Chippewa Herald * March 6, 2014     Hit Counter by Digits

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There's no such thing as bad weather

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

As I write this column on February 25, the long-range weather forecast calls for sub-zero lows every single night for ten days, with daytime highs all well below freezing.

Isn't that AWESOME? This is truly the BEST WINTER EVER!

Think of the advantages of several months below 32 degrees -- no slush to slog through, no wilting of the family igloo, and most important, no degradation of the ski trails.

I am a little surprised at some of the grumbling reactions I've heard from others lately. Granted, I have a cushy inside job, and my heart goes out to those who must work outside every day in the bitter cold.

But for the rest of us, how can you not love the breathtaking scenario after a snowfall like we had last week?

There is an old Scandinavian saying that I first heard in Boy Scouts: "There's no such thing as bad weather; there's just bad clothing."

I have a theory that most of the people who hate winter simply aren't dressed for it. I, too, hated winter when I was a kid, wearing cotton socks and a thin hat and cloth gloves.

But if you have the right clothes, it's really not that bad. Let's start with socks. The only good time for putting cotton on your feet is in the middle of the summer. Ditch the cotton socks and buy some wool socks. You can get fancy brands like "Smartwool" that are great, but any old wool socks will keep your feet warm and toasty all day.

You need some respectable boots, too. I confess that when I go from my heated home to my heated car to my heated office to work, I usually just wear sneakers. But if I am going to be outside for any length of time, I wear Sorels, heavy boots with waterproof outers and a thick insulating layer.

Do you get cold fingers? Replace your gloves with mittens. When it gets into the single digits, I wear "choppers," mittens with a thick leather shell surrounding wool liners. (There's that wool again.) Your fingers will help keep each other warm if allowed to mingle.

If you're going to be outside for a while in windy conditions, you also need more than a stocking cap. Those thick fur hats that cover your ears are magnificent! You can't hear very well in them, but they'll keep the heat from pouring out of your head, and keep your ears from freezing.

Probably the one biggest thing to keep warm when the arctic winds howl is also one of the least-used: a good scarf or neck-warmer. I did not discover scarves until my college years, when I had to walk a mile between classes, crossing the frozen Mississippi River over the Washington Avenue bridge.

A scarf not only keeps your neck warm, it captures your exhaled breath and bathes your face in warm, moist air. These days I use a neck-warmer that I can pull up over my mouth and nose when needed.

When the wind chill gets to -30, and there are warnings about exposed flesh becoming frost-bitten in minutes, there are two options. Rather than just cancel everything and stay inside, simply choose not to expose any flesh!

If you wear good boots, wool socks, mittens, a hat, and a scarf or neck-warmer, then the only exposed flesh is around your eyes. And when that area is warmed by your breath, it's not really "exposed" after all.

I have taken advantage of this wonderful winter by cross-country skiing nearly every day. So far I have over 50 days of skiing in this year -- already a new record for me, and it's still February!

I know what you're thinking, that I must be either crazy or capable of stoically enduring bitter pain when I go skiing at 15 below. That's what I thought, too, for the first 46 years of my life. But once I started skiing, I realized how warm your body gets while exercising.

I wear the same thing on my torso every time I ski, whether it's 28 above or 28 below: a thin under-layer, and a windbreaker. That's all. I wear wool socks and hat, of course. The only thing I vary is that I switch from gloves to choppers when it gets below 15, and I pull my neck warmer over my mouth around 15 and over further over my nose when it gets below zero.

On the bitter cold days, I must admit that I am a little cool when starting out, but within a few minutes, my body is blazing like a furnace. With Irvine Park's 3.2 miles of glorious groomed trails right outside my doorstep, and Carson Park's 1.3 miles close to my new office, there aren't many excuses not to ski at least once a day, either at sunrise, sunset, or during lunch.

My favorite time has to be morning, which is easier to do now that the late February sun rises before 7:00 a.m.. There's no better way to start the day than an invigorating 5-mile ski through Irvine Park in a sub-zero sunrise.

Long live the Polar Vortex! Just give a little thought to how you dress for it.

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