As winter is tightening its grip in the north, the time we get to spend outside gets more valuable, and with good reason. The sun has dipped below the horizon, and the next time we see it will be in the end of January, so the amount of daylight were getting is not all that much. This doesn’t mean that we end up sitting inside all day, huddling by the fire dressed in blankets. Stay with us, and we’ll take you through some of the stuff we do here, as well as how we manage to survive in this amazing winter wonderland.
Obviously, spending time outside when the temperatures can drop to -30 Celsius or more, is slightly different than in autumn or summer. With 50 cm of snow on the ground, and six layers of clothes on your body, basic things like walking start getting difficult. Taking pictures become an exercise in dealing with pain as your fingers start freezing after about 30 seconds, and any electronic equipment you might have with you will die if there’s no room inside your clothes. The challenges are many, but so are the rewards for those who venture outside.
One of those rewards come from the sun. Between the 20th of November and 20th of January, the suns orbit makes it unable to shine above the horizon this far north. We’re not living in perpetual darkness, as many believe, but the light we do get is limited. What does happen though when the sky is clear, is that we get treated to a stunning array of colours at sunrise and sunset, and if there’s a few clouds in the sky, even better. The period before and after sunrise and sunset is also called “the Blue Hour”, as the sky takes on a magnificent shade of blue which, with the snow, bathes everything in a soothing mood, really amplifying the already cold temperatures.
We already have a blog about the Auroras, but we can always mention them again. This time of year will often result in the trees getting buried in frost or snow, and make everything more white. The result is an amazing contrast to the dark sky, and when the northern lights strike the photos become really epic. Also, night time hiking under a full moon is something that should be experienced. There’s no need for a head torch as the light is reflected by the snow, and the silence is almost deafening.
We spend a lot of time outside, even this time of year. We go hiking, explore the woods and make fires to have coffee and lunch outside, while the dogs sniff around and follow all the animal trails they can find. The one activity we can’t do any other time of year though, obviously, is sledding. This is the first winter we can really go out without having to drive far off, or look for enough snow, and we’re loving every minute of it. Some days only one of us go out with all three dogs, while other times Jana take two dogs on the sled and Thomas takes one dog on skis. It’s taken a little bit of getting used to for the dogs, but being Alaskan Huskies, sledding is in their blood. We can see it when they are running, they take to it very quickly, and they are always very eager to go. It’s a magnificent way of seeing the landscape around us.
At the time of writing this, we’ve had temperatures hovering around -30 celsius for the past week. The climate here is much dryer than on the coast, and without the heat from the Gulf Stream, the thermometer can drop to -40 and even -50 below at the worst. Knowing how to dress for outside activities in these temperatures is therefore vital, if you want to keep all your bodyparts intact.
The main trick is layering: It’s better to have many thinner layers instead of a few thick ones, as well as outer clothes that will help trap heat. Synthetic materials are, for the most part, vastly inferior to the natural alternatives such as fur and wool. Personally we use wool undergarments with at least 60-70% wool content, usually two layers, as well as one or even two wool sweaters on top of that. A standard fleece sweater does work as one of the middle layers, and a cotton sweater can also do the trick. Wool is the way to go though, and if it reeks of sheep, it’s the proper deal. For the legs we tend to use a pair of long johns underneath, then a pair of normal outdoor pants, and lastly a thick pair of insulating winter pants (baggy snowboard pants are brilliant). The reason for all the layers is to trap air, which is a great insulator, and wool or bird down traps even more.
On of the hardest things to keep warm is your feet, hands and face. For the feet it’s again about layering, but not so much that it’s a squeeze to put the boots on. For the hands, stay away from gloves. Mittens, preferably wool, are far better, and gives you the ability to move your hands inside to keep the fingers warm. For the face and head, a good hat and a large scarf or big hood is better than a face mask. With a face mask, the moisture from your breath can freeze on the mask, and lead to frostbite. With a scarf, you can shift the scarf around to an unfrozen area, and a big hood will create an air pocket around your face that your body heats up, thus keeping your skin safe.
The point here is not to discourage anyone from coming here in winter. We hope to show that even with the freezing temperatures and short days, it’s still a magical time that should be experienced at least once. And if you do decide to come, make some time to try out the hot water trick. It looks awesome when you get the technique right.
As a bonus, here’s a video from the first really frosty hike we had this winter, before the sun disappeared below the horizon.