Dealing with the winter doldrums
summit daily news
Writing this on a sunny Thursday morning, when even the Basin reported a balmy 23 degrees at 5 a.m., it seems silly to dedicate the Scene’s cover story to the winter doldrums. Sure, I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself that I haven’t skied since Sunday – but even the thought of feeling sorry for myself because I can’t ski for six days makes me laugh: What an absolute privilege it is to be in a position where that’s what I have to grumble about. All I have to do is look out my window, where the clean white dome of Buffalo Mountain pierces a clear blue sky and the shadows of pine trees contrast shimmering sunlight reflecting off the snow, and I feel grateful for living in Summit County.
But Monday morning, when I decided to write this story, was a whole different experience. Call it a powder-week hangover, the lack of long, sunlit days catching up with me, the realization that my New Year’s resolutions weren’t going swimmingly, or just plain exhaustion: I dragged myself into the office, and when a commiserating coworker asked how I was doing I replied, “I’m tired. I’m tired of everything. Other than that, I’m doing great.” And it was true. Things are going quite well in my life; amazing people, places and creative adventures surround me. But Monday morning, all I could see were the week’s impossible deadlines and demands and the gray sky. And about all I could feel was the single-digit temperature.
A late-afternoon session of Tai Chi completely turned my attitude around, giving me the energy to start asking people, “How do you deal with the winter doldrums?”
While some people, like Breckenridge resident Leigh Girvin, naturally replied, “What winter doldrums?” and others, like former Summit Daily News graphic guru Jason Smith has designed a life around powder skiing, plenty of people related to the January doldrums.
Most people’s first response to beating the bummers of winter involved some sort of escape – namely to a warm beach. Andrew Fox moved to Breckenridge to ski competitively when he was 19, but this month, he’s in sunny California, a move he recommends. Breckenridge resident Tricia Baird began planning her family’s spring break trip to Hawaii.
“You sit in the cold, and you just think about that beach, and it gives you energy,” Baird said.
While second-homeowner Ana Alexander plans trips for the year, she lets her imagination run to “warm, wonderful places to visit – Tahiti, Greece, Costa Rica.”
Being an active community, the other most popular response to beat the blues is no surprise: various forms of exercise.
“Dance, dance, dance” said Jolina Karen, who’s hosting an event called Fit, Fab and Free, a hip-shaking, mind-stretching, money-magnetizing all-day workshop on Feb. 5 in Frisco aimed at helping women feel more freedom, and, of course, dance.
Artist Bonnie Norling Wakeman’s answer included dance, and apparently many people are on the same page, because local Zumba classes have been full lately.
“I imagine sun on my body, warming each joint and muscle as I move each body part, so warming,” wrote Aspen Madrone, who works at Conscious Dancer magazine, when I posted the question on my Facebook page.
January also can be a great time to act like a tourist – before visitors come in droves during spring break.
“Instead of fighting it, join the crowd,” said Breckenridge resident Cheryl Rothey, who has taken her kids tubing, on a dinner sleigh ride and even to family-friendly apres ski afternoons to enjoy appetizers and live music. “Tubing is hysterically fun, and the sleigh ride added a little something. Make it a staycation. The Copper Top has great music, and it doesn’t cost anything to get in … and the Blue Spruce – it’s really cool. We’re all looking for a way to save money; we get the (Spruce’s) sliders, share appetizers, then go home and share leftovers.”
Breckenridge resident Sophie Willemsen escapes the crowds at ski areas by going cross-country skiing.
“You’re in the woods, there’s no one out there, you’re not sitting on a chairlift freezing,” Willemsen said, adding that benefits include feeling really warm during cold winters as she works up a sweat.
Finally, gray, freezing winter days offer a great opportunity to settle in and indulge in self-care.
Travis Usinger, a massage therapist, starts every morning with a steam shower, an hour of yoga and Qi Gong exercises and massage. Breckenridge fitness instructor Tracy Van Anderson starts a crochet project with colorful yarn and takes hot baths. Plenty of people take day trips to one of the many hot springs surrounding Summit County. Breckenridge resident Kim Krafchar unplugs her phone and computer for 24 hours – a move she lightheartedly says “almost kills me” – and spends time unwinding by making soup.
“It feeds my spirit; it feeds my body,” Krafchar said.
Paula Brown Winterhalder loves to read, and in winter, she slips tropical adventures into her usual mystery stash. This season, it’s “Easter Island” by Jennifer Vanderbes, “The Lost City of Z” by David Grann (“true story,” she says, “Amazon jungle, scorching with many horrible parasites”) and “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand, a story of a World War II pilot shot down over the Pacific who ends up floating on a raft with no food or water, in the scorching sun.
“Then my plain life doesn’t seem too bad,” Winterhalder said.
And, as I alluded to at the beginning of this story, part of dealing with winter doldrums has to do with getting a reality check, and there’s nothing like touching base with some Midwesterners – or Easterners – who know what gray skies and long Januaries really are.
“At least we get to see sunshine between snowstorms and the cold, which the people in the Midwest and the East rarely ever see. They just see one gray day after another. This is what the January doldrums (really) mean to me,” said Lynn Myers, owner of Harmony Interiors, explaining that winters in Summit don’t bother her.
Last but not least, there’s always a sense of humor to rely upon. I thought librarian Patrick McWilliams would give me a list of great winter reading when I asked him how to pass gray, January days, but instead, he told me a joke:
Three chickens walked into the library, saying “bawk, bawk, bawk,” so the librarian gave them three books each. Next day, the chickens came back, saying “bawk, bawk, bawk,” so, of course, the librarian gave them three more books. Next day, same thing, but this time the librarian follows them to a pond, where they hand over the books to a frog, who gives them right back to the chickens, saying, (past tense) “read it, read it, read it.”
McWilliams suggestion to flex your funny bone: Go to National Public Radio’s website and listen to Prairie Home Companion front man Garrison Keillor.
And even if you can’t get outside today or spend hours nurturing yourself at home, take a look around: Leanne Wirta said she felt like she was in a snow globe the other night, as big, soft flakes shimmered as they fell. A few evenings ago, I could hardly drive because the pastel pinks and hot orange streaks of the sunset intensely captured my attention. And though today is a good day to ski, at least I’m spending my morning musing about the beauty that surrounds us all.
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