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(Photo: Adam and Kev, Getty)

How to Learn to Love Winter

Go sledding, slow cook a hearty stew, sip on a rich cup of hot cocoa. Just because the days are shorter and colder doesn’t have to mean they’re any less fun.

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Picture a kid on a snow day. They can barely wait to pull on their puffy pants and mittens—or their one-piece snowsuit—and rush out into the frosty air. They’ll sled and make snow angels until they’re soaking wet, wage snowball wars, build snowmen in the yard, and decorate them with sticks. Then they’ll barrel inside, leave their clothes in a pile on the floor, and clutch mugs of steaming hot chocolate until their fingers thaw. It’s a dream; life doesn’t get better than that. While adults just pull their coats tight and hurry through the slush to work.

As a dogsledder, one of the things I love best about taking people mushing is that it turns adults into kids again. You put any grownup—no matter how serious—into a dogsled, and they’ll laugh for an hour straight. They glide through the wintry forest, looking around wild-eyed 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 get there without one, too.

Because when did we decide that winter fun is for kids? Think about it: snowball fights, snowmen, snow angels, sledding, even hot chocolate—these are all things we associate with children. Even adequate winter clothing is seen as juvenile; teens and adults trade their puffies for sleek coats, trade their mittens for gloves. No wonder winter becomes less fun as we get older: we’ve made it that way. But we can unmake it, too.

Wear More Clothes

The biggest myth of winter is that in order to enjoy it, you have to like being cold. You literally don’t. I don’t like feeling cold, and I spend half my life outside in subzero temperatures. The trick—and it really is this simple, for most people—is that if you feel cold, you should put on more clothing. Still cold? Put on even more clothing. And so on. I’ve written about the basics of dressing for cold weather here, including how to trap warm air and keep your feet insulated from the cold ground. My favorite layer? A long down skirt, which 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 issues, it can be much harder to keep your extremities warm; I’d recommend using charcoal hand and toe warmers.)

If your winters are mostly snowless, gray, and rainy, clothing can still make the conditions comfortable for you. Otherwise you’ll be trapped inside for months out of the year, and nothing is fun when you feel trapped. Walking in sleet may not seem pleasant, but with the right layers, it’s not unpleasant either; it’s fully possible to stay warm and dry, feeling like you’re in your own climate-controlled little world, even as you push through deeply gross weather. I’d recommend a good rain coat and rain pants (in sizes big enough to accommodate multiple layers), a hat with a brim to keep water off your face, gloves, and insulated waterproof boots (I like neoprene)—and make sure you fully dry everything each time you come in.

Challenge Yourself to Try Something New

I dare you (yes, you personally) to do at least one completely new thing this winter. Bring a friend to the nearest sled hill and race to the bottom. (If you’re somewhere without snow, you can “sled” down grassy hills by perching on blocks of ice. Bring a folded towel to sit on if you don’t want a wet butt!) Or rent a tube at a tubing hill—many even have rope lifts so you don’t have to hike back up. If you have the budget, take a beginner’s lesson in snowboarding, skiing, or even snowmobiling. Carve a snowbank into a sculpture, or fill balloons with water and food coloring, freeze them, peel off the balloons, and use the colorful orbs to decorate your porch. Go ice skating for an afternoon, even if you spend the whole time scooting around and clutching the boards. It’s OK to feel a little silly, and to laugh at yourself. And it’s even better to bring a friend so you can laugh at each other instead.

Make Your Home Cozier

Winter offers two great pleasures: going outside, and coming in again. The first will help you appreciate the second, but there’s a lot you can do to make your house cozier in its own right, too. I love electric candles, because they give a nice glow—a kind of living light, 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 haven’t gone all-in on cozy surroundings, you might be surprised by how much of a difference they make. Warm up a toddy or spiced cider on the stove to make your house smell amazing.

Eat and Drink Well

It takes a lot of energy to keep your body warm. You’ll get hungry while you’re outside, and hungry when you get back in, and if you go outside without eating enough, you’ll almost certainly feel cold and miserable. Plan to have hearty meals before and after you go out, and carry snacks in your pocket; eating little treats often will help your body to generate warmth. And if you’re even marginally inclined toward cooking, use a crock pot: there’s really nothing like coming inside and having a hot, fragrant stew just waiting for you.

Create Your Own Traditions

January and February can feel like the bleakest winter months, in part because they’re defined by lack: there’s none of the cheer and pomp of the holidays, which make even the coldest December festive, and there are still months to go before spring. But part of what 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 savor them. What traditions can you develop for the depths of your own winters? Can you start a practice of taking a weekly hike (or snowshoe or cross-country ski jaunt) with friends, then watching movies and ordering a pizza? Make an annual trip to volunteer at a sled dog race? Arrange (or enter) a snow-sculpture competition? You can also commit to doing the things you rarely make time for, like reading books or baking. The more you create winter rituals that you enjoy, the more joy the season will hold for you, even if the things you do are as simple as lighting candles in the evening or savoring a special tea. And next fall, when the days get darker and the first frost appears, you’ll know you’re leaving the warmth of summer behind—but you have something wonderful to look forward to.

Lead Photo: Adam and Kev, Getty

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