Contrary to popular belief, winter is not stupid. It’s just misunderstood, like the distance runner who still needs to find the parking spot closest to the door at the supermarket. Here are 15 ways to enrich your winter in and around St. Louis.
1. Deck the Roads
Nothing spreads holiday cheer so much as dressing up like a jolly lunatic and taking it to the streets. On December 6, the Reindeer Run (ymcastlouis.org/calendar/reindeer-run-5k) and Santas on the Loose (go-webster.com/SOL.htm) descend on Brentwood and Webster Groves, respectively. On December 13, Santa’s North Pole Dash (gstccc.com/santadash) hits St. Charles. Each event offers multiple distances — 5K, 1 mile, kids’ runs — and encourages festive apparel. The Reindeer Run includes a costume contest, while the other two races provide runners with a red shirt, hat, and white beard.
2. It’s Peak Season
Downhill skiing in St. Louis is synonymous with Wildwood’s Hidden Valley (hiddenvalleyski.com), but there’s much more to the picture than there was back when the park opened in 1982. Big news this year is a new double chairlift that will ease access to novice runs and help beginners to transition to the main lift sooner. The West Mountain, added about five years ago, has longer runs and the Outlaw Terrain Park. There’s also improved snow-making capability and a remodeled lodge with bar seating facing the slopes. The Polar Plunge is a 1,200-foot-long descent dedicated to tubing, with two conveyor carpets to take riders back to the top. The season starts on December 13, weather permitting.
3. Take a Hike, Man
If you’re the type who packs away your hiking boots at the first sign of snow, you’re doing it wrong. Winter can be the best time of year to trek in Missouri because the bugs and the crowds are gone, and the whitewashed scenery is stunning. Along with the outdoor tips provided in our editor’s letter (see page 2), think about getting a pair of snowshoes, which will make it easier to climb icy trails and hills. The St. Louis Adventure Group (meetup.com/StLAdventurers/) has hikes year-round at popular places like Cliff Cave Park in South County and Lewis & Clark Trails in Weldon Spring.
4. Reach New Heights
Whether you’re brand-new to the sport or just want to keep your belay skills sharp, ’tis the season for indoor climbing. Upper Limits (upperlimits.com), with locations in downtown, West County, and Bloomington, Ill., offers a climber’s menagerie of walls, overhanging arches, and boulders. Climb So iLL (climbsoill.com), in an old power plant in Lafayette Square, has five areas, each with different angles and heights ranging from 20 to 50+ feet. Introductory classes and “autobelays” make getting started easy for novices and families alike.
5. Slip Sliding Away
“And now for the rules of the International Chinese downhill: There are none.” So sayeth the classic and (cough) critically acclaimed movie “Hot Dog.” Old Mountains Gear Exchange (oldmountainsx.com) in Webster Groves hopes to channel the spirit of the anything-goes affair at its When It Snows events, to be held throughout the winter “when it snows.” There’ll be fashion “show offs,” no-rules downhill races, games, prizes, bonfires (maybe), shwag, gear for sale, food…and the events are open to everyone! Get more details and weigh in on a dates that work for you at facebook.com/events/344113672433484/.
6. I’ve Got a Fever
When you’re cooped up inside all winter, you get a little stir crazy. When you get a little stir crazy, you end up chasing your family around the backyard until you become a human popsicle like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” Don’t become a human popsicle like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” Schlafly’s Cabin Fever festival (schlafly.com/events/calendar/2015/01/17/cabin-fever-2015/) has nothing to do with physical fitness, but a few strong draughts are sure to melt away your winter blues. Held on January 17 outside Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, admission includes a commemorative glass, beer tasting, music, and big fun.
7. What Lies Beneath
Baby, it’s cold outside. But inside Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Mo., it’s a cool 58 degrees. That’s jacket weather! This spectacular “show cave” is open year-round, unlike many others that are closed so bats can use them for hibernation. Take a guided tour and grab a bite at the onsite restaurant. If this visit only serves to wet your appetite for underground exploration, consider joining a caving club like the Meramec Valley Grotto (mvg.caves.org), which meets monthly in Kirkwood. It offers sponsored trips, loaner gear, a research library, and more.
