Have you ever been outside in a -50 (Fahrenheit) windchill for so long you cried. . . and your tears froze to your eyelashes? Have you ever slipped on an icy sidewalk and bruised the hell out of yourself? Have you ever done a 180 in your car and half-buried it in a snowbank after spinning out of control in drifting snow? If you haven’t, then don’t judge me for what I’m about to say.
I hate Vermont winters with a passion. Spring, summer, and fall in Vermont I will wax poetic about any time. Winter gets nothing but a snarl from me. Oh sure, the snow can be pretty sometimes. . .if I’m inside with a warm cup of coffee looking out the window and I don’t have to go out in it, it’s downright beautiful. Or walking through town during a windless snowstorm when the clouds cast a pinkish hue in the sky and the streets are muffled under clumps of fluffy white. Or the day after a fresh snowfall, when snow clings to tree branches and rooftops like whipped cream.
But even that shit gets old after a couple of months.
It’s not so much the snow I hate. It’s the cold–the biting, bone-chilling cold–and the grey, overcast days that seem to never end. At three months in, we are now exactly halfway through winter in Vermont and my sun deprivation is making me desperate. From the beginning of November to the end of April every year, there is always a chance of snow and blustery cold in Vermont, and very little sunshine. Sometimes we’re lucky and April brings an early spring, and sometimes it brings a Nor’Easter. You just never know.
I didn’t always hate winter. When I was a kid, my brother and I would go sliding down the hill on my grandparents’ farm in silver saucers or plastic roll-up sleds. We’d have snowball fights with the twins who lived down the road. One year, we tunneled into a particularly large snowbank and created an igloo that, over time, turned to ice. Our friends thought it was the coolest thing ever. And when the snow was up to our waists, we would climb up onto the roof of the old henhouse and jump off into the snow. Fun times. (But please don’t try that at home, kids.)
The older I get, the less tolerant of the cold I am. I wear so many layers when I go outside, I look like the Stay Puft marshmallow man, and it’s still too cold for me. This is the time of year when I hybernate and keep myself busy dreaming of warm, tropical beaches and bright sunshine, and I vow I will not spend another winter in this godforsaken arctic hell.
So when I recommend that people visit Vermont, I try to steer them toward one of the gentler seasons. But if you’re one of those freaks–er, people–who actually enjoys being outside in sub-zero temperatures, you’ll love Vermont. We’ve got skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating, ice fishing, tube sliding–you name it. If it’s a cold weather sport, we’ve got it.
And if you come from a tropical climate and want to experience snow firsthand, please don’t be like the woman and her daughter from Florida whom I met on the bus one day: They decided on the spur of the moment to spend Christmas in Vermont because they’d never seen snow. They thought it would be fun. Their idea of dressing for winter? Sweatshirts, sneakers and jeans. It was in the 20s. Needless to say, they were freezing their asses off and taking the bus to the mall to stock up on winter gear.
So in the interest of helping you avoid that kind of mistake, here are some must-have items to bring with you if you do decide to come play in Vermont in the winter:
- Warm winter boots. Shoes and sneakers are only good if you want to lose your toes to frostbite.
- Thick boot socks (I usually wear 2 pair at once).
- Long underwear (aka longjohns or longjanes).
- A very warm winter coat, preferably one with a hood.
- A warm hat (knit, wool, sheepskin, fleece–whatever floats your boat, as long as it’s warm). Hat-head be damned, you don’t want to lose heat out of the top of your head if you want to prevent hypothermia. And make sure your ears are covered so they don’t get frostbite.
- Warm winter gloves and/or mittens, depending on your activities. If you don’t need to use your fingers to grip things, mittens are best, since your fingers will stay warmer if they’re skin-to-skin.
- A long, warm scarf. Wrap that sucker snugly around your throat and pull it up over your mouth when it’s really cold.
- If you plan to be outside for long stretches of time, I highly recommend hand-warmers and toe-warmers to slip into your gloves and boots.
- If you’re driving, make sure your car has winter tires or all-season radials and preferably four-wheel drive; and if there’s snow or ice on the road, slow down. Even SUVs can skid off the road. If you’re headed out to rural areas of Vermont, it’s a good idea to have an emergency kit in the car that includes a blanket to keep you warm in case you go off the road or your car breaks down. And be sure you’ve got a windshield scraper/brush in the car. Trust me, you’ll need it.
If that sounds like more fun to you than frolicking on a sunny beach beneath palm trees, then go ahead, visit Vermont in the winter. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Photo credit for Stay Puft Marshmallow Man: Matthew Simantov.