take steps towards them when the activity’s done and you’re warming up inside with your favorite hot beverage.
Once you’ve developed that initial relationship with winter, a host of other activity options open up to you. Maybe you find snowshoes and go for longer walks in deeper snow farther from home, where you might discover the secretive habits of local wildlife. Maybe you trade in the sled for a pair of skis or a snowboard and experience the thrills of the downhill ride standing up. Maybe you like just being in a world changed by cold and snow, and you decide winter camping is what’s next. Whatever endeavor you decide to pursue, the wintry world stops being a chore and starts becoming a playground when you take the time and build the skills to access it.
Or maybe you take your first few steps into winter recreation and decide it’s not for you. Maybe the cold and all the added burdens the season brings still outweigh any pleasure that being outdoors in winter brings you. If taking a moment to enjoy the beauty of the weather outside your windows is all the connection you can summon for the season, that’s okay, too. But if you love the outdoors in spring, summer, and fall, give winter recreation a try. You may find that your connection with nature – and with child-like joy – can flourish year-round.