Winter Survival Guide

Jan 21, 2012 by

A couple days ago, I was going to go to my friend Kyle’s place to cook soup for him and his roommate, but when it took me over 30 minutes to defrost after getting home from school, I knew I didn’t want to leave the house, go to the grocery store, park my car at his place, and then have to shiver and vibrate my way home at the end of the evening. All I wanted was to hibernate by the fire with a big mug of tea at my house, all night long.
I’ve been thinking about doing this post for a while now, but the weather prior to these last few days has just been far too balmy, sitting somewhere around a nice 5 degrees C. I even saw some people at school in shorts. Yes, shorts. And yes, more than one person. Now that the weather has dropped well past minus 20C, it is time to write my own personal winter survival guide.
My dad often says that living in Winnipeg during the winter is really like going into survival mode. People die here because they get drunk at a friend’s house and pass out in the snow. People die here when their cars stall on a highway and no one comes to the rescue. One of my favourite (likely) urban legends is of someone who got trapped on a roof for a smoke during a work break, and no one could hear the banging on the locked door. The person was left to freeze to death overnight, only to be found the following day.
It may not be overly apparent that we are all in survival mode during these bitterly cold months, but come spring, it seems that everyone and their dog, literally, is outside for a walk, for a saunter, for an amble, for a mosey… ANYTHING to get out of the house, finally.
A Cold New Year’s Eve, 2008 – Winnipeg, Canada
Skating on the River, 2009 – Winnipeg, Canada
Skating on the River, 2009 – Winnipeg, Canada
At the Top, 2010 – Whistler, Canada
So here it is:
Winter Survival, According To Me.
1. Do as the Danes do. Hygge! This was one of my favourite parts about living in Denmark when I did, from September to December, as the days grow darker and colder. The hygge is a concept almost impossible to define succinctly in English. It is about getting together with friends and being cozy, and there is always tasty food and warm drinks and usually candles.
See what the Danes have to say about hygge:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mk-oOXmMl0]
As much as we hate to leave our houses in the wintertime, getting together to share a warm beverage and a laugh by candle light seems to me (and at least one entire nation in Scandinavia) to be a great way to make the cold weather a little more pleasant.
2. Do as the Germans do. Dress like an onion. I met some Germans while I was living in Guadalajara, Mexico who taught me this German expression for layering clothing. It is a dressing technique which can be beneficial in both warm and cold temperatures. In warm weather, layers can be removed as the day goes on. In cold weather, layers serve a slightly different function: trapping heat. On a typical chilly day (like the ones we’ve been having), I will wear a tank top, long sleeved shirt and maybe a cardigan, and layer my jacket (suitable only in minus 10 degrees C) with a fuzzy hoody. I will also wear leggings under pants and up to three pairs of socks. The key is to make sure nothing is too tight. There are also brands you can look into purchasing which are known for their cold weather survival apparel, like Sorel and Canada Goose. Thermal underwear goes far, too.
As the Danes (and probably other cultures around the world) say, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad dressers.”
3. Be prepared on the road. A couple things you’ll want to remember when you are driving in extreme cold temperatures are the following: plug in your car, and have the appropriate equipment with you. I love telling my friends from countries like Brasil and Mexico that we plug in our cars in Canada. This astounds them. However, plugging in your car makes a world of difference if it is going to be sitting out in the cold for an extended period of time. I promise. Where do we plug our cars in? Buildings and posts in parking lots have designated plug-in spots. Convenient, right?
As for equipment, you’ll want to have something to scrape the ice off your windows and brush the snow off your car, often just called a scraper. You’ll also want things like a shovel, jumper cables, and a membership with CAA helps too. Always have a charged mobile phone on you in case you have to phone for help or you get stranded in a white-out somewhere. And even if you are not going far, have warm clothes either in the car or on your body. You never know when you will need a thermal snowsuit for trudging your way through the cold to get help.
4. Find something you like about winter. Pictured above is my friend David and I skating on the river during winter one year here in Winnipeg. Winter offers lots of opportunities for activities that cannot be done in summer months, like tobogganing, skiing, skating and hockey, and the list goes on. Living somewhere like Winnipeg, with our NHL team back, winter is prime-hockey season. If you don’t like hockey, learn to like it! It’s an exciting sport that unites this city, and going to games or going to a pub with friends to watch games is a great form of winter entertainment.
5. Warm your innards. My grandma always says “That’ll warm your innards,” when she makes a hearty soup or stew. What you eat is key to surviving a cold winter. Soups and stews are an easy favourite in my family, but of course, other options are available. Also, if you don’t drink tea, coffee or hot chocolate, start.
6. Stay warm at night. This is crucial. There are three ways I’ve come up with to stay warm at night while I’m trying to fall asleep. Shivering yourself asleep is not comfortable.
a) Hop into bed straight out of the shower. I find having a shower right before bed gives my body sufficient residual heat to warm my bed enough to be cozy and not shiver the heat into the sheets. Capture heat for your feet in socks if necessary.
b) Snuggle with a hot water bottle.
c) Keep a blow dryer nearby. I met a boy from Yaxley, England who slept with a blow dryer beside his bed. Before he went to bed, he’d heat the sheets with the hot air from the blow dryer. This is a simple and easy trick that surprised me and continues to surprise the people with whom I share this trick.

Disclaimer: Yes, mum. I am guilty of not following all of these guidelines. When it comes to clothes, “practical” and “functional” are bad words. It will keep me warm and dry? No thanks!

Did I miss any obvious tips? Is there anything you would add? If you are not from a cold country, is there anything you would like to know about winter?

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4 Comments

  1. Rehanna

    Keep lip balm and hand lotion on you at all times! Worst feeling have dry lips and hands.

  2. Rafeya Hartung

    If you like to wear skirts with boots but don’t want to wear leggings, wear long leg warmers. You can keep them tucked into your boots and pull them up as high as they go if your legs become cold.

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