8. Like a Bear in the Woods
Let loose at the “turd annual” SHivery Icy Trail Run (SHITR) on January 10. This grassroots half-marathon, held at night at Lost Valley Trail in Weldon Spring, is put on by a group of adventure-racing friends and espouses no frills, no support, and no whiners — just lots of dirty fun. There’s no entry fee, either, though a donation to the St. Louis chapter of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America is suggested. Finishers get kitschy medals and trophies for noteworthy accomplishments like best wipeout. Learn more at facebook.com/SHiveringIcyTrailRun.
9. Bald is Beautiful
Every January, the second largest population of migrating American Bald Eagles returns to the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway in Alton and Grafton, Ill. Here, the majestic birds of prey soar across the sky, dive along the river for fish, and reclaim their nests on the Mississippi River bluffs. Guided eagle-watching tours, eagle meet and greets, and even an eagle festival are all in the offing. A full list of events can be found at visitalton.com/seasons/eagle.
10. Winter on Two Wheels
Rather than spend months on a trainer, throw on an extra layer of clothes and head for the hills. Mountain biking offers a like-new winter experience thanks to the startling solitude and unique challenges. The key word when riding in snow is “traction.” Think about getting a pair of winter tires with big, knobby treads. Remember to take it slow and shift your weight back to keep the rear wheel from spinning. Trailnet is hosting its first mountain bike race this winter, the St. Charles County Epic (trailnet.org/calendar/st-charles-county-epic-mountain-bike-event-bfc/). Might be a good chance to try winter riding with some built-in support, in case you need it.
11. Some Like It Hot
Cold temps got you down? Kick up the thermostat with a hot yoga class and embrace the sweat pooling in your crevices. The Y60 Classic: Level 1 at Yoga Six (yogasix.com) uses alignment, standing, and balancing postures to help with muscular endurance and flexibility, in a piping hot room at 100+ degrees. The Hour of Power at Metro Power Yoga (metropoweryoga.com) is a heated class for all levels, based on Baptiste Power Vinyasa sequence. Both studios have longer and more challenging classes, up to 90 minutes, sure to ignite your inner yogi.
12. Climb an Ice Sculpture
While rock climbing is prohibited in Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Ill., there are five canyons in which ice climbing is permitted when conditions allow. The waterfalls here freeze in wintertime, forming “airstep” climbs as well as awesome free-standing pillars. It’s a road trip — about 3.5 hours by car — but that only adds to the sense of adventure. Chicago Rock & Ice Guides (chicagorockandiceguides.com) offers courses with no experience or equipment necessary. If you prefer to go on your own, all climbers must sign in at the park office and must have a partner. Call 815-667-4211 to check the ice conditions.
13. Take the Plunge
If you thought last summer’s ice bucket challenge was invigorating, try jumping into a semi-frozen body of water in February. There are two Polar Plunges set for St. Louis in 2015 — one at Lake Saint Louis and the other in Maryland Heights. Both benefit Special Olympics Missouri (somo.org/plunge) and its year-round program of sports training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. A quick in-and-out soaking not enough for you? Sign up for the St. Louis “Super Plunge” and face an additional, as-yet-unnamed, cold-water challenge.
14. Bringing XC Back
People like to say that cross-country skiing is the most accessible winter sport. Have you ever tried it? NordicTrack has nothing on the real thing. Finding the right gear can be a little tricky in in our neck of the woods (we recommend REI St. Louis) but don’t let that stop you. There are some great trails in places like Queeny Park in Des Peres and Castlewood State Park in Ballwin for skimming when there’s enough snow. If you’re looking from partners in crime, try the St. Louis Ski Club (stlouisskiclub.com), which has been around since 1958.
15. New Year, New Plan
Winter is a natural time to reflect on the year almost past and the year to come. So, give some thought to your accomplishments in 2014 and then set some new goals for 2015. Maybe this is the year you run your first marathon or complete your first race of any kind. Maybe it’s when you pick up a brand-new activity you’ve always wanted to try. Perhaps 2015 calls for an epic adventure that you train for the entire year. Whatever your calling, make the next 365 days count. Put your goals down on paper and tell your friends. That way, you’re more inclined to see them through.
Author: Doug Simmons is a regular contributor to Terrain magazine