What can a mountaineer who has skied in the Arctic Circle, a ranger on Mount Washington who specializes in reading avalanches, or a musher who has run sled dogs across northern Quebec tell you about enjoying winter?

We mined a wealth of cold-weather wisdom from Maine’s most expert winter travelers. These are people who go outside in tundra-like conditions to work, ski, hike, fish and camp. We’re talking minus-30-degree days, wind blasting 80 mph, and weather so bitter, going without hand protection means losing digits. Yes, you can go play outside in such conditions, these experts say, but exacting preparation is crucial.

How can you be happy (and safe) when it’s sub-zero out? Read on for tips. And stop looking at winter through the window.

FRANK CARUS, Avalanche Center director in the White Mountain National Forest

Frank Carus, the Avalanche Center director in the White Mountain National Forest, has taken part in many harrowing cold-weather expeditions on Mount Washington, where temperatures can drop to 30 below, and the wind gust to 100 mph. Photo courtesy of Frank Carus

Carus has been a party to many harrowing winter rescues on Mount Washington, including the coldest Mount Washington rescue in modern times: In February, 2015, 32-year-old Kate Matrosova, an experienced mountaineer, encountered a terrible storm while traversing the Presidential Range. Winds gusted 80 to 100 mph. “She went up alone with the intention of bagging a couple of peaks and coming down,” said Carus, an avid guide and climber. “Then the weather moved in and she froze to death.”

Stay hydrated: Carus recommends carrying as much water as you would in the summer months, but leave that Camelback hydration system at home. “People struggle with the simple thing like keeping water from freezing,” Carus said.


Carry instant shelter: When you stop to rest, drink or eat, you’re at grave risk of getting cold. Not if you have an instant shelter. Carus loves the Bothy bags favored by sea kayakers in the North Sea. These lightweight emergency shelters can be shared with a friend, in which case body heat will help keep you warm, too.

Keep your feet warm: Gaiters are a must, Carus said. This added layer goes over boots and up the shin and both traps heat and keeps snow out of your boots.

KEVIN SLATER, sled dog guide in Maine and Canada

These rubber boots, sold at Army surplus stores, are incredibly warm in wet conditions because of the thick insulation (shown here in a cross section). Photo courtesy of Mahoosuc Guide Service

Slater has run sled dog trips in northwestern Maine and northern Canada for 30 years. At Mahoosuc Guide Service, which Slater co-owns, all clients get two essential articles of clothing to ensure they stay warm: Insulated rubber boots and an anorak —the shell cuts the wind, the hood traps body heat.

Boots in the bush: For skiing or fishing on frozen lakes that could turn slushy, Slater recommends the Army surplus rubber boots called “Mickey Mouse boots,” which have thick insulation between the rubber lining in the sole and the top of the foot. They cost a modest $100 and will last decades. “That is the go-to footwear for just about anyone in Alaska in the bush,” Slater said.

Moose mimic: There’s a reason moose do well in cold climates — they have thick coats. Slater swears by moose-hide mukluks made in Minnesota and Canada, which keep his feet warm even in the bitter cold.


Slater’s favorite parka: His own was custom made by a Cree Indian, so not something you simply can order online. But it has one feature that can be added to any parka: a fur-lined hood. Slater suggests