Outdoor Winter Activities That Aren’t Skiing

When the temperature drops and snow blankets the ground, head outside for fun winter activities.

For some, winter is synonymous with skiing, but there are plenty of other outdoor winter activities to try. Whether you’re interested in sports, leisure or childlike fun, there’s a wintertime activity for you to try.

This year, the Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a “season of shivers” for the 2021-2022 winter season.

“This winter will be punctuated by positively bone-chilling, below-average temperatures across most of the U.S.,” according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. “In some places, the super cold of the coming winter will also bring lots of snow. This extreme wintry mix is expected in areas of New England as well as throughout the Ohio Valley.”

If your area has snow in the forecast, think beyond the ski slopes and try a new winter activity this year. Get ready to bundle up – and check out these outdoor winter activities.

Note: Due to the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, please see official websites before visiting to check for restrictions or closures.

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing is a great form of exercise and fairly beginner-friendly. All you need are snowshoes and weather-appropriate attire; poles are also recommended but not required, according to outdoor gear retailer REI.

“If you plan to venture off easy trails, you’ll need to learn how to go up and down hills, traverse slopes, use your poles, how to get up after you fall in deep snow and how to avoid and prepare for avalanches,” according to the REI website. “Taking a class or going on a tour can offer great opportunities to learn these concepts.”

Eager to give snowshoeing a try? Find some of the best parks and trails to snowshoe in New Jersey and New York here. Check out these lists for great places to snowshoe in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, too.

Ice Fishing

In the midst of winter, you can head to a nearby lake or river and try your hand at ice fishing.

Look into the native fish species in your area to know what type of bait to use. Also, see whether your area is catch and release or if you’re able to take fish to eat.

“Fishing regulations are different for each state and are subject to change depending on recurring assessments of fish populations,” according to TakeMeFishing.org. “Anglers must know the regulations that apply in the state where they are fishing and abide by these fishing rules every time they are on the water.”

You will also need a fishing license to ice fish in the Northeast. Find resources below:

Safety Tips

You want at least 4 inches of solid ice in order to safely walk and fish. If you’re new to ice fishing, see tips for beginners and more safety information before heading out.

The American Red Cross recommends wearing a life jacket under your outer layer, always going with a friend and letting someone at home know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.

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Cross-Country Skiing

This form of skiing doesn’t require a slope. Instead, skiers propel themselves across snow-covered terrain using skis, poles and their own motion as they shift weight from one leg to the other. Cross-country skiing requires good balance, but is a fairly accessible activity otherwise.

The Cross Country Ski Association highlights some of the best areas to cross-country ski in the Northeast, including Northfield Mountain Recreation Center in Massachusetts, High Point Cross-Country Ski Center in New Jersey, Lapland Lake and Mohonk Mountain House in New York and several locations in New Hampshire and Vermont. You can see the full list here.

AAA members can save with discounts on AAA Tickets to ski resorts like Pats Peak in New Hampshire, Berkshire East Mountain Resort in Massachusetts, Sugarbush Resort in Vermont and many more.

snow tubing

Sledding & Tubing

Here’s a classic wintertime activity that never gets old. Head outside to your own backyard, a local hill, park or golf course (if allowed) to sled your day away.

Check out our list of top snow tubing spots in the Northeast, along with which NYC parks and New Jersey hills allow public sledding.

Play Safe

Remember to keep safety in mind. The National Safety Council recommends parents have children use sleds with steering mechanisms and brakes to reduce the chance of losing control. Find more sledding safety tips here.

Playing in the Snow

This winter, feel like a kid again and simply focus on the act of playing. Enjoy your time in the snow by having a snowball fight with friends or family, building animals, people and imaginary creatures out of snow or constructing a snow fort.

Check out this guide on how to build a snowman, which also lists some helpful tools.

Don’t forget to bring a container or two of hot cocoa, tea or coffee and some hand-warmers to help everyone keep warm while having fun.

Ice Hockey & Skating

Ice and snow often come hand-in-hand. When local bodies of water freeze over, lace up your skates and set out to a local ice skating rink.

Don’t feel like leaving home? No problem! You can build a DIY backyard ice rink – all you need is some lumber or PVC pipe, a tarp and a water source. See instructions for building your own skating rink here.

Polar Bear Plunge

Many charities hold annual polar bear plunges during the winter, where brave participants take a dip in frigid waters for a good cause.

Some regional examples include the Coney Island Polar Bear Club‘s Polar Plunge, the Polar Bear Plunge at Wildwood in New Jersey, and the Newport Polar Bear Plunge in Rhode Island – all happening New Year’s Day 2022.

Practice Safety

Talk to your doctor before participating in a polar plunge. The cold water shock can be dangerous to those with certain heart conditions, pregnant women and children. Safety teams should be present just in case. See additional tips for first-time plungers here.

Bird-watching

A much more calming activity, birdwatching in the winter is a great pastime for people of all ages. The relatively bare tree branches can make it easier to spot seasonal birds.

There are a wide variety of birds that call the northeast home, even during this chilly season. Discover tips for identifying New England birds from the Appalachian Mountain Club here, and find NYC birding events here.

Make lists of the different types of birds you see, take pictures or simply keep an eye out while you take a walk and enjoy the tranquility of birdwatching this winter.

Looking for similar content? Check out this story on snow day activities the kids will love.

Which winter activity would you like to try this year? Tell us in the comments below.

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