How I Learned to Love the Long and Cold Cleveland Winters

It’s possible to have fun in the cold

Gray and Depressing

I used to hate Cleveland winters — unlike winters on the east coast where you would have snow and sunshine, Cleveland winters are cold, cloudy, and extremely windy. Every year I would feel sad about summer’s end while our region’s brief 3 week stint of fall weather quickly transitioned to winter. During my first few years in Cleveland winters seemed never ending. I could remember being one of those people that would count the days down until spring and then get severely disappointed when the first day of spring resulted in a blizzard. There were some things I liked about winter — having a reason to stay home and wear sweats all day, being in the mood to make and eat hot and hearty meals — but at the end of the season I was always longing for warmer weather. This is not the case anymore.

So what changed? I quickly realized that I was incapable of changing the weather, so the only thing I could do was change my attitude. Basically, I realized that if I was getting depressed by the winter weather, it was my own fault and not that of mother nature. I knew I had to learn to love the winter weather so much that I would be sad to see it go in the spring — and that’s exactly what I did.

Learning to love the winter outdoors

First thing I did was find some activities that I could enjoy doing year round. One such activity was star gazing. The initial excitement of taking my telescope out to some park on a cold and clear night is what got me through my first couple sessions. At that point I realized star gazing is still fun, regardless if there is snow on the ground or if it’s a warm summer night. In fact, I found that I liked star gazing in the winter even more than in the summer because of the objects visible in the northern hemisphere winter sky as well as having better star gazing weather (cold air typically means clearer viewing through a telescope). The first few times I took my telescope out though I learned that I could only last about 15–20 minutes standing still in the frigid winter air. I knew that if I was going to learn to love being outside in the winter I would need to learn to dress warmer.

Dressing warmly isn’t actually as difficult as it sounds. Our mothers used to help us with this when we were young — now I embarrassingly had to relearn how to do it myself. I quickly realized that dressing warmly doesn’t require going out and spending money on expensive mountain climbing jackets or special snow boots. Dressing warmly in the winter is all about non-water absorbing layers. Basically when I started, I just wore a couple polyester shirts, wool and fleece sweaters, and my regular jacket. Add a hat, scarf, gloves, and some hand warmers and I could happily and warmly stand out in the cold winter air for a couple of hours. Over the years I have bought some more specialty clothing to stay warm with less bulk, but you definitely don’t need that when starting out. In either case, moisture wicking layers are the key to staying warm in the cold.

After learning that I could stand still in the cold for hours at a time and feel comfortably warm, I started to investigate what other activities I could do in the winter. I started by thinking of what warm weather activities I liked doing and seeing how I could adapt them to the cold. I discovered that hiking and bird watching are excellent winter activities, so Renee and I started doing those in the winter too. To our great benefit, we discovered that hiking is a better workout when walking through powder and bird watching becomes much easier because there is no foliage in the trees. Two more great activities that we could now enjoy year round.

At this point, I felt like I had learned how to dress appropriately for the cold weather and decided to try even more activities out in the snow. I loved running outside in the summer time but absolutely hated running indoors on a treadmill during the winter. So I tried running outside. The first few times I went I overdressed (but thanks to layering my clothes I could easily shed items off when I got too warm) but I quickly adapted to how to run in cold weather. And I loved it! Running through the park on a snowy day is unbeatable. There are very few people outside, and the people who are generally look happy to be enjoying the cold with you. The air feels fresh and clean, the trees and ground are covered by beautiful snow, and really after the first 5 minutes of running you aren’t cold anymore. Awesome!

Eventually I got back into skiing and tried out some new winter sports too like cross country skiing, snow shoeing, and ice climbing. All of these activities are only available in the winter and now that I’ve tried them out, I look forward to doing them every year. Having to stop enjoying these activities once the warmer weather rolls in is what now makes me think that winter is always ending too soon.

Indoor winter activities become more meaningful

I don’t want to give the wrong impression that now that I’ve found outdoor winter activities that I love doing that I totally ignore what I used to love doing indoors during the colder months. It’s the opposite. I have more appreciation now for staying in at home sometimes, sitting next to the fire, reading books, programming code, and cooking hearty meals. I still enjoy doing all of these activities, but balancing them with outdoor activities makes me enjoy the indoor activities even more.

Spring and summer eventually come

Although many people still think winter has a strong hold, I can see it disappearing. Skiing opportunities are diminishing, there are more rainy/sleety days than snowy ones, and the birds and wildlife are starting to become more visible. Soon it will be time to put away the winter gear in storage, sharpen and wax the skis so they’re ready for next year, and start on spring cleaning. I never thought I would miss winter but now that I’ve found reasons to enjoy the cold I am sad to see the winter weather begin to disappear. And although there are plenty of summer activities that I love as well like camping, hiking, and kayaking, I’ll still be sad to put the skis away until next winter.

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