8 Winter Activities That Will Make You Love Snowstorms

Jan 20, 2019

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There is no arguing with Mother Nature — winter is here (and has been for a while). With Winter Storm Harper battering the Midwest and Northeast, you may be inclined to crank up the heat, clear out the local supermarket and spend the rest of the season sipping hot chocolate.

There’s nothing wrong with that plan, but you shouldn’t let a bit of snow or ice  freeze your travel plans until the first sight of spring. Even if flights are grounded, there are great ways to get out and actually enjoy winter (yes, even the snow part), and they’re probably way closer to home than you think.  

No car? Don’t fret. Many of the best winter destinations are accessible from major cities by public transportation, too. And even if you do have a vehicle, you don’t necessarily have to dig it out from the snow pile.

“There are dozens of destinations that can be reached without the use of a car from New York City, and hundreds more from cities across the country,” Sarah Knapp, the publisher of offMetro (a car-free travel resource for city-dwellers) told TPG. “And by taking the car-free option, you’re able to relax and not worry about having to drive on an icy road during a snowstorm.”

So bundle up, pull on your snow boots and head outside. Don’t claim to hate winter until you’ve given all these winter activities a try.

Ski or Snowboard Down a Mountain

This is the quintessential winter activity and, thanks to a wide range of ski hills with varying terrain, learning to ski has never been easier.

East Coasters may be familiar with the more popular ski hills — Stowe, Killington and Sunday River — but there are plenty of other options to explore, too. Smugglers’ Notch Resort has plenty of beginner-friendly terrain and family-friendly events, while Jay Peak gets some of the best snow in the region and has a waterpark at the base for after a day on the hill.

A frosty day at Smuggler's Notch in Vermont. (Photo via Shutterstock)
A frosty day at Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont. (Photo via Shutterstock)

If you want to really take advantage of this particular snowstorm, stick to ski resorts in New Hampshire and Vermont, where estimates still predict a foot to 18 inches of snow.

Try Cross-Country Skiing

Even if you’re not a speed-craving adrenaline junky, skiing is still one of the best activities for winter. The Jackson Cross-Country Ski Touring Center, located in Jackson, New Hampshire (which is about to get six to 10 inches of fresh powder), boasts almost 100 miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Out in Michigan, which just received a fair dusting of snow, there are a number of cross-country ski touring centers. And a favorite for New Yorkers is Whiteface Mountain, near Lake Placid.

Just be sure to stick to groomed and tracked trails if this is your first winter cross-country skiing. Many downhill ski resorts also offer cross-country ski trails, too, so be sure to check if you want to try both on your next winter outing.

Go Snowshoeing 

We get it. Bundling up and flying downhill on one or two planks of wood at full speed is not for everyone. Luckily, there are other more relaxing activities you can try this winter. After the snow falls, strap on a pair of snowshoes and “float” across the snowy landscape.

If a destination has snow, you can most likely find a company that will rent you snowshoes. Great Glen Trails in New Hampshire offers snowshoe rentals, groomed and ungroomed trails and free guided snowshoe tours. And in Acadia National Park — which could get up to a foot of snow weekend — there are 45 miles of carriage roads perfect for snowshoers. (During the government shutdown, carriage roads will remain open but ungroomed.)

Sequoia National Park in California. (Photo via Shutterstock)
Sequoia National Park in California. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Take a Hike

If you’re not that into gear but still want to get outside and be active even in the thick of winter, search for well-trafficked trails, such as the Lake Skenonto Loop in Harriman State Park (accessible with New Jersey transit on the Port Jervis train line). Here, travelers will find packed in conditions that won’t require snowshoes.  But because heavily-tracked trails can get icy, traction devices such as microspikes are highly recommended.

Mohonk Preserve, 90 miles north of New York City, and Bear Mountain State Park also have a network of well-trod trails that shouldn’t require snowshoe (such as the namesake Bear Mountain Loop trail that’s just over four miles and affords great views of the Hudson River).

Check Out a Winter Festival

Winter festivals encompass all things winter (ice carving, snow-covered wine walks, ice skating) and are held annually in towns across the country. The Stowe Winter Carnival in Stowe, Vermont, is held at the end of January, and has a wide range of events such as an ice carving competition and a youth ice fishing tournament. And the exceptionally cold, wintry city of St. Paul, Minnesota hosts one of the largest and oldest winter festivals in the country: the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. Expect ice sculptures, giant snow slides and even a (very chilly) half marathon.

If the cold really isn’t your thing, you can look forward to the lineup of hot beverages typically on offer at winter festivals, including spiced cider, hot chocolates, mulled wine and Baileys-spiked coffee.

A scene from the Stowe Winter Carnival. (Photo courtesy of Go Stowe)
A scene from the Stowe Winter Carnival. (Photo courtesy of Go Stowe)

Climb a Frozen Waterfall

Yes, this is a thing. If you’ve never been, ice climbing is popular winter activity that involves scaling frozen waterfalls with crampons and ice axes. And though you don’t need to wait for a snowstorm, it certainly makes the surrounding terrain even more stunning.

There are a few major ice climbing festivals across the country, such as the Ouray Ice Fest in Colorado and the Mount Washington Ice Fest in New Hampshire, that offer guided climbing days, clinics and events. There are also many centers that offer guided climbs and gear rentals throughout the season in other popular ice climbing destinations like Vermont, Michigan, Minnesota and Utah.

Go Dog Sledding

You don’t have to travel to northern Alaska, Norway or Finland to try dog sledding. Instead, take advantage of snowfall closer to home and book a single or multi-day guided dog-sledding excursion in Maine. You could even learn how you to drive your own sled. Out in Montana, where certain areas just received more than 10 inches of snow, Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures also offers a variety of tours to help you experience this cold-weather tradition.

(Photo courtesy of Visit Maine)
(Photo courtesy of Visit Maine)

Lace Up Your Skates

You probably don’t even have to leave town to go ice skating, making it one of the best options for people who want to enjoy the winter scenery after a snowstorm without trekking into the wilderness. In cities all across the the country, ice skating rinks pop up during winter (think: The Rink at Brookfield Place in New York City; McCormick Tribune Plaza & Ice Rink in Chicago). Best of all, many of these rinks offer inexpensive rentals and introductory ice skating lessons. You can also find ice skating rinks at many winter festivals.

Featured image of Mount Washington via Getty Images.

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