Trail Talk | Embracing Winter: Finding Joy in the lowlands during Washington's wetter months

In this feature from Mountaineer magazine, take some tips from Craig Romano on how to embrace the joys of winter.
Craig Romano Craig Romano
Mountaineers Books Guidebook Author
December 17, 2022
Trail Talk | Embracing Winter: Finding Joy in the lowlands during Washington's wetter months
Craig being greeted by a bird at Artist Point. Photo by Suzanne Gerber.

I grew up in New Hampshire, a state not known for agreeable weather. An old local saying boasts that in New Hampshire we have 11 months of winter and one month of damn poor sledding. While the climate has changed and winters have become milder (the winters of my youth were truly much colder, snowier, and longer), an abundance of snowy and cold days continue to make New Hampshire and other northern states tough places to live.

Unless you embrace the season and all of its charms and challenges, living in an area with severe winters can be one long drag. Fortunately for this native New Englander, I love winter. I learned how to ice skate at a young age and spent many cold evenings playing ice hockey at our neighborhood pond. I also learned how to ski at our town’s ski hill and eventually graduated from ‘weekend skier’ to ‘ski bum’ while working at a couple of ski resorts in Vermont and New Hampshire. Winters were long, but that was fine with me. I prolonged the ski season as much as I could, skiing well into spring with a run or two down Mount Washington’s famed Tuckerman Ravine.

132.JPGCraig’s wife and son hiking a barrier island on a cold December day. Photo courtesy of Craig Romano. 

Year-round recreation

When I moved to Western Washington I continued to embrace winter, but found that here winter primarily plays out in the mountains while the lowlands remain in an autumnal purgatory. That arrangement soon proved very advantageous as I could head to the mountains to ski or snowshoe then return home to the Puget lowlands to bike, run, or paddle. In northern New England it’s pretty tough to paddle on a frozen lake. And it’s near suicide to paddle in coastal waters in the winter. Biking is messy at best, treacherous at worst. Running? Yeah, I ran in New England during the winter, but with more clothes than I preferred and on rural roads made much narrower and frightening due to encroaching snowbanks.

In Western Washington winters I can run to my heart’s content - and almost always do so in shorts. I don’t let the weather keep me inside to pack on a few pounds, as I’ve learned to embrace the rain. It’s a heck of lot easier to run in than snow! I relish a winter routine, which usually involves running in the pouring rain and returning home to a hot shower followed by a warm drink near the fireplace. I enjoy the same routine after a long day of skiing, chilled to the bone.

Craig’s family enjoying a snowy family hike on Blanchard Mountain. Photo courtesy of Craig Romano.

Slowing down

I also embrace the short daylight hours and long, dark nights of winter. For much of the year I am constantly on the go, taking long hikes and runs from sunrise to sunset. I welcome the shorter winter days as a time to rest and reflect, allowing my body to recover and my mind to recharge. While I reflect on my adventures and accomplishments of the receding year, I plan a new slew of them for the one approaching. And especially during the winter solstice and Christmas season, I deeply reflect on my life in general. I count my blessings, assess what is truly important, and seek validation and spiritual guidance. There is nothing more spiritually stimulating than an evening run, or a hike on a crisp, cool winter day to witness the fiery red alpenglow on the surrounding snow-shrouded mountains.

The short, rainy days of winter also allow me to better appreciate summer and to eagerly anticipate it as the rainy season inevitably overstays its welcome. But while I love running in the rain, hiking in the snow, and walking deserted beaches on a blustery day, after a few sun-less months it’s hard not to get the blues. What I find the most difficult to endure during a Western Washington winter is not the persistent rain or the long nights - it’s the incessant grey and lack of sunlight. So each winter I take a break to enjoy a short taste of summer light with a trip to Southern California.

Craig on a snowy half-marathon trail run in Skagit County. Photo courtesy of Craig Romano. 

Rainy days and cozy nights

Upon my return though, I am reminded of just how unique our Puget Sound winters are. The opportunity to transition from snowshoe trails and ski destinations to ample hiking, running, and bicycling opportunities (albeit wet ones) is not something I take for granted. Nature offers pockets of bliss in every season, you simply must choose to seek them out.

So as we approach yet another long, grey, and rainy winter, I say bring it on! I had a wonderful warm season on the trail and am looking forward to long runs in the rain, lonely walks along the coast, and a few ventures into the snowy mountains. I will have the opportunity to recharge, get caught up on neglected manuscripts, and enjoy movies with my family in front of the fireplace. I urge you to embrace the rain-soaked days and slow, cozy nights that winter in Western Washington brings. I have, and my life has been all the better for it.

Craig Romano is an award-winning guidebook author who has written more than 25 books, including Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge, Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula 2nd edition, and eight titles in the Urban Trails series (Mountaineers Books) which feature many hikes that can be done all winter long. Purchase his titles in our Seattle Program Center Bookstore, online, and everywhere books are sold.

This article originally appeared in our winter 2023 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.


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