4 Alternatives To Winter Activities
“There are no bad conditions, only poor preparation.” Or so the saying goes. The allure of glassy lakes, empty trails, and quiet crags makes a winter visit worth a little extra preparation and a couple more layers. This winter, I decided to take that mantra to heart by mixing my sport seasons up a bit. Plus, I would rather do summer sports in winter than vice-versa; skiing on sand just sounds too gritty for me.
The water’s great; come on in, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. And they were right! Living just 20 minutes from several lakes (Jordanelle, Mountain Dell, East Canyon, and Rockport), we spend a fair portion of the summer out on the water. I wondered: how different might warm winter days be? So one sunny afternoon, we loaded up our paddleboards and dipped our proverbial toes in the water.
We needed high rubber boots to walk through muddy and snowy shores, which took a bit of getting used to once afloat compared to my usual summer barefoot paddling. I did make a note to myself should I fall in these suckers would fill right up with water. So, one—don’t fall in. Two: if I did, I was prepared mentally to rip these galoshes right off. The only other tweak from my summer setup was to actually wear my life jacket. Utah law requires that a life preserver simply be on board, so typically I just lash it to my deck. This time I wore it snugly, for both added safety and an extra layer of warmth. Other than that, I pretty much dressed like any other normal winter day: jeans, flannel, and a light puffy jacket with a knit hat.
Once I pushed off from shore I was shocked at how different the same lake sounded : no boats buzzing by, no groups partying on the beach, and not a soul in sight other than my wife. We had the place to ourselves, continually amazed by the immediate feeling of solitude. With no wind and the Utah winter sun shining bright, it was quite pleasant. All in all, we spent about an hour paddling the shoreline (just in case of an emergency slip in the drink) and had a blast. Rather than putting our inflatables away for winter, they’re sitting in the garage next to our skis awaiting the next spell of high pressure.
Saying goodbye to my bike is always a difficult period for me. Skiing is my first and truest love, but man biking is fun! Once fall begins to give way to winter, those first few snows muck up the trails. And if lifts spinning are still several weeks away, I find myself getting creative to continue pedaling. In early winter, if I got out early I could avoid the mud and ride frozen singletrack, but those opportunities are few and far between.
Once the snow really starts to fly, I sadly hang up my mountain bike. But, for those of you with a fat bike: the season really never ends. The number of trails you can ride in winter, both in Salt Lake and Park City, is surprising. The Corner Canyon area comes to mind in particular, as Draper City does an impeccable job at grooming trails for cross-country skiers and fat bikers. Check out trail conditions at draper.
The Round Valley system in Park City does an equally great job of trail grooming in winter months for the Nordic crowds, as well as bikers. Reports can be found here.
With a dozen or so trails to choose from, you can ride as many miles as your legs can handle on a variety of terrain. If you’re new to winter biking, take a spin on some of the easier trails before taking it up a notch as bikes (and brakes) handle a bit differently on snow. Once you have gotten the hang of it, you’ll be surprised how many of your favorite summer trails (think Rob’s, Glenwild, etc) you can ride up and down in winter.
Dress-wise, I think of biking along the lines of backcountry skiing on a spring day. Usually a baselayer and windbreaker are enough, plus some light touring pants with ample ventilation. I wear a Buff under my helmet, and bring a few backups as it’s easy to sweat through a few of them. The three pieces of clothing I never leave home without are: gaiters, waterproof socks, and gloves. They are lifesavers in the comfort realm.
If you’re in need of rental fat bikes, White Pine and Contender in Park City have you covered, and Hyland Cyclery in SLC has a fat fleet as well.
This is the easiest sport of all to take up in the winter months, as you don’t need any gear than you likely already own. Snowshoes are great if you want to traverse deeper areas, but if hasn’t snowed in a few days, there are tons of trails that see enough foot (and paw) traffic that all you need are hiking boots. If I were to recommend one or two pieces of inexpensive gear, it would be gaiters to keep snow out of the top of your shoes and Yaktrax, or some similar traction device, for your soles. But honestly, I have hiked miles of trails in my typical hiking boots with no problem.
A great place to start is Millcreek Canyon, where a number of trail users keep the road surface compact. Neffs Canyon is another favorite, which is a bit more off the beaten path, but has just enough foot traffic to make the going easy. In Park City, you can walk through the winter wonderland on Road to Wos.
Late winter and early spring is an ideal time for south-facing climbs. I’ve enjoyed many a pleasant February and March day in Little and Big Cottonwood during high-pressure cycles, skiing corn snow by morning then onto some sunny rock by afternoon. This is a Utah biathlon of sorts for me. The sun does a great job of heating up the rock, and if you follow the shade line, it’s fairly easy to find routes conducive to climbing right until sunset.
Mountain Project and similar sites do a great job with icons showing the exposure on many popular routes to gauge when they will be in sun (or shade in summer). Of course, a good ole compass and map work, same for just looking up from the trailhead and making a decision based on where the sun is and where it will be in an hour or two.
With just a few minor tweaks to gear and clothing I’ve really enjoyed “scratching my summer itch” by keeping a few of my favorite activities going into winter. A few other tips: don’t forget the usual water, sunscreen, and snacks. Plus, winter weather can turn quickly, so bring a few extra layers, jacket, and gloves in a pack. I also always carry a headlamp (check the batteries) since that winter sun seems to dip below the horizon sooner than I expect.