Thriving Through Our Dark, Wet, Rainy, Pacific Northwest Winter

Sorry to point this out, but working business hours during Pacific Northwest winter means that most of our free time is spent in the dark. The sun hasn’t even fully risen before we go to work, and then by the time we come home, it’s pitch black. Combine that with our classic heavy rainy, windy climate, and it can become a bit of a challenge to make weekday outdoor time enjoyable.

Because I live in Squamish, I consider myself a sort of expert in this topic. People say Seattle or Vancouver are rainy, but while Seattle gets about 5.4 inches of rain in December (and Vancouver gets about 6.35), Squamish gets a whopping 8.5 inches! In addition to our mega rainfall, in Coast Salish, Squamish actually means “mother of the wind”. So you can imagine the wet, windy climate that’s brewing outside my window as I write this.

Squamish rainfall! Courtesy of Climate Data website.

I decided that it would be fun to share a few tips I’ve learned to cope with the constraints of PNW winter, and to make the season fun, something I crave and look forward to each year.

Sauna / hot tub incentives

Where I live, there’s a place with a sauna and hot tub where I was able to get a monthly pass for $30 a month. I finally just did this last night, and thought, why haven’t I done this sooner?! Now, I’m planning to start all my runs from the sauna location, as a sort of carrot strategy. I don’t care how dark and monsoon-like it is, the idea of driving to a fun sauna night after work is enough to get me out the door!

Obviously I don’t have access to this oceanfront hot tub on a daily basis. My usual is just a local rec centre, sheltered from the normal monsoons.

Lunch runs 

Lunch is pretty much the only free time of day that’s light out, so it’s important to use that time to absorb a bit of sunlight! I try to get out for a 45-minute run at lunch, and then I have a quick shower to get warm and dry, because I likely just got completely drenched in monsoon-like weather. After that, I go to meetings with my wet hair in a bun, but I never mind at all. It’s always so worth it to get some daylight! To save time, I try to bring my own lunch, something easy that I can eat at my desk while working after.

Super-powerful headlamps

If mother nature isn’t going to help, might as well try to engineer our own brightness! I have a headlamp (Fenix HM50R) that goes to 500 lumens, and on the days when I do have to run at night, it makes it wayyy more fun. The headlamp is so bright that it lights up the entire trail, so I feel less freaked about cougars in the Squamish woods.

Friends make you invincible

For me, inviting along a friend tends to transform the experience and I forget about how it’s dark, wet, and dreary. It suddenly becomes light and fun, and I feel invincible. I’ll go on trails that I would normally avoid on my own, forget about hallucinating cougars, and generally be able to last about doubly as long in the same conditions.

Tara, trail running near Black Mountain

Shorter, more intense workouts

Jogging becomes way less fun when it’s dark and stormy, but shorter, more intense workouts seem to work great in cold, wet weather. I love doing 10k tempo runs once a week in the winter. They’re short enough that they feel easy to fit in, and because I’m working harder, I’m able to stay warmer while doing it, so the weather doesn’t crush my soul.

Find snow 

My ultimate way of appreciating the weather at this time of year is getting up above the rain and into the snow! I absolutely love snow, and pretty much any winter sport. Spending a few hours a week doing something different, whether that’s nordic skiing, snowshoeing, or backcountry skiing, keeps things fun and helps me to appreciate all the rain.

These are just a few ideas I’ve used to keep winter fun. What are your favourite ways to thrive in winter?

Happy winter!

Mount Atwell and Garibaldi illuminated on a clear night

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Keep It Humble And Fun: One First Place, One Last Place

The weekend of February 24th & 25th was marked off on my calendar for a while, but I wasn’t sure if I would have the courage to go through with it. The idea was to attempt the Sigge’s P’ayakentsut (P’ayak) 50km cross country ski race in Whistler on the 24th, and then the Grouse Mountain Snowshoe Grind race on the 25th. I had never done a cross country ski race before, or a snowshoe race. (Sure, I do snowshoe quite a bit, but my cross country skiing is a disaster.) I wasn’t too worried about the snowshoe race, but how would I be able to do it if I was semi-destroyed from the ski race? When the idea came to me, I was hoping Joanna & Arielle would bring their Canmore Nordic Center abilities and their enjoyment for weird weekends like this. (Three suddenly feels like this is a popular idea.) I messaged them, but Alberta is far, so they weren’t going to join. I tried recruiting others by saying if they also did the “P’ayak / Grouse Double“, I’d buy them a beer. (There were no takers.) Even though it was clear I would be doing this alone, the uncertainties intrigued me. It all seemed foolish, but fun. I decided I would sign up at the last minute.

When race week arrived, I realized the nordic ski race was a really bad idea. I hadn’t “skate skied” since 6 weeks prior, and even then, my nordic ski training was nothing like the route in the event. But then, something came over me with one hour before the P’ayak race registration deadline… I was suddenly feeling amazing, and I was excited. I signed up! And for whatever reason, I also signed up for the 50k, which was 20k longer than I had ever skied in my life. (There’s something really exciting when you sign up for something that scares you!)

