Snowflakes are falling. The Roaring Fork Valley is blanketed in a beautiful winter white. Everyone is anxious to make those first turns or pull out the snowshoes for the season. It’s winter in the mountains – a beautiful time of year, but one that can also feel daunting if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that tends to happen during the fall and winter when days become shorter and we’re exposed to less sunlight. This combination of factors can trigger a chemical change in the brain. The good news is there are plenty of ways to stay ahead of SAD when you embrace the winter wonderland outside, turning shorter days into action-packed opportunities for snow-filled fun. Here are some outdoor activities to take care of your mental health and avoid those winter blues.
Winter Hiking Escapades
A walk along a snowy trail to a beautiful winter overlook is an excellent way to embrace Mother Nature during colder months. Fewer crowds and fresh, crisp air make this a go-to winter activity for anyone who enjoys hiking. Before you go, make sure you have the following essential winter hiking equipment:
- Proper hiking shoes or boots
- Gaiters if you plan to hike in snow that is more than a few inches deep
- Traction for your footwear
- Warm, full-length socks
- Moisture-wicking base and mid-layers
- Weatherproof outer layers
- A small backpack
- Plenty of water and snacks
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Trekking poles
Once you’re properly equipped and on your way, be mindful of winter conditions, including slippery trails and rocks, buried hazards, and trail markings that can be harder to see in the snow. With these things in mind, a brisk winter hike can be incredibly rewarding. The snow can make it easier to spot wildlife and wildlife tracks. It also muffles sound, offering remarkable peace and quiet while you wander. Talk with your local sporting goods store or outfitter about the best and most scenic winter hikes near you.
Snowy Adventures for Thrill-Seekers
Swishing down the slopes has been a part of winter fun since the mid-1800s, but people have been using skis to cross snow for utilitarian purposes since roughly 6000 BCE. This timeless practice has become a favorite pastime for those looking to up the adrenaline factor during the winter months. Whether you’re brand new to skiing or riding, or you started sliding on sticks as soon as you learned to walk, winter is the perfect time to take to the slopes.
Tips for Beginner and Intermediate Snow Enthusiasts:
- Visit your local ski or snowboard shop and talk with a professional about renting or buying equipment that is appropriate for your size and ability level.
- Start low and slow – there’s nothing wrong with time spent on beginner slopes and learner lifts.
- For beginners, consider taking a lesson. Intermediate skiers can think about hiring a guide for the day to learn more about accessing new and different terrain and elevating technique.
- Layer properly – nothing will ruin a fun day on the hill faster than frostbite!
And if you’re looking to get out into the mountains but want to try something other than skiing or snowboarding, give snowshoeing a whirl. Going uphill or down, this is a great way to get your heart rate up while taking in the beauty of winter.
Cozy Up with a Campfire or Winter Picnic
Once winter hits, it’s easy to find plenty of excuses to cozy up inside. This winter, consider taking the coziness outdoors with a campfire, a welcoming winter space, or picnic. Gather your coworkers and colleagues for an outdoor holiday party, complete with warm drinks, s’mores and the crackle and warmth of a bonfire.
Or pack a winter picnic for some rewarding outdoor fun. Using a thermally-regulated pack, bag or ice chest allows you and your crew to enjoy a warm meal while the snowflakes fall. Crockpot chili or soup, hearty sandwiches, thermoses full of cider and tea, and healthy sweets made with wholesome, nutrient-rich ingredients are all great options for a winter meal outdoors.
If you want to keep the winter warmth on your home turf, it’s fun to create an inviting outdoor space in your backyard or on your deck. Consider adding the following to your outdoor décor this winter:
- Outdoor propane or wood-burning fire pit
- Cozy chairs set against your own winter backdrop
- String lights that add a little twinkle to the surrounding snowy crystals
- A homemade igloo or outdoor bar
- A pop-up canopy to allow people to stay dry when it’s snowing
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Winter Wildlife Encounters
Winter makes for an excellent time to spot wildlife. A layer of snow offers a unique environment in which to spot wandering herds. Birds gather in the Colorado Rockies, escaping harsher climates up north. This winter, add wildlife viewing to your list of must-dos. Here are a few tips:
- Talk with your local environmental center or birding group about the best animals to spot in your area.
- Look for clear sightlines and horizon lines to get a glimpse of animals that are harder to spot through the leaves and grasses of summer.
- Keep an eye out for animal tracks – imprints can be much easier to spot in the snow.
- If your snowshoe, Nordic or backcountry ski adventure takes you a little farther afield, make sure to look for deer and elk antler sheds.
And don’t forget to take your camera! Winter wildlife can make for beautiful and dramatic photos. Large dark bodies or small colorful birds against a backdrop of extreme white, bunnies playing in the snow, the pointy ears of a lynx beneath a canopy of branches – winter wildlife photography is an art in and of itself. If you’re looking for a creative winter pastime, learning more about this art form is a great way to get outside with purpose during the winter.
Ice Skating Magic
While most of us aren’t as adept on ice as our favorite figure skaters or hockey players, frozen bodies of water and local rinks are a fun way to make the most of winter months. Find your local indoor or outdoor rink and check hours for public skate or pick-up hockey game times. If an official rink isn’t an option in your area, learn more about natural places to skate. Check out social media for updates on wild ice (local lakes, rivers and ponds that freeze over) and the conditions that make it safe and smooth.
Never tried curling? Now is a great time to start! Pick up some old kettles and brooms at the local thrift store and consider starting a casual curling league in your area. Or don your headlamps and head to the ice after dark. Twinkling stars above and glistening ice below is a fun way to infuse your winter with a little more glow.
Embrace Your Inner Child
Once those first snowflakes start to fly, it’s hard to contain the giddiness, no matter how old you are. So long as conditions are safe, you’re never too old for a little sledding or snow tubing with the family! And then of course, there’s the time-honored tradition of making a snowman. Look for fun and funny household objects to set your snowy lawn ornament apart. Here are some fun snowman building ideas:
- Baseball hats
- A snowman family
- Upside down snowman
- Snow dinosaurs
- Snowman on a bike
Mindfulness in the Winter Chill
The peace, quiet and calm of a snow-covered landscape are ideal for practicing your mindfulness. This winter, try some winter yoga, embracing mindful movement in the cold and breaking out of the winter slump. The following poses are great for energizing your winter morning:
- Child pose
- Cobra pose
- Seated forward bend
- Triangle pose
- Bridge pose
- Locust pose
Or put on plenty of layers, grab a small waterproof mat or chair and head to your favorite outdoor spot to meditate. Tapping into the peace of snowfall makes for easy escape from the hustle and bustle, and allows you to spend time connecting with your meditative practice in wintery fresh air.
Winter is a season of outdoor delights, from skiing and snowboarding to hiking, wildlife viewing, meditation, and simply having fun. This season, explore everything the frosty air has to offer and combat SAD and the winter blues with some refreshing snow-filled bliss.