Ask a 'sotan: How do you thrive and not just survive during winter?

A climber scales a wall of ice at the Sandstone Ice Park.
A climber scales a wall of ice at the Sandstone Ice Park in Sandstone, Minn. on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. Ice chunks fly off as climbers ascend, often striking the belayers standing below.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Ask a 'sotan is an occasional series exploring the questions from curious Minnesotans about our state. Have a question about life in Minnesota? Swing by our booth at the Minnesota State Fair, or ask it here.

Wayne Glass asked, “How do you thrive and not just survive during winters?”

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing,” wrote fellwalker Alfred Wainwright. The keen observation is a good starting point for being able to embrace winter in Minnesota.

Elizabeth John echoes this sentiment. She manages Midwest Mountaineering’s clothing department. She says it may sound simple, but finding the right kind of layers, along with an activity that will make you want to go outside, can make winter a little more enjoyable.

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John says she has two simple rules for surviving and thriving during a Minnesota winter: "The first is long underwear. The second is falling in love with a winter sport."

Feeling comfortable outside is key

To stay in love with a winter sport you choose, John says feeling comfortable while doing that activity can go a long way.

She suggests winter clothing made out of Merino wool, which comes from mountain sheep. "It's a longer, thinner, super-soft type of wool," she said.

John says Merino wool tends to work better than synthetic clothing because it helps regulate your body temperature when transitioning between the outdoors and the indoors.

'You kind of feel like Spider-Man'

As for choosing an activity that will help you thrive during the winter, John says you can't go wrong with the staples, such as ice-skating, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

But she says if you're willing to go beyond your comfort zone a little more, there's ice climbing.

"It's one of those things that looks impossible, but actually, you can be an average person and do it," John said.

John says you can rent gear from places like the U-of-M. And she says Minnesota has some old quarries, like the one in Sandstone, that become frozen over and are perfect for ice climbing.

Once you've rented your gear and taken a few classes, John says doing the activity can be exhilarating and help you get over that hump of deciding to embrace the outdoors when it's really cold.

"To swing that ice axe into the ice. … You kind of feel like Spider-Man," John said.

If an actual winter sport doesn't sound appealing, John suggests short walks. She says that can help dismantle the intimidation wall that old man winter puts up each year in Minnesota.

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