Winter in Vermont

by Gray Cargill on February 1, 2011


Those icicles look a bit sinister, don't they?

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.

Snow on Trees

Pretty, yes?

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.)

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man

This looks like me bundled up for a Vermont winter, but without the smile

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.

GRRRL TRAVELER February 4, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Good list of To Brings! Never been to Vermont in winter… Between NYC and Korea, I”m sure it’s pretty unpleasant. One less winter destination I can do without, even though I find winter a novelty. I’m usually big with the accessories cause when the limbs get cold, the rest of the body follows. I”m big on arm warmers and legwarmers, although in winter this year, it did teach me that that’s not enough. My thighs would get winter burn!

Kudos to you for sticking it out as long as you have!

Gray February 5, 2011 at 12:36 am

After reading your recent post about how cold your apartment in Korea is, I can at least say one thing: I do have control over the heat in my condo, so even when it’s really cold outside, I’m nice and toasty inside. I think your situation might be a little worse in that regard.

Sabina February 4, 2011 at 12:53 am

Gray, I haven’t had tears freeze on my face yet or done a 180 on ice (although my mom did once when I was in the car as a kid – I thought it was fun [she did not]). I did slide all the way down the front porch steps once, though, when there were layers of ice on top. The entire left side of my upper left was horribly bruised. Winter is very hard. I’ve actually been to Vermont in the winter, which is just so, so much colder than Connecticut. I was bundled up adequately for home, but even my socks and boots couldn’t keep out the cold of the Vermont snow and ice under my feet. It was seeping up right through my footwear into my bones. Horrible! And thousands of people a day actually go even higher up on the mountains of Vermont to ski in the roaring wind every day!!!! I cannot imagine enjoying that. I guess they can’t all be crazy, but they are made of different stuff than I.

Gray February 5, 2011 at 12:34 am

Yes, Vermont is colder than southern New England for sure. I think some people are just more tolerant of the cold than others. I’m just not one of them. Sounds like you aren’t either. 🙂

The NVR Guys February 3, 2011 at 7:57 pm

We’ve been to Vermont a couple of times and LOVE it. However, we have not visited during the brutal winter season. Some year we’re gonna come out for a ski trip (at which point I may be singing a different tune!)

Gray February 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Oh, if you like to ski, you’ll be fine. All the people I know who love Vermont in the winter time are skiers. You guys have a totally different outlook on cold and snow. For instance, while the rest of us were groaning over the storm yesterday, because it meant difficult commutes, shoveling, and a visible reminder that we still have 3 more months of cold; all the skiers were woohooing because it meant fresh powder on the mountains. Totally different outlook.

Alouise February 2, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Gray, I feel your pain. I’ve done all three things you mention, except only the front end of my car was stuck (next year I’m getting winter tires). Winters here are hell on ice. We’ve been dumped with snow this month, the most we’ve had since 1974. The other day it was -39C (-38.2F) and with the windchill it feels like -50C (-58F). I’ve told my friends after I graduate from school in a few years I’m moving someplace where winter doesn’t last half the year. I like snow until about New Year’s, then I’m done. After all there’s 4 seasons, and 12 months in a year. You’d think old man winter would realize he should only stick around for 3; December, January and February. After that bring on the spring. Yeah wishful thinking… we still get snow in May sometimes.

Keep warm. I find drinking coffee with Bailey’s while looking for travel deals online to warmer climates makes things a little better.

And I’ll totally come to Vermont, but I’ll wait until winter is over.

Gray February 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Oh, Alouise, that’s brutal. I hear you. According to the calendar, winter IS supposed to only last 3 months. Someone needs to tell Mother Nature that. I think we may be secretly related…I’m a coffee and Baileys fan too!

Lisa @chickybus February 2, 2011 at 3:40 pm

I’m shivering right now….that’s way too cold! I’m totally with you; I’m also not a fan of winter. Can’t stand it (except for those 35-degree days with sun…they’re OK…or the first snowfall when you don’t have to be anywhere). If I visit Vermont, it will be somewhere between May 1 and Nov. 1. Thanks for the warning! 🙂

Gray February 2, 2011 at 6:06 pm

To be fair, it’s not subzero temperatures ALL the time in the winter. But it’s usually under 30 degrees and there are more days under zero than any of us are comfortable with.

Marsha February 2, 2011 at 2:15 am

Color me officially SCARED to do Vermont in winter…..

Gray February 2, 2011 at 2:48 am

Well then, my work here is done. 🙂 But DO come any other season, Marsha, because Vermont really shines in the spring, summer and fall.

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