GETTING AROUND (IN) WINTER
In Newfoundland and Labrador, winters are long. It’s cold, it’s snowy, it’s icy. But that doesn’t have to keep us from getting out and enjoying the outdoors. Whether it’s getting to work, getting around town, or just getting out of the house, these are some of the ways you can get around (in) winter in our province.
Snowmobiles may not be street legal, but they are a great way to experience the outdoors off the beaten track. You can ride them in the woods and on the groomed trails. With the right route and plenty of preparation, you can get pretty far on a snowmobile – you could even cross the province if you wanted to! And in parts of Labrador (north of 54°), you can ride them everywhere! If you don’t own a snowmobile, there are lots of places province-wide that rent them, so you can enjoy a day of exploring the outdoors. You can get lots of helpful information and safety tips from the Newfoundland and Labrador Snowmobile Federation: www.nlsf.org.
TIP Snowmobiling can damage your hearing, especially if you spend long hours on your machine. Snowmobiles can reach noise levels of up to 100 decibels! The American Research Hearing Foundation recommends wearing earplugs if you plan on being out for two hours or more. You may even find you feel less tired after a day on the snowmobile if you wear ear protection.
Good news! If you love going out on the quad in the summer, you can still do it in the winter! ATVs can navigate snowy conditions and most are able to do so without any modifications. After a fresh snowfall, all-terrain or mud tires are typically sufficient to manoeuvre the vehicle. If you do want to rig up your ride for the snow, there are a couple of options, including all-terrain tires with tread, studs for tires, or dedicated ATV snow tires.
Tip Some users add snowplows to the front of their ATVs. These make it easier to access trails that are not cleared, and you can use them to clear your driveway!
For everyday walking, it is useful to have a pair of ice clamps. These slip onto your boots and have spikes on the bottom, which provide extra grip when walking on slippery surfaces such as icy driveways, parking lots and sidewalks.
Tip Remember to take them off when you go indoors – inside, they make it easier to slip, and they can scratch flooring.
If you want to hike trails in the winter without having to worry about sinking to your waist in snow, snowshoes are the way to go. They are a great way to access spots that would otherwise be too snowcovered for walking, and you can take your time and enjoy the great outdoors. Plus snowshoes are relatively inexpensive to buy, require no registration or safety gear, and are easy to use, even for beginners.
Tip Ski poles are helpful while snowshoeing, especially if you encounter any grades. And don’t forget to dress in layers, and bring extra socks, snacks and water.
If you are someone who rides a bike regularly, you don’t have to stop when winter comes. You just need to layer up and be mindful of road conditions. You can purchase special studded tires for your bike that makes riding in icy conditions safer and easier to manage.
Tip If you are worried about the impact of winter weather on your bike, it is not a bad idea to purchase a used bike especially for winter use.
Although it’s not a common method of transportation these days, dog sleds were essential for winter travel in northern communities not so long ago. When asked what the significance of dog sleds were during his childhood in Black Tickle, Labrador, Scott Hudson tells Downhome, “One word: survival.” Before snowmobiles, trucks or ATVs, dog sleds were essential for accessing supplies and medical care in Labrador communities. And they were used everywhere: all along the coast, in Central Labrador and Lab West.
Today, dog sleds are not used for everyday travel, but they remain a huge part of Labrador’s cultural heritage, including as a component of the Labrador Winter Games. Scott and his wife Lori offer dog sled tours through their business, Northern Lights Dog Sledding, based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. They offer as authentic an experience as possible, to pay homage to the dogs and the stories of their ancestors. “I think that’s one thing that all cultures here in Labrador have in common, whether you come from an Inuit culture, a Métis culture, or a settler culture,” Scott says. “I think it really moulded us as people.”
Learn more about more about dogsledding tours at Northernlightsdogsledding.com.
Texting gloves are winter gloves that have fingertip pads made with conductive wiring. The electricity in your fingertips travels through the wiring so that you can use touch-screen devices such as cellphones without removing your gloves.
