It may be cold outside, but months of social distancing have left us feeling a bit … bored. This is more than your usual case of cabin fever. Movies are out. Concerts are a big no. Winter festivals are just not happening. With a pandemic still raging, outdoor recreation is one of the few activities we can do safely. Because of that, many of us who were never big winter sports fans are finding ourselves venturing outside for some chilly fresh air.
The following is a quick primer for wannabe winter recreation enthusiasts.
Skiing – downhill
Downhill skiing is a lifestyle for many Upstaters. They follow the snow reports and have their favorite hills. If that isn’t you, then it might not be the best year to make the leap from the couch to the slopes. It can be expensive to get started and requires a certain amount of skill. You may also encounter limits on the number of skiers per day at many places, along with other COVID-19 guidelines. If you think you are up for the challenge, check out Maple Ski Ridge in Schenectady to keep it hyper-local. They offer lessons, rentals and a low-key downhill ski experience that is great for beginners.
If you don’t necessarily feel the need for speed, join the rest of the pandemic hoards taking up cross-country skiing this winter. You can find some great prices on used gear at Play It Again Sports in Latham or on Facebook Marketplace, but be prepared to do some hunting because everyone else is looking for the same thing. The great thing about cross-country skiing is you set the pace. Many local golf courses offer skiing on their grounds, and parks like The Crossings in Colonie have relatively level surfaces for first-timers. Don’t feel like cutting your own trails? Check out the 35 kilometers of groomed trails at the Pineridge Cross-Country Ski Area in East Poestenkill. They’ve got special weekday rates for seniors and it’s free for the 6 and under crowd.
If you’re still not sure you’re ready to fully embrace the icy outdoors, you can always give snowshoeing a go. It’s basically like hiking in the woods – only a little harder. The plusses: The work you put into it keeps you pretty warm; you get to enjoy a whole different season on some of your favorite hiking trails; and it’s relatively inexpensive, whether you rent or decide to buy your own snowshoes. It’s also a great intergenerational outing for family members with different skill levels. This is not a high-speed activity. I mean, there is such a thing as snowshoe racing, but we’ll just leave that to the pros.
A perennial favorite on snow days, sledding is a hit with the kids. While many grownups find they’re only up for a run or two, kids can spend hours bouncing down hills and schlepping their gear back up with no sign of fatigue. I have found that these days, my favorite thing about sledding is acting as a snack concierge – it’s more my speed, but I still get to enjoy the thrill of racing down the hill vicariously. Plus, who doesn’t love being the hero with the hot chocolate? Just remember to dress warmly so you’re not the reason everyone has to pack it in and go home. Everyone’s got their favorite hill, but the ones in Voorheesville across from the fire station or at Tawasentha Park in Guilderland are both spacious enough to spread out on.
How about this one for the homebodies? Make a cozy bonfire in your backyard with an outdoor fire pit. Bring out some blankets and a warm drink, enjoy some socially distant conversation or just breathe in the fresh outdoor air – no huffing and puffing involved. You can also build a funky snowman or snow sculpture that will cheer you up when you’re looking at it through the window once you’re back inside your cozy home.
These are by no means the only winter activities out there – there’s always skating, snowmobiling, ice fishing and more – but if you’re ready to take the plunge (and not the Polar Plunge – that is definitely not for beginners), it’s a good place to start. Who knows? Maybe the silver lining of this pandemic will be that you will have discovered a new lifelong winter activity.