Voices in balance // Let it snow with outdoor winter fitness

Do you feel a sense of impending doom as the days get shorter and temperatures drop? Are you a fair-weather outdoor enthusiast who dreads feeling forced indoors by cold weather and snow? Are you new to Minnesota winters and concerned about getting your sunlight and fresh air fix between now and the spring thaw? Do not fear, friend! Minneapolis has numerous options for outdoor winter fitness activities. So layer up, round up some courage and learn to love winter by following these suggestions on what to do, where to buy or rent your gear, where to find instruction and how to stay safe and warm.

Winter running and walking

After a fresh snowfall, nothing beats an outdoor walk or run; it is beautiful, accessible and inexpensive. For walking, consider hiking boots or lightweight winter boots with good support and traction. For running, use waterproof trail running shoes, neoprene running shoes or traction devices that attach to your existing shoes. If you are out before or after daylight, use a headlamp and layers of reflective clothing that cover potentially exposed skin. Fortunately for winter walkers and runners, the miles of city trails are plowed daily and are often easier to maneuver than the streets.

Snowshoeing

If you want to embrace the snow by going off road, try snowshoeing. The whole family can enjoy a new perspective of Minneapolis by hiking places on snowshoes that are impossible to traverse on regular shoes. Buy or rent a pair at an outdoor retailer, like Hoigaard’s, or rent from the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board at Theo Wirth Park. Then, dress as if going for a walk or run, throw on a pair of light boots and discover a hidden network of lake, golf course and wooded trails. Use trekking poles with snow baskets or chest high ski poles to improve your workout and help with balance and efficiency. If you want an amazing cardiovascular challenge, try snowshoe running!

Cycling

Minneapolis is a leader in bicycle friendly roads, trails and legislation. As a result, the number of year-round cyclists continues to grow. Whether you are commuting to work or pedaling for fitness, winter riding can be fun and safe if you follow some basic rules. First, consider winter riding only if you are an experienced warm weather rider. Second, ride a bike that allows you to sit upright with wide or studded tires and low tire pressure. Consider using an older bike that has been overhauled by a professional mechanic who doesn’t underestimate the value of good brakes! Third, on your initial outings, ride only short distances and, if commuting, allow extra time. Fourth, layer your clothes to protect extremities and invest in cold-weather cycling gear like lobster gloves, facemasks, shoe covers and a wind resistant coat. Finally, stick to bike paths or bike designated roadways. If you are forced to ride city streets, choose ones with low traffic. Stay alert to motor vehicles and allow them to pass, even if it means pulling over. If you ride predictably, most motorists will respect your life by passing with ample clearance. In return for their patience, leave your bike at home when the conditions are unusually treacherous or icy. While winter cycling may seem overwhelming, the personal satisfaction of conquering Minnesota winters on two wheels is worth the effort.

Classic and skate Nordic skiing

Unless you’ve been snowed in for a few years, you’ve noticed the explosion of Nordic, or cross-country, skiers in Minneapolis. As a result, learning the sport — both classic and skate techniques — is easier and more affordable than ever before. Classic technique is what most people envision for cross-country skiing: arms and legs swinging in opposition with skis moving through parallel, pre-groomed tracks or breaking trails through fresh snow. Skate technique requires a packed, groomed surface that resembles corduroy. Skate skiers look like inline skaters on snow. They transfer weight laterally from ski to ski, planting their poles and gliding down the trail. If you’re in doubt about the style you’d most like to learn, rent from Theodore Wirth Park or Three Rivers Parks before going to Hoigaard’s for your local purchase.  

Since Nordic skiing is a technical sport, private or group lessons will dramatically improve your proficiency and enjoyment. In South Minneapolis, Balance Nordic Cross Country Ski Team and Club and The City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation (COLMSF) offer adult Nordic ski clubs and lessons. For kids’ lessons, check out the COLMSF winter ski camps and the Minnesota Youth Ski League. Further north, Three Rivers offers an adaptive Nordic ski club for children with disabilities. Once you learn cross-country basics you’ll experience snow as a winter blessing!

Ice sports

Dozens of Minneapolis parks create ice rinks to use at no cost. You can ice skate on free loaner skates, play hockey and, in some cases, broomball. At the rinks you can see Minneapolitans of all ages and abilities — from former collegiate hockey players to twirling figure skaters, from children barely old enough to walk to seniors bundled against the chill. When it turns bitterly cold, the Depot Ice Rink downtown offers indoor skating and skate rentals. If you need extra motivation to take to the ice, or want some added competition, consider joining a Minneapolis Parks and Recreation hockey or broomball league. No matter what your level of intensity or ability, you’re sure to find fun at your closest ice rink.

Clearly, with the variety of outdoor recreation options in the Minneapolis area, winter is no excuse for putting your fitness plans on hold. Remember: It takes a few outings for the body to acclimate to the cold and ice, so increase your exposure slowly. By February you will be a pro at the outdoor winter activity of your choosing. More importantly, your choice will have maintained your physical and mental fitness through our toughest season. Then, when the first 45 degree spring day rolls around and the lakes are teaming with people you haven’t seen in months, you can proudly pat yourself on the back for embracing outdoor winter fitness.

Andrew Magill is a Nordic ski instructor and personal trainer. Reach him at magi0045@umn.edu.