On the day before the epic snow race weekend, my blisters finally healed up from the previous weekend of ski touring in the wrong boots. I was ready!

Day 1: The P’ayak

Because I haven’t skied a lot, the cutoff time looked really scary to me. (My first 25k had to be done in 2.5 hours.) Heck, I can spend over one hour just eating a meal and putting my shoes on.

In order to finish, my plan was:

  1. Wax my skis for the first time ever, which should yield about 1k an hour.
  2. Stop at all the aid stations and devour lots of Clif bars.
  3. Start at the very back of the group, and don’t go anywhere near the real skiers.
  4. If timing gets close, just take off skis and run!

With this plan in mind, I took to the start line for the 50k with about 50 other skiers. The start confused me because there were all these classic tracks, and I thought we were doing a skate ski race? Confused and having never been in tracks before, another skier confirmed that I was in the right race, and that we were all meant to start within these tracks. I went inside a track doubtfully and waited for the start.

Within the first kilometer I was about 5 minutes back from the entire race, and I wondered what the hell I was doing! I navigated the turn-offs doubtfully and started to feel great anxiety for what lay ahead. It didn’t help that I had never felt the sensation of waxed skis before! Adding to my anxiety, after a while the 30km race began and hundreds of skiers came flying by on the narrow trail downhill. Meanwhile, I prayed I would not get trampled.

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Questionable technique.

My prayers were answered not only in avoiding the trampling, but being given a ski buddy! On one of many awkward moments in the race, I stopped for a minute wondering where to go. Just then, Raj skied up behind me and showed me the right direction, and it turned out we were exactly the same pace. From that point, which was about 5k into the race, we skied the entire 45k of the race together! It was amazing to have a buddy to laugh with, and to celebrate. Because Raj was wearing a GPS watch, at some point we both realized that we were well within the cutoff times, and we were skiing the route much faster than we had expected. So, for the whole second half of the race, it was pure smiles and laughs.

We finished! And although I came dead last in the women’s category, it didn’t matter at all. I felt so proud to have finished, one hour ahead of what I expected, and I even beat my best 50km run time, which I wasn’t expecting. It’s interesting to know that you can come in last, but still feel proud!

I felt great after the P’ayak, admittedly, my “just try to finish” cross country ski race style is much, much easier than my “try to kill yourself” running style. After lots of food, I was in great spirits, feeling surprisingly springy, and ready for day 2!

Raj skied 45k with me!

Raj skied 45k with me! Note that, as a joke, the t-shirt I was wearing was from the Golden Ultra and had a giant bulls-eye on the back that said “Leader”. Thankfully no one saw that, or they would have been really confused!

Day 2: The Snowshoe Grind Race

Let’s be clear, I run the Snowshoe Grind every single week, twice a week, as part of my fun job guiding at Grouse Mountain. So, I know the course pretty well… I knew this course would be really fun as a race, because it was only about ~20 minutes of work going uphill, then a fun downhill reward, to the finish.

Even though I snowshoe run a ton, I thought it might be weird to try and go really fast in the snowshoes. Maybe they would fall off? Technical difficulties seemed likely. I decided I would avoid full on sprinting, because I had never tried that before. My strategy for day two was:

  1. Use the downhill!
  2. Warmup… it’s such a short race that I felt a warmup would actually be useful.
  3. Wear a party dress…

And mostly, to have fun! The weather was looking perfect, and it was just turning to a bluebird day as the race was getting started. Plus there were so many friendly faces around with Ian, Herman, Ray and Daniel racing in the men’s, and Allison, Nancy, and fellow Grouse guides Lesley and Kristina racing in the women’s, plus a fun surprise– Terry Bremner came to watch!

Day 2 fun begins!

Day 2 fun begins!

We “ran” (mostly power-hiked) to the top of Dam Mountain, then 32 minutes and one second later, the race was already over! If intensity of breathing is any indication, that one felt much harder than the 50k P’ayak. (Somehow Allison Tai didn’t overtake me, which I was expecting, and I was able to snowshoe my way to a 6th overall / 1st woman on day two.) It’s quite clear where my strengths lie…

Party dress finish at the Grouse Snowshoe Grind. Great racing by Herman & amazing cheering by Terry!

Party dress finish at the Grouse Snowshoe Grind. Great racing by Herman & amazing cheering by Terry Bremner!

Time for a beer!

Overall, the random snow sports weekend was such a blast. I know a lot of people have an attitude where ski touring is at the top, and then resort skiing, and then everything else is below it. But for me, it’s so much fun just to be outside doing all types of activities. It’s fun to try new things, becoming humbled from some and gaining confidence from others. And once in a while, getting a surprise with doing much better than I had expected!

Who’s in for next year?!

Full Results: 2017 Grouse Snowshoe Grind Mountain Race

Full Results: 2017 Sigge’s P’ayakentsut

With winner Paulo, great job Paulo!

With Snowshoe Grind winner Paulo, great job Paulo!