You can stay active outdoors this winter: Here’s how

Winter. Do you wish it away, or embrace it? Do you hole up inside, or seek to be active outdoors no matter the weather?

In mountainous states, people don’t think twice about heading outside to hit the slopes when the white stuff falls. And in Scandinavian countries, a wintertime practice that seems especially strange here is the norm: parents regularly let babies nap outside bundled up in strollers, in sub-freezing temps, even in public places like coffee shops.

People in the Midwest seem slightly less willing to embrace winter. Maybe it’s the length of the season, the cultural disdain for any snow that falls after the holiday season (which happens to be a majority of the snow), or just how bitterly cold it can get when the wind blows (there are clothes for that!).

If you enjoy being active outdoors, however, there is no reason to hibernate this winter. There are some great ways to stay active that will keep you from getting cabin fever (and help to counteract the extra calories many of us consume over the holidays):

  1. Cross-Country Skiing

This is a winter sport you can definitely do. It’s accessible, it’s an amazing full-body cardio workout, and when enough snow falls, the whole world becomes your trail.

Betsy Baertlein of Cedar Rapids gets out with her skis every chance she gets. “I grew up in Southeast Minnesota. My whole family would go out to state parks. I started around kindergarten age, and as an adult, I’d go out every day in the winter,” Betsy said.

She’s been in the Cedar Rapids area for around four years now, and while she wishes there were more winter days with enough snow, it’s motivation to get out when conditions are right. “It’s something to look forward to,” she said.

Betsy’s favorite local cross-country skiing locations are the City of Cedar Rapids’ Sac & Fox Trail, MacBride Nature Recreation Area, and Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City. You can find a list of trails groomed by the City of Cedar Rapids, and their winter sports hotline for checking trail conditions, here and maps of Linn County Conservation groomed trails here.

Ready to hit the trails? You’ll have to choose between classic (nordic) or skate skiing. Skate skiing is faster, but it’s easier to get started on classic skis, and you can go anywhere, no groomed trail necessary. That’s one of the things Betsy loves about it.

“I enjoy getting out in nature. [Skiing] allows me to get out into areas I can’t in the summer, back in the woods. It’s quiet and peaceful,” Betsy said. “It’s meditative too: you get into the rhythm, forget everything else for awhile and enjoy the surroundings.”

  1. Snowshoeing

If it’s the cold temps that keep you from going out in the winter, don’t worry – you’ll generate plenty of body heat when you’re tromping through the snow in snowshoes to keep you warm. You’ll be amazed at much easier (and more fun) trekking through the snow is when you have snowshoes strapped to your feet.

Snowshoes work by distributing your bodyweight over a larger area, so you will not sink down into the snow – decreasing the effort it takes to move and enabling you to cover longer distances. It’s still a great workout though, and like with classic cross-country skiing, it’s a good way to get into the woods and explore areas that are not accessible in the summer, when everything is overgrown.

If you’ve spent time in nature after a snowfall, you’ll recall the feeling: it’s almost eerily silent, the untouched snow sparkles in the sunlight, and the air is clean and crisp. Snowshoes may be the best way to get out and enjoy it. And chances are, you’ll have the trail to yourself. In addition to Indian Creek Nature Center, any of the City and County parks and trails listed above are great options for strapping on a pair of snowshoes and exploring.

Soko Outfitters offers both sales and rentals of two kinds of snowshoes: Tubbs snowshoes, which you can rent for $20 per day, and Black Diamond GlideLite Snow Trekkers – these are a snowshoe/cross country ski combination and they’re a lot of fun on the snow. You can rent these for $25 per day.

  1. Play like a kid: go sledding!

This may be easier if you actually have young children or grandchildren – but there is nothing stopping you from grabbing a sled and heading to the nearest hill even if you don’t have kids.

As anyone who has ever trudged back up a big sledding hill can attest, it’s a workout – and the fun of flying back down is worth it. Your mood will benefit, too: ending up in a heap at the bottom of the hill will get you laughing, and you’ll soak up some precious vitamin D that’s even more essential in the winter months (most Midwesterners are deficient in vitamin D, which can lead to a whole host of health problems). Let’s be real: have you ever seen someone frowning while going down the hill on a sled?

Find the nearest 12-year-old to get the scoop on prime sledding spots, or visit popular Cedar Rapids sledding hills at Jones Park, Shawnee Park, Bowman Woods Elementary School, and Roosevelt Middle School. Make sure to make some snow angels and build a snowman while you’re at it.

  1. Downhill skiing and snowboarding

Love downhill skiing or snowboarding, but don’t have time or funds to travel to Colorado this winter? Take advantage of the rolling hills of the Mississippi River valley and head to Sundown Mountain in Dubuque or Chestnut Mountain in Galena, Illinois. They may not be Breckenridge, but you’ll get some exercise and the rush that comes with the wind in your face as you sail down the slopes, and they’re under two hours away.

Chestnut Mountain consistently is ranked among the best winter resorts in the Midwest for the views and other amenities, like spas and dining. We adore Cedar Rapids and there are awesome ways to be active outdoors here, but winter gets long, and scheduling in a 3-day weekend in Galena for January or February might be just the thing you need to get you through to spring.

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What do you do if all else fails, there’s no snow, and you’re getting cabin fever? Head outside for a good old-fashioned walk. Those of you who walk your dog daily won’t have a problem making this happen (check out our post on the best places to walk your dog in Cedar Rapids). For the rest of you – bundle up and get out there. It may be hard to get motivated to go outside but your body and mind will thank you.

Remember when you’re heading out this winter to dress in layers! It’s especially important to have a moisture-wicking base layer to keep you dry and warm. Staff at Soko Outfitters can help you choose all the right gear for your outdoor winter adventures, based on the activity.

Have fun out there!

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