Don’t Fear the Groundhog

February 9, 2010, 12:16 pm

The Groundhog doesn’t lie. There are six more weeks of winter ahead of us so get off the couch and get ready to go outside.

Of all of the holidays, both secular and religious, none is quite so polarizing as Groundhog Day. Celebrated for more than a century, Groundhog Day began as a Pennsylvania German custom stemming from Candlemas Day, which in turn evolved from a pagan celebration that marked the midway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Maybe you’ve gathered outside on February 2nd and recited these well-known sayings, like

"For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May, for as the snow blows on Candlemas Day, so far will the sun shine before May.”

or

“If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year.”

Probably not, but you likely waited to check if the groundhog was more reliable than your local weather forecaster. Last week, our favorite prognosticator, Punxsutawney Phil, reluctantly crawled out of his makeshift burrow, hustled back in for a little snack and in so doing predicted (to our pleasure at least) another six weeks of winter.

Phil probably is not the only one who spends the better part of the winter indoors (he resides in the Punxsutawney Library, dining on dog food and ice cream and probably will not be outside again until 2011). And that’s a shame, because there are so many awesome things to do during the winter when the sun’s shining. There’s snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, ice climbing, ice skating, sleigh riding, snowboarding, and our favorite, skijoring. There’s nothing quite so exhilarating as strapping on skis and a harness and being be pulled through the snow by your dogs, or horses, if you’ve got them.

After weeks or months of sub-freezing temperatures, I can understand why some people choose to hibernate—it’s much more comfortable being in the kitchen or den than going head-to-head against the elements. Unless, of course, you are adequately prepared—and most people just aren’t. In honor of our friends in Sweden, who say “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing,” we’ve highlighted our favorite things to help you keep warm the next time the mountain and the snow beckons.

Canada Goose Expedition Parka – Canada Goose jackets have added credibility to movie sets based in extreme environments (The Day After Tomorrow and National Treasure) because they are the jacket of choice for arctic scientists. Rumor has it that this jacket will keep you warm in -60°F temperatures for 24 hours, even if you remain completely still. If you aren’t in really cold weather, once you start moving in this jacket, though, you’ll probably start sweating—it’s overkill for most activities (it weighs several pounds)! If you are susceptible to getting a chill, this parka should do the trick, but for the rest of us, you’ll probably be better suited with the Arcteryx Fission SV or the women’s Columbia Bugaboo Parka, which is actually three jackets in one thanks to an integrated fleece liner that you can zip in and out to better regulate your temperature.

Saucony Men's ProGrid Razor This four-season trail running shoe is the platypus of the running world—part gaiter, part shoe. The shoe, which is enveloped in a light neoprene cover is perfect for snow, dirt and every state of mud in between. The Razor also boasts an eVent waterproof/breathable membrane that will keep you dry running through streams or puddles. It’s especially good to use when snowshoeing where the neoprene gaiter not only helps you ease in and out of bindings, but it also keeps your feet dry and warm.

Smartwool Balaclava Look over there! Is it a hat? A neck gaiter? A ski mask? No! It’s a balaclava, the most functional piece of clothing in your winter arsenal. Named for the Ukrainian town where British troops fought the Crimean War (made famous the now famous Charge of the Light Brigade), the original Balaclava were knit from wool to keep soldiers warm while they fought throughout the extreme pre-global warming winters. Today’s Balaclavas are generally made from technical fabrics—silk, polypropylene, neoprene, wool, acrylic or fleece--for their waterproof, breathable properties. Like the British dragoons, I prefer wool, whose quality and softness has improved dramatically since the 1850s. The Smartwool Balaclava is made from pure merino wool to keep you warm while also managing moisture. It boasts wools anti-microbial properties and will not stink, even after it gets wet. I found it to be surprisingly functional for its weight and thickness (it packs smaller than a pair of boxer shorts) and fits easily under a bicycle or ski helmet.

Gear alone won’t help conquer your fear of your cold; however, you may be inspired once you learn that spending more time outside during the winter months will help you shake the symptoms of seasonal affectation disorder, reduce that extra layer of insulation and make it easier for you to fit into your summer clothes. Embrace the snow and the cold and it’ll only be a matter of time before you wished that February wasn’t the shortest month of the year.