As a kid growing up in Colorado, I spent my winters in the backyard on a pair of K-Tel Fun Skis. We wore bread bags inside our boots to keep our feet dry and slightly less numb; if they didn't totally "kill," we were happy. Nowadays winter is more complicated. There's a driveway to clear before the commute, there's a house to keep slightly less filthy, and for some inexcusable reason, no one makes anything like a Fun Ski any more. But the fact is, if you focus on the many inconveniences of winter, you'll miss all the fun of it. So here are a few lessons I've learned about how to make the grownup side of cold weather more tolerable.
Embrace the Inevitable
I spent five winters as an adult in Minneapolis, which makes a Denver winter feel like a nippy day in Palm Springs. Yet Minnesotans don't grouse much about the cold, and you get the feeling it's even considered a little uncool to do so. Accepting the long, brutal season is just part of their culture, as evidenced by the crowded walking paths in sub-zero weather. This certainly taught me something: the more you embrace the inevitable onslaught of winter, the more you can enjoy the good parts of it (which do not include scraping your windshield in mid-April).
Delegate or Dial-In the Driveway
Clearing snow from your driveway and walks comes with two painful options: 1) suit-up and shovel or snowblow before you get ready for work, or 2) save the time up front by driving over the snow, thereby compacting it to a granite-like hardness that you have to deal with when you get home (or wait until spring). If you really don't like shoveling or don't have the time or lower back for it, consider using a plow service for the winter. This may sound extravagant, but it's really no different from hiring a neighborhood kid to mow your lawn, and it's actually better for the environment than running a typical snowblower. Landscaping companies of all sizes offer snowplow services. In this economy, it pays to shop around for a good price.
If you're sticking with a shovel or snowblower, you can save yourself a lot of swearing by maintaining the driveway and walks before the snow flies. Smooth out all of the rough spots, cracks and uneven joints in concrete or asphalt with an appropriate patching compound, and seal cracks with caulk or sealant to prevent further cracking. Prevent ice accumulation on walkways by making sure the surfaces are sloped for drainage. You can resurface damaged or poorly draining concrete walks or cover them with sandset brick or concrete pavers. A non-mortared paver surface isn't as easy to shovel as flat concrete, but it's self-draining and can prevent recurring ice rinks in low areas.
Make Up a Mudroom
Mudrooms are wonderfully useful spaces for homes in any kind of climate, but they're downright essential in snowy regions. They not only help manage mountains of winter outerwear and provide an indoor space for donning and doffing wet boots and coats, they also help keep your house clean and free of all the junk and chemicals tracked in from roads and sidewalks. If you don't have a mudroom, make one up for the winter months. Choose a convenient spot near the most-used entry door, and lay down a washable area rug. Set up a bench for changing footwear, a rack or tray for boots, a bin for gloves and hats, and a coat rack where things can drip-dry. Outside the door, install a boot scraper and/or make sure there's something hard (like a concrete step or even a big rock) for kicking off snow and road crud before going indoors.
Few actions are less graceful or enjoyable than pushing a car out of a snow bank in dress slacks and loafers or in a skirt and heels. The advice here is simple: Don't rely on the weather report, and don't be a sucker. Instead, keep a complete second-string of winter wear (boots, parka, hat, gloves) in the trunk of your car for the entire winter. That way, even if you leave your house in clothing best suited for a drive down Wilshire Boulevard, you won't end up with frostbite if things don't go exactly as planned.
Do you have good advice for other readers on how to prepare now to make winter easier? Leave a comment in the comments section below.