For the past couple of months, I have been participating in a program here in Princeton called Active Winter Women.
As a refugee from Manitoba, I had a jaundiced view of the merits of outdoor winter activity, thinking that I’d paid my dues and deserved to limit my exposure to the cold. I was not impressed with the possibility of slipping on icy sidewalks and breaking a wrist, or worse. Still, I know that we live in one of the loveliest places on earth, and my creative friends kept posting gorgeous photos on Facebook, photos of China Ridge ski trails and winter views of our valley, hills and distant mountains.
Between curiosity and a nagging knowledge that these old bones would be far better off with year-round activity, I decided to sign up and see if I had been a little hasty in my avoidance strategy. What a great decision that was. Let me tell you why.
Our first session involved a hike around Swan Lake, something I had done before but in the summertime. This day, it was -24c, the coldest of the year so far. However, we five hardy souls had been coached on layering our clothing and to my amazement, I was warm and comfortable.
The sky was cloudless and everything sparkled. Well. Perhaps I had misjudged the possibilities.
The second session, there were fifteen of us who met at Snowpatch where we strapped on snowshoes, many of us for the first time. We were beginning to sort ourselves into groups of similar abilities and stamina. We could choose either the medium or the long guided snowshoe hike after Kelley gave us a lesson in recreating in the wilderness.
We were taught the difference between cougar, lynx and bobcat tracks. Assurance was given that cougar would much prefer an easy meal provided by the prolific snowshoe hare than human flesh, especially if we made ourselves tall with our poles and yelled a lot while standing our ground. Being a skeptic, I was glad that we were in groups but it wasn’t long before I had forgotten about the danger of wild things.
I did, however, feel sorry for the hares but that’s what happens when you’re at the bottom of the food chain.
After the pep talk, several of us set out on the medium trail which was clearly marked. We were challenged just enough to feel we had escaped the couch potato trap for at least a few hours.
Session three was downright amazing. Thirty-one women met after dark around the fire outside the longhouse for a meal of squash soup, munchies, tea and chocolate. We chatted, willing the clouds to break and reveal the full moon. Several volunteers from China Ridge were in attendance to guide groups on snowshoes around the trails.
As we put our snowshoes on, we watched the first group set out up the hill and we followed the light of their headlamps till they disappeared into the trees. If you have never snowshoed or skied by moonlight, you are missing magic!
The next session, I learned I have limits, something my ego hasn’t quite grasped yet. We were given cross-country or “skinny” skis and instructions on how to use them.
The day was warm and the snow was made up of millions of tiny, white ball bearings. I tried. And I may try again, maybe. Others managed quite well. I think the whole ski thing fell apart for me when I lost control and began heading for what looked like a jump into infinity. (Actually, it was a foot or two in height but that’s my prairie background.)
In the meantime, I am happy as a clam with snowshoes and am looking forward to the rest of winter.