Imagine a child on a snowy day. They can hardly wait to pull on their swollen trousers and mittens – or their one-piece suit – and hurry out into the frosty air. They will sled and make snow angels until they are soaked, wage snowball fights, build snowmen in the yard and decorate them with sticks. Then they will barrel inside, leave their clothes in a pile on the floor and grab mugs of steaming hot chocolate until their fingers thaw. It’s a dream; life does not get better than that. While adults just pull the coat tight and hurry through the closet at work.
As a dog sled, one of the things I love best about taking people on rides is that it turns adults into children again. You put any adult – no matter how serious – in a dog sled and they will laugh for an hour straight. They glide through the wintry forest, looking around with wild eyes and smiling until their face hurts. Not everyone has a handy dog team nearby when they want to rediscover the magic of winter – but you can also get there without one.
For when did we decide that winter fun is for kids? Think about it: snowball fights, snowmen, snow angels, sleigh rides, even hot chocolate – these are all things we associate with children. Even appropriate winter clothing is seen as young; teens and adults swap their puffs for slim coats, swap their mittens for gloves. No wonder winter gets less fun as we get older: we’ve done it that way. But we can also solve it.
Put on more clothes
The biggest myth of winter is that in order to enjoy it, one has to like being cold. You literally do not. I do not like to be cold and I spend half my life outside in minus degrees. The trick – and it’s really that simple for most people – is that if you feel cold, you should put on more clothes. Still cold? Put on even more clothes. Etc. I have written about the basics of dressing for cold weather here, including how to catch warm air and keep your feet isolated from the cold ground. My favorite song? A long down skirt that you can wear over pants or long underwear, and which will make a huge difference in your ability to stay comfortable outside. (If you have circulation problems, it can be much harder to keep your extremities warm; I would recommend using hand and toe warmers with charcoal.)
If your winters are mostly snowless, gray and rainy, clothes can still make conditions comfortable for you. Otherwise, you will be trapped inside for months of the year, and nothing is fun when you feel trapped. Going in a slump may not seem comfortable, but with the right layers, it is not uncomfortable either; it is entirely possible to stay warm and dry and feel like you are in your own climate-controlled little world, even if you are penetrating deep bad weather. I would recommend a good raincoat and rain pants (in sizes large enough to hold several layers), a hat with an edge to keep water away from your face, gloves and insulated waterproof boots (I like neoprene) – and make sure to dry everything every time you enter.
Challenge yourself to try something new
I dare you (yes, you personally) to do at least one brand new thing this winter. Take a friend to the nearest toboggan run and race to the bottom. (If you are in a place without snow, you can “sled” down grassy hills by sitting on ice blocks. Bring a folded towel to sit on if you do not want a wet butt!) Or rent a tube by a tubing- hill – Many even have rope lifts so you do not have to hike up again. If you have the budget, you can take a beginner’s lesson in snowboarding, skiing or even snowmobiling. Cut a snow bank into a sculpture, or fill balloons with water and food coloring, freeze them, peel off the balloons, and use the colorful balls to decorate your porch. Go ice skating one afternoon, even though you spend all your time running around and grabbing the boards. It’s OK to feel a little silly and laugh at yourself. And it’s even better to bring a friend with you so you can laugh at each other instead.
Make your home more cozy
Winter offers two great pleasures: going outside and getting in again. The first will help you appreciate the second, but there is a lot you can do to make your house more cozy in itself. I love electric candles because they give a nice glow – a kind of candle, as flames are referred to in Norwegian – without the risk of burning anything down. Everyone knows that blankets, slippers, mugs, etc. are associated with winter, but if you have not gone all-in on cozy surroundings, you might be surprised at how much of a difference they make. Heat a toddy or spicy cider on the stove to make your house smell great.
Eat and drink well
It takes a lot of energy to keep your body warm. You get hungry while you are outside, and hungry when you come in again, and if you go outside without eating enough, you will almost certainly feel cold and miserable. Plan to have hearty meals before and after you go out, and take snacks with you in your pocket; Eating small treats will often help your body generate heat. And if you’re even marginally inclined to cook, use a crock pot: There’s really nothing like getting inside and getting a hot, fragrant stew just waiting for you.
Create your own traditions
January and February can feel like the saddest winter months, in part because they are defined by scarcity: there is nothing of the holiday cheer and pomp that makes even the coldest December festive, and there are still months to spring. But one of the things that makes seasons special is that the fun they offer is limited; there are things you can only do at certain times so you look forward to them and enjoy them. What traditions can you develop to the depths of your own winters? Can you start an exercise by taking a weekly hike (or snowshoe or cross-country skiing excursion) with friends and then watch movies and order a pizza? Are you going on an annual trip to volunteer at a sled dog race? Arrange (or participate in) a snow sculpture competition? You can also commit to doing the things you rarely give yourself time for, like reading books or baking. The more you do winter rituals that you enjoy, the more joy the season will hold for you, even though the things you do are as simple as lighting candles in the evening or enjoying a special tea. And next fall, when the days get darker and the first frost appears, you will know that you are leaving the heat of summer behind – but you have something wonderful to look forward to.