Heated jackets, and other heated garments, contain wires that heat up to keep you warm when you are out in the cold. They are powered by battery packs, usually located in an inside pocket. The clothing is designed not to overheat, and it is safe to wear in wet conditions, as long as you do not submerge the garment,
Pocket Warmer Heat Pack
An alternative to heated clothing is to purchase a rechargeable heat pack for your everyday winter gear. These are thin, battery-operated warmers that you can carry in your pocket. They recharge using a micro-USB cable. They are easy to change from one outfit to another, and are water-resistant and shockproof.
Temperature-Controlled Travel Mug
If you hate when your coffee gets cold in the car on the way to work, you can get a travel mug that will keep it at the optimal temperature until you arrive at your destination. These mugs pug into the outlet in your car, and you can set the temperature for your beverage. As long as your mug is plugged in, your drink will stay at that temperature for the entire trip.
Hat with Headphones
Do you love to listen to music when you're out and about, but find it hard to wear headphones in the winter when you have a hat on? You need a hat with Bluetooth headphones built right in. Some designs also contain microphones, so you can take phone calls right from your hat.
If a regular bicycle just won’t cut it, fat biking may be for you! A fat bike is a bicycle with large tires – about 4”-5” wide – that is designed for winter travel. Local fat bike enthusiast Loyal Squires writes, “Fat bikes provide a fun way to travel short or long distances over packed snow and ice (with studded tires). Fatbiking is an activity that is enjoyed by all ages and all walks of life.” Fat bikes can even travel on frozen ponds!
Tip If you are interested in fat biking, you can find resources on Loyal Squires’ blog, www.fatbikerepublic.com.
Skiing is a fun and unique way to experience the trails and hills in winter. There are 18 ski clubs around Newfoundland and Labrador, offering both cross-country and downhill skiing. You can also ski in some provincial and national parks. Skiing is a great family activity, and if you’ve never skied before, clubs offer rentals and lessons for all ages. The website Crosscountrynl.com has lots of information about skiing in Newfoundland and Labrador, including contact information for each ski club.
Tip Make sure you have the proper safety gear for skiing, including a helmet and goggles. Never go skiing alone because if you get hurt, you will need someone to help you.
Motorists, watch out for pedestrians. Sidewalks are not always cleared, which can force people onto the roads.
Carry an emergency kit in your car in case you get stuck in the snow. You also need to have a snow brush and window scraper, and it is a good idea to have a shovel and extra warm clothing in the vehicle at all times.
Keep your cellphone charged when you are going out anywhere, in case of an emergency. Carry a back-up charger – one that plugs into a cigarette lighter – and cord in your glove box. Many vehicles have direct USB outlets so you may only need a cord that matches your phone.
Don’t forget to salt your driveway and stairs. And carry a small baggie of road salt when you’re going out walking, in case you encounter a slippery spot in your travels.
When you’re heading outdoors, don’t forget sun protection! It may seem an odd thing for the winter, but even in the cold months, the sun can be harmful when you are outdoors for an extended period. Sunglasses are important for protecting your vision when the sun reflects off the glistening snow, and coat any exposed skin with sunscreen.
For mobility device users, winter can be an added challenge. However, there are modifications available for mobility aids, which can improve safety and make winter more accessible.
Wheelchair users can purchase special winter tires for wheelchairs that are made with knobs for better traction. If these are out of your price range, the United Spinal Association suggests a DIY option: wrap 25-30 zip ties around each wheel of the chair, with the knobs pointing outward on the tires, to give your chair extra grip.
Wheelblades are German-made skis that you can attach to the front wheels of a wheelchair. They prevent the wheels from sinking down into the snow and getting stuck.
If you use a walker, it is a good idea to get one with large wheels, as they make it easier to get around outdoors, especially in the winter. There are also all-terrain wheels available for walkers.
You can purchase ice prongs for canes and crutches. When paired with ice clamps for boots, these make getting around on icy pathways a lot easier and safer.
Tip Talk to your doctor to determine the best accessibility modifications for your needs.