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How to Find Your Winter Groove

Article by Roger Phillips

Photography by Roger Phillips

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

I grew up on the Oregon Coast where 50 shades of gray described winter, not a tawdry novel. The weather ranged from overcast to misty to monsoon rains and gale-force winds, and if you loved the outdoors, it was a mental test of endurance. 

When I came to Idaho, I was stunned to hear someone say, “I can’t wait for winter.” 

Idahoans are blessed to live in a four-season state, and winter recreation brings its own vibe and groove. You can rhythmically carve turns down a corduroy ski slope or kick up cold-smoke roostertails while snowboarding fresh powder.

You can push your legs and lungs to their lactic threshold while skate skiing on a Nordic trail or casually leave cartoonishly large footprints while snowshoeing across a meadow. 

How about revving a snowmobile and taking a scenic tour through Idaho’s backcountry when it's abandoned by all but a few birds? Or cutting fresh tracks through miles of pristine powder in the mountains? 

Not enough? How about drilling a hole through the ice on a frozen lake, dropping a line and pulling out dinner—or multiple dinners? Or sliding down an icy slope on an inner tube and having a rope haul you back to the top of the hill? Want to ride a fat bike on a frozen road or trail, or do something as simple as putting on warm winter clothes and taking a stroll down the Greenbelt?

Those activities are not only possible within a short drive of the Treasure Valley, but they’re also as common as corn in Kansas. Your friends, co-workers and neighbors already do them, and there’s no reason you can’t join them. 

If you’re new to winter sports, the first step is buying quality winter clothing. It might seem obvious, but they’re the difference between fun and misery, so don’t skimp. I won’t go into details, but a few key things to remember are to dress in layers; avoid cotton clothes; and cover your whole body, including your head, neck and hands. While you’re outdoors, add or subtract layers when needed because, ironically, it’s as important to stay cool as it is warm. Excess heat causes sweat, sweat causes clammy and clammy makes you cold. 

Once you’re dressed, it’s time to figure out what you want to do, and remember, not all winter sports are created equal. If you want a workout, try Nordic skiing, fat biking or snowshoeing, which will all get your heart pumping. A common rookie mistake is to overdress and overheat while doing these activities because your body becomes its own furnace. 

If you’re doing something more sedentary, that’s when it’s time to bulk up and let that insulation do its job. Everyone is a little different, so experiment, and after a few outings, you will realize how simple it is to stay comfortable in cold weather. 

Undecided on which sport you want to try? The cool thing about getting started in winter sports is rental gear is readily available for most things, and so are lessons in many cases, so it won’t cost you a fortune to start. Instructors can also help you avoid most of those painful rookie mistakes. 

So don’t let the dead of winter kill your love for the outdoors. It takes a different set of clothes and mindset, but the thrills are there. You just have to put the slip on Old Man Winter and get your winter groove going.