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Outdoors/Adventure

Winter survival guide: Pile on the layers and resist hygge until after you’ve been outside

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: November 14
  • Published November 14

Mary Beth Risvold walks her dog along an icy trail near Westchester Lagoon on Tuesday. (Bill Roth / ADN)

I hit rewind on the seasons for a couple of weeks in late October by traveling to the East Coast. For 13 days, I leaf-peeped, bonfired and ate crunchy fresh apples to my heart's content. The days were a perfect balance of warm in the sun yet cool in the shadows; the nights sparkled with stars.

When I arrived back in Alaska the entire landscape was draped in fresh snow and the sunsets were already tinged with a pink-purple Arctic hue. And of course the starkest reality check — Minnesota Drive leading us away from the airport had formed its signature luge run on-ramp, curving sharply around, goading me to try it racecar-style without studded tires (I've been in many taxis that tried just that and each time I've found god).

When I got home to my neighborhood in Palmer, the thermometer in my car read 9 degrees. Snow weighed on every branch of every tree and glimmered in the headlights of my car before I shut it off, and then there was just dark, clear sky with our signature big dipper overhead. My breath unfurled in puffy, cloud-like bursts, and when I inhaled, I felt the familiar sharp iciness in my throat and nose.

When I left it was still fall and I joked that winter was coming. It's no longer on its way — at least in Palmer. It's full-on here, in all of its pendulum-swinging, climate-changing glory. One minute it's a snowglobe, the next it's icy hail. I'm adapting.

Overall I love winter, but it's just a tad more difficult than the other seasons. It's like a needy teenager. Winter requires more of me.

For one, there's my constant battle against hygge.

Hygge, remember, is a Danish concept meaning "coziness" (pronounced hue-guh). Like so many traditions in the world that Americans find charming, we have taken that word and really run with it: hygge is something to be hashtagged and consumed. That's not really the Danes' problem, though, or an issue with the concept itself. No, my problem with hygge is that it's so damn tempting.

I love where I live. Really, really love it. I like being cozy inside with my cup of tea and gazing out on the snowy woods and seeing what the light is doing from minute to minute. I like the contrast of warm wood walls with the sharp blue-and-white relief of winter right through the window. I love building up the woodstove and being in a blanket right next to it until I feel like I am in a sauna built for one.

In theory, I also love being outside instead of just gazing at it from the comfort of my home. But it's really difficult to get from inside to outside when hygge is present. This is true even though experiencing the cold and fresh air actually makes hygge later on even better — and that's part of what I have to tell myself as I'm tugging on my 10th layer and shuffling toward the door.

This is part of the cycle, I mutter. This is good for your health, both physical and mental. I eventually put down my cookie, withdraw from my blanket cocoon and shove myself into the cold whether it's 5 degrees or minus-5, dark or light. I do this because I value my sanity, and experience has told me the best way to retain it during the Alaska winter is to routinely go outside.

But now let me turn your attention to gear. I don't mean fancy gear, like crampons and ice axes. I mean simple, warm layers that suffice for any length of time outside.

Accruing enough of these layers, and keeping them clean, is a whole ordeal in and of itself. I have piles of head bands, gloves, mittens, balaclavas to cover my mouth and protect my fragile lungs from the cold, and I have enough Patagonia jackets from when I worked there that it looks like they've been breeding in my closet.

Yet it always seems like there is never quite enough. My favorite pants are inevitably dirty or my preferred thick buff has that perma-stink all too familiar to anyone who has sweated in a piece of synthetic clothing for long enough that, despite consistent laundering, you can't ever quite get rid of the smell.

Winter comes with layers. Cold, darkness, ice. Each layer forms a barrier between me and the outdoors, which means there is more to push through and pile on in order to get myself out the door. In the end, it's worth it.

Usually.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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