Winter Activities on the Byways

winter on the scenic byways The winter months bring shorter days and more darkness. Cold weather and brief daylight hours can lead to unhealthy habits, like overeating, spending too much time on electronic devices, and not getting enough exercise. Fresh air, sunshine, and physical activity are important for our physical and mental health. So, don’t let winter weather get you down, instead get outside and get moving!

For the novice, you must keep in mind to make sure to dress appropriately for the weather conditions and check the forecast as often as necessary. Frostbite and hypothermia pose serious health risks, and even a leisurely stroll to enjoy the beautiful winter scenery can turn dangerous with temperatures dipping below freezing and snow squalls popping up unannounced. Also, many outdoor winter activities may require additional safety gear, like helmets.

For the serious outdoor enthusiast or athlete, a large snowfall amount in the projected forecast won’t derail any plans for various outdoor winter activities. Whether you’re heading out for a day on the hiking or ski trails, ice fishing on your favorite frozen lake, or a short or long winter camping trip, having the right gear stands between you and the best experience ever.

If you live in a cold climate or plan to visit one in the future, here are some outdoor winter activities you can enjoy.

Skiing and Snowboarding

There truly is nothing like standing at the top of a mountain, staring out into the vast openness of the wilderness, readying yourself to propel down the white face. Skiing and snowboarding are very popular winter sports that all age levels and abilities can enjoy.

Many resorts offer classes to learn how to ski or snowboard and lessons are highly recommended if you have never participated in these sports before. Also, many ski resorts, areas, and clubs offer rentals for much needed equipment. This way, you can oftentimes try before you buy.

However, there are a few items that these winter sports require you to have before heading out on the slopes. The number one piece of safety equipment to have is a ski helmet or snowboard helmet. New research focused on helmet safety and injury prevention among skiers and snowboarders found that those who wear a helmet while skiing or snowboarding sustain less severe head injuries and lower overall injury severity compared to those who do not wear a helmet.

Another piece of outdoor winter safety equipment you need is a good pair of ski or snowboard goggles or sunglasses to keep the wind, snow, and UV rays out of your eyes. The best features you should look for include anti-fogging lenses that have UV protection and are windproof. These can help protect your eyes from flying snow and other debris, which could derail your fun and ruin a good day. 

As with all outdoor winter activities, having the right jacket, gloves, boots and pants will help make your experience more enjoyable and keep you warm and protected from the harsh elements. These outer layer items should be lined for your desired warmth and comfort levels. They should also include moisture wicking or waterproof technology that keeps you dry.

Make sure to find a pair of waterproof pants like snow pants that will cover your snowboard or ski boots and keep out moisture. Avoid cotton or wool gloves as your best bet is a pair of waterproof mittens or gloves. Furthermore, make sure to wear a waterproof or windproof coat or jacket to keep you warm and dry while shredding the trails.

In addition to these basic outdoor winter items, the experienced skier or snowboarder will require wax, bindings, and a bag or backpack for all your gear and other essential items. Having a freshly waxed snowboard is key for increasing the longevity of your snowboard, because waxing hydrates the base and stops the pores of the base from drying up. For best results, these waxes should be melted on using an iron, then scraped or brushed.

Snowboard and ski bindings come in a variety of sizes, like small, medium, large, and extra-large, and it is vital you get the correct size bindings that match both your boot side and board or ski size. Adjustable bindings are available and will adjust to a wide range of boot sizes. Knowing your general DIN setting is important when selecting a new pair of bindings. To find it, simply look at the small window on both the tow and heel of your current bindings.

Lastly, you will probably need a snowboard or ski bag or backpack to carry and store all your essential gear. Ski and snowboard bags are unwieldy pieces of luggage that typically hold one or two pairs of skis or a snowboard or two with bindings. Even if you only own one pair of skis or a snowboard, a bag that holds two is a good option because you can use all that extra space for the rest of your gear and clothing. To easily tote your snowboard and other outdoor winter gear, you may want to consider a snowboard tote backpack. These items also make flying with your ski and snowboard gear a breeze, just make sure to check baggage size requirements and fees before leaving on your trip.

Winter Camping

Another enjoyable outdoor winter activity is camping. Make sure to use gear that’s right for winter camping specifically, like a four season or winter tent, a warm sleeping bag with appropriate temperature rating, sleeping pads or mattresses, and a stove that is suitable for cold temperatures. Inexperienced campers with amateur gear risk their health and wellbeing without the proper preparation.

Your tent serves as your shelter and protects you from the elements, which in winter can be extreme depending upon your location. In addition to at or below freezing temperatures, winter storms often bring high winds and heavy snowfall, and your tent needs to be strong enough to withstand it all. A good four season or winter tent that is waterproof and windproof is essential whether you are mountaineering or family camping in the winter months.

