Undergrad

Surviving a North Country Winter

As a Northern New York (NNY) native, I have faced firsthand the struggles of the North Country’s harsh winters. If this is the first you’re hearing of it, yes, we can get 7 feet of snow (and have! But not recently … ), and yes, the temperature can get well into the negatives. Don’t let this scare you! NNY can be a wonderful place to spend your winter. But adapting to this climate can be a shock if you are underprepared. No worries — that’s why I’m making this handy guide.

What the Weather is ACTUALLY Like:

Classes change during a spring snow storm.

Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always freezing here. As I’m writing this, it’s in the upper 30s F, but a few days ago, it was in the 50s F. The rollercoaster that is NNY’s weather is definitely something to keep in mind when you’re packing. This means bringing both shorts and your winter coat (don’t worry — I have a section on winter clothes). It also means you probably won’t be abruptly hit with crazy winter conditions. With this being said, you can expect snow any time between November and April (I’ve seen snow as early as October!). Needless to say, if you have yet to become acquainted with snow, you will know it very well by the end of the season.

Winter Attire: 

These are the items you NEED to survive your upcoming NNY winter:

  • Heavy Winter Coat: As the temperature drops and the wind chill increases, it becomes easier to lose body heat. This can make you sick and/or sluggish. Bundle up to avoid this!
  • Snow Boots: Make sure these are marketed as snow boots. If they are not waterproof, your feet will get wet and cold.
  • Scarf, Hat, Gloves, Socks: It’s super easy to lose body heat if you’re outside for a while, so these pieces help keep you warm.
  • Sweaters, Sweatshirts, Jackets: LAYERS!!! I cannot stress this enough! Layers give you the ability to take off a piece of clothing if you get too hot or add on another piece if you get cold. This is especially useful when going in and out of buildings.
  • Rain Coat: This isn’t winter-specific, but it might come in handy. Personally, I will put on a hoodie/sweatshirt and put my raincoat over top of that when it’s raining/hailing/sleeting/etc. 
  • Snow Pants or Warm Pants: These are for doing all those fun winter activities (which I’ll talk about later). If you are going out in the snow often, I would suggest some type of waterproof snow pants. If you’re not a snow person, I wouldn’t worry too much about it!
  • Thermal Undergarments: If you are going outside for a longer period, I would suggest wearing thermal undergarments (or just pile on the layers).
  • Warm Pajamas: The nights are always the coldest, so make sure you have warm pajamas and blankets!
Winter on campus, Wednesday, November 28, 2018. (CU Photo by Steve Jacobs)

Tips and Tricks:

  • Keep up with your emergency alerts, both from Clarkson and locally. You do not want to be caught in poor weather conditions.
  • If weather reports say there is a chance of squalls, it could mean whiteout conditions, which cause very low visibility.
  • If you drive, warm up your car before you leave … it’s worth it.
  • If you aren’t familiar with driving in snow, do NOT drive in poor weather conditions. Even locals stay home if visibility is too low.
  • Speaking of driving, do NOT drive during a travel ban. It’s dangerous! You’re probably thinking it’s no big deal, but whiteout conditions can make you lose sight of the road and everything around you. This can easily cause an accident. Don’t take the risk!
  • If you want to change out of your boots when you get to class, bring another pair of shoes and an extra bag with you. The bag will separate your wet boots from your other things.
  • Make sure you have all the snow accessories for your car: snow duster, windshield scraper and winter tires.
  • As I said before, layers are super important. If you’re hot, you can take your top layers off, and if you’re cold, you can add more layers. 
  • Keep a blanket, water, candles and extra clothes in your car … you never know what can happen!
  • Wear sunscreen! And if need be, sunglasses. Snow reflects light, so you can totally get a sunburn in the winter.
  • If winter has taken its toll on your skin, get a small humidifier to add moisture to the air.
  • Warm up with your favorite hot beverage. Hot chocolate with cinnamon is my go-to.
  • Have an extra pair of shoes or rain boots on hand. In the early months, snow will fall at night and melt by mid-morning. You want to make sure you’re prepared for puddles and an overall wet environment.
  • Take part in winter activities! 
Winter scenes at Clarkson University.

Enjoying the Winter Months:

What is unique about winter in the North Country is the number of activities available to you. When its cold and snowy 5-6 months out of the year, you learn to adapt! Here I have compiled a list of fun winter activities. I hope you try some! 

  • Skiing & Snowboarding: There are many places locally to go skiing and snowboarding. It is a favorite pastime in NNY …  in fact, Clarkson has a club for it!
  • Tubing or Sledding: Embrace your inner child, find a hill (or a ski resort) and have fun!
  • Making Instant Snow: If it gets really cold (I’m talking around -20 F or more) boil some water, take it outside and throw it into the air — it will instantly freeze! (This activity is very dependent on temperature.) I did this last winter and it was awesome.
  • Ice Skating: There are open-skating times offered at Cheel Arena and other nearby rinks. Or go up to Ottawa and skate on the Rideau Canal!
  • Ice Fishing: A popular pastime! Explore this activity with the Clarkson Rod & Gun Club or look into Competitive Bass Fishing.
  • Snowmobiling: Clarkson has a Clean Snowmobile Club — check it out!
  • Sled Dog Tours: You can enjoy this fun activity at the Call of the Wild, a local business about 15 minutes away!
  • Hockey Games: Get out there and support the Golden Knights!
  • Local Events: Check out what’s going on, especially during the holidays!
  • Holiday Light Gazing (weather permitting): Around the holiday season, you can drive around to look at holiday lights and decorations. If you’re really into that, I would suggest making the trip to Lights on the Lake in Syracuse (about 2 ½ hours drive away). I have been three times, and it’s worth it!

Or for those days you just want to stay indoors:

1/28/13 Erin Rice paints a window panel connecting CAMP to the Student Center for Ice Carnival 2013.
  • Read a book.
  • Organize your room.
  • Catch up on your favorite show or start a new one.
  • Join a club or group.
  • Play board games.
  • Draw or paint.
  • Go see a movie.
  • Eat at a local restaurant.
  • See a live performance at your local theater!

No matter what activities you do, how cold it gets or even how much snow there is, winter in Northern New York is amazing. I hope this guide not only prepares you, but gets you excited!! You’re in the best place to spend the season!

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