In the summer, I live in the land of the midnight sun. But come winter, those endless hours of sunlight disappear into as low as five and a half hours of daylight per day.
Despite popular belief, this doesn’t mean Yukon’ers live in near perpetual darkness all winter long. Those five and a half hours are blessed with golden skies that turn a soft pink and purple hue for several hours per day. At high noon as the sun skims low across the horizon, long shadows cast a perfect contrast against our white snowy landscape that glistens from dawn till dusk.
From someone who measures daylight hours against a list of adventure timelines as a challenge of how long I can stay out on any given day, here is my list of five ways to maximize your short days during winter.
Step 1. Get outside to absorb actual sunlight.
People who suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) will always have little tips and tricks they use to get through the long nights of winter, including using blue ambient light to trick their body into thinking they’re outside, to supplementing with Vitamin D, as well as eating pumpkin seeds or squash which apparently help with anxiety and depression (two common symptoms of SAD).
But you know what is better than all the above? Actual sunshine.
So layer up with the thermal underwear. Grab the fleece lined gloves, toque, and scarf. Boot on those warm winter boots. Grab the insulated jacket and snowpants. And go play outside.
Step 2. Choose your adventure wisely.
In the summer with long hours of light, it is easy to pick a trail that has an extended forested section necessary to pass in order to reach the alpine. But in winter, avoid these like the plague.
Instead, search for trails that have easy alpine access, or long ridges with southern exposure (if in the Northern hemisphere). If your goal is to get as much sun as possible, don’t hinder that by wandering for hours in the dark woods.
Step 3. Arrive early, stay late.
Get to familiar with the twilight hours, the technical term for when the sun is just below the horizon. Photographers know it as #GoldenHour, when the sky creates that warm hue as it refracts across the atmosphere.
In the Yukon, during the shortest day of the year we have two hours of civil twilight which means we have two extra hours where everything around us is clearly visible but the sun just isn’t above the horizon. In addition to that, we also have two hours of nautical twilight.
Technically speaking, you may need some form of artificial light during nautical twilight but this is typically when I plan to get the logistical things like driving to / from our destination done. That way, I have plenty of time during the civil twilight (when the sun is only 6 degrees below the horizon) to catch the alpenglow and #goldenhour magic while the daylight hours can be saved for having fun.
Step 4. Learn new skills or just play like a kid.
Just because it is winter doesn’t mean there aren’t an infinite amount of fun activities to enjoy. I often hear people complain that winter is only for ice skating or downhill skiing.
Love hiking? You should be a fan of snowshoeing.
Hate hiking? Find a small slope and take a crazy carpet down.
Want to feel like a kid again but get a serious adrenaline rush? Learn how to snowkite.
Live somewhere with no hills and no wind? Cross country skiing has to be one of the most underrated snowsports. A great workout and can do with even the smallest amount of snow anywhere.
Great hills but no ski lifts? Start learning your avalanche safety and get yourself some backcountry fun.
Step 5. Treat yourself.
Lack of sunlight does wreak havoc on your serotonin levels, the chemical in our bodies that gives us energy and fights off depression among other things.
I would not claim to be a diet expert, as there are a million different theories on how to fuel your body properly in this sort of climate. What I do know is the Inuits who have lived in the Arctic for centuries, survived on a high fat diet with no processed food for the majority of that period.
Unfortunately, like many others, I tell myself to prepare raw organic foods but then tend to lean heavy on carbohydrates.
While on the trails, I just make sure all the food we bring is easily ready to eat as preparing food over a stove or fire is too time consuming and / or requires far too much effort. Lack of serotonin does leave my body yearning for far more sweets than I would eat in the summer, so a chocolate bar is never far away. Most importantly, we always bring a giant thermos (actually an insulated growler from our favourite brewery) filled with tea to warm up after a long day and keep hydrated.