A good night’s sleep is essential when camping and camping on snow requires more insulation to keep you safe and warm. An insulated, high R-value sleeping pad or mattress will keep you comfortable even in the coldest of conditions. The higher a pad or mattress’s R-value, the more effective it will be at insulating you from cold surfaces. Another feature to keep in mind when researching camping pads or mattresses is the size. If you’re tall, consider a large size that measures at least 3 to 6 inches longer than your height. Also, camping sleeping pads and mattresses come in a few varieties: self-inflating, air, and closed-cell foam, all of which have various uses and benefits.

Even if you plan to cook by campfire, bringing a camping stove for winter camping trips is a good idea. In winter, a good camping stove may be the only source of clean, safe water you have, so choosing the right one is extremely important. Winter camping stoves are similar to their regular counterparts but use fuel that works well in cold conditions. These include canister stoves that use a mix of isobutane and propane, liquid fuel like white gas, and alternative-fuel stoves that run on other fuel types like pellets and wood. Just make sure to operate the stove outside of and a safe distance from your tent or other structures, to ensure no damage or accidental carbon monoxide poisoning occurs.

You can prevent cold injuries like frostbite and hypothermia, which are legitimate concerns when winter camping, by dressing in layers. Wearing base layers for cold weather can add considerable warmth and protection by keeping you dry and helping regulate your body temperature during and after activity. For best effectiveness, base layers should be fitted to the body and not loose. Base layers come in an assortment of materials, like polyester, merino wool, nylon, cotton, and silk. Choose the base layer that best meets your temperature, comfort, and activity level requirements.

For low activity or backcountry camping, a heated jacket is a good option for an outer layer. Heated jackets are perfectly safe for outdoor winter activities and typically run on batteries to warm your body’s core by providing long lasting heat through small wires built into the clothing. The batteries are usually rechargeable, and some come with options for you to control different heating zones or areas and allow for different heat levels. Moreover, heated clothing is designed to not get too hot because the wiring is separated from the body by a waterproof membrane making them safe to use in wet, cold conditions.

Hiking and Snowshoeing

Hiking and snowshoeing are yet two more fun and active pastimes you can enjoy during the winter months. As with any outdoor activity during this season, winter can be a dangerous time but with planning and preparation a winter hike can be a safe and enjoyable experience. Since the daylight hours are shortened in the winter, make sure to begin your trip early in the day and carry an alternative light source, such as a headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries.

When dressing for a winter hike, you’ll want to wear layers. Begin with a good moisture-wicking and warm base layer, then add a fleece pullover, snow or waterproof hiking pants and jacket, gloves, a hat, warm socks, and insulated boots. Make sure to take layers off if you start to sweat or slow down your pace so that you don’t overheat.

One essential item for winter hiking or snowshoeing is a good winter boot. When it comes to heavy snow, you can’t use your snowshoes unless you have a decent pair of boots to wear inside of them. Look for features such as boots made of waterproof or water repellent materials, warm insulation, a secure fit, and good gripping soles.

Warm, dry feet are happy feet in the winter. You should size your boots appropriately, since boots that are too tight can lead to circulation issues. Make sure to try the boots on with the socks you intend to use with them, and that there is plenty of room in the toe area for movement. Also, consider the weight of the boot in relation to the activity you intend to use them for. All winter boots available today are heavier than your standard shoe, so keep weight in mind when choosing a pair of boots for winter hiking or snowshoeing.

Snowshoeing is a form of hiking that many people enjoy during wintry conditions. Snowshoes are footwear that are used for walking on snow. They work by distributing a person’s weight over a larger area so that the foot doesn’t sink completely into the snow. This is a quality called flotation.

As with any winter outdoor equipment, it is important to consider the types of conditions you want the item to work best in. You should choose larger snowshoes for light, powdery snow conditions to keep you afloat. You may want to choose smaller, more compact snowshoes for hard-packed snow or for steep and icy surfaces. Many snowshoes have a weight requirement, so also keep this in mind when choosing the right one for you.

It’s challenging to get outdoors in the winter, but with the right attitude, gear, and preparedness, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself while staying warm and dry. Skiing, snowboarding, camping, hiking, and snowshoeing are just several activities you can enjoy when the winter months are upon us. These activities can be done alone, in a group, or as a family.

Having the right clothing and other necessary gear for your activity is very important. Make sure that clothing meets your temperature and other weather-related needs, and that everything fits well but also allows for appropriate movement. Also, ensure a good time is had by all by gearing up with the right winter outdoor equipment that meets your needs. So, don’t let the dreary, cold winter weather get you down – get outside and enjoy the snow!