Facing Main

Playing Winter

You don’t need to be skinning up the mountain in record time for your outdoor experience to count. Making a snowman counts, too.

By Maggie Doherty

As someone who’s lived her entire life above the 45th parallel, I welcome winter. I also love watching how others enjoy winter, whether it’s the trio of snowmen perched alongside the Barely There trail at Lone Pine State Park or groups of people ice fishing on Foy’s Lake. There are likely a million maxims about living in Montana, but this one is true from Malta to Martin City: if you don’t like the long winter, it’s a tough place to live. I was raised by parents who greeted winter joyfully. My dad worked road construction, a crushing job of 80- to 90-hour workweeks in the short summers of northern Michigan. So once the snow fell, we finally got to see much more of my dad. My mom, who’s demonstrated a lifelong devotion to the small, beautiful details of life, would welcome the winter birds to the feeder, and on those rare days the sun would shine, she would make sure we all got outside and tipped our faces toward the light. Both parents loved to ski, all made financially possible by my dad’s winter job of tending bar at the local ski hill. 

As a parent of another generation of snow lovers, I’m much more observant about how our community embraces winter. A broad smile stretches on my face when I venture onto the ice of Foy’s and see groups of kids setting up hockey nets and shoveling off snow. Ski tracks and paw prints imprinted on the snow reveal how all of us meet these darker and colder days. And while Montana’s famous summers draw all the attention, perhaps now too famous, the ways in which we interact with winter says a lot about us: adaptable, hearty, playful, curious. Plus, who can deny the attractive bloom of red cheeks from the cold? 

It’s not like we need confirmation from endless studies about the benefits of being in nature. And it’s only recently in human history that more of our days are confined inside, but perhaps it needs to be shared more widely: getting outside, no matter the season is good for you, and good for all of us. Often, we think of life in the mountains in terms of extreme adventure or daring feats. You don’t need to be skinning up the mountain in record time for your outdoor experience to count. Making a snowman counts, too. It’s a connection to a world greater than ourselves, activating all our senses, and interaction that keeps us healthy, sane, and more than likely, kinder. So, whether your pursuits take you on backcountry adventures, or you revisit your favorite frozen lake or pond for a skate or big catch, I hope that you see the gifts of winter, and those around you who take part in it, too. 

Maggie Doherty is a writer and book reviewer who lives in Kalispell with her family. 

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