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If you thought the only way to get through winter was to stay inside and hunker down, think again. Don’t let the chilly weather throughout much of the country deter you from enjoying time outside (safe and socially distanced, of course) this winter — there are plenty of surprising ways to get out and make the most of the season. Here are eight interesting winter activities to try in the great outdoors.
Setting up shop out on a frozen lake for the better part of the day isn’t just about catching fish. (But if you can snag a few on your line and fry up some fresh fish for dinner, all the better!) The sport of ice fishing is an interactive event for friends and family which feels a bit like tailgating if you do it right. Grab your ice auger, dust off your folding beach chair, pack a cooler — or even a small tent and a camp stove for grilling — and gather ‘round on the ice for a day of fishing, socializing, and outdoor fun. (Pro tip: Don’t forget to review these ice fishing safety tips before you head out on the ice.)
Skiing and snowboarding? Been there, done that. Instead, crank the adrenaline up a notch and explore uncharted territory with a snowmobile rental. Whether you prefer to ride groomed sled trails or blaze your own, snowmobiling is a genuinely thrilling way to explore beautiful winter landscapes. Pack a bag, find your own scenic spot, and enjoy a picnic in a snow-covered wilderness. (First time snowmobiling? Check out these beginner tips.)
Who says hiking is dead in the winter? In fact, just the opposite is true — all you need is to strap on a pair of sturdy snowshoes, and suddenly you have the ability to traverse deep snow banks and scale slippery mountain paths. The workout of snowshoeing up the side of a blustery hill can be surprisingly rigorous, so you’ll likely be stopping to peel off your thick winter layers before you reach the top. National and state parks like Bryce Canyon in Utah and Yosemite’s Glacier Point in California are often some of the best places to go snowshoeing — and to gain a new wintertime perspective on these popular hiking spots.
Cold Water Surfing
Just because summer’s over doesn’t mean that water sports are off-limits. If you live near a coastline with any sort of swell, chances are you’ll see a few hardcore surfers still hanging ten in the winter. The northeast U.S. in particular has a large community of cold water surfers who brave the chilly temperatures — and even snowstorms — to take advantage of the winter waves. With the proper gear, you won’t be as cold as you think. Head to your local surf shop, rent a winter suit with a built-in hood, grab some waterproof booties and mittens, and paddle out on your board.
For those who like to truly earn their downhill run, skinning is a full-fledged outdoor winter excursion that isn’t for the faint of heart. Skinning is mainly used to access ungroomed back-country trails and entails using skis to trek up a mountainside and then ski down. Skinners use special boot bindings that provide extra mobility, allowing them to lift their heels and pivot their toes as if they were snowshoeing. Synthetic skins fasten to the bottom of their skis to help grip the snow packed ground. Once they reach the top, they remove the skins, lock their bindings into place, and reap their downhill reward.
Polar Bear Plunge
There’s nothing quite like the exhilaration (or madness) of submerging yourself in bone-chilling water with freezing temperatures outside. Polar bear plunges have become a popular way for groups to get together and participate in an out-of-the-box winter activity. The practice dates back to the turn of the 20th century, when winter swimming clubs were formed in Boston and Coney Island, and they have since grown into a beloved New Year’s Day tradition in cities across the U.S. and Canada. And if you can work up the courage, it’s easy to participate — just grab your friends or family, head down to the beach, strip down to your swimsuits, and take the plunge all together.
Avid bikers find a way to grind it out all year long — rain, shine, or snow. Fat biking gets its memorable name from the extra-wide tires that enable the bike to glide across snow, allowing riders to take to the trails in winter. Fat tires range from four to five inches and are designed for low ground pressure, making them an ideal mode of transportation over snow, mud, sand, or bog. Plus, the fat bike’s ability to adapt to a variety of unstable terrain makes it suitable for all four seasons.
Looking to blow off a little steam with friends this winter? All you need are some friends, a grassy hill, and a giant block of ice. Ice blocking is a simple yet innovative practice that allows you to enjoy the thrill of sledding — even if there’s no snow on the ground yet. First, find a box that’s big enough to sit on and use it for your ice mold in the freezer, fill it with three to four inches of water, and line it with a trash bag. Then, find a grassy hill with smooth terrain, climb atop your ice block, and it’s time to fly. Many participants give ice blocking a competitive twist and host races, with the fastest times advancing to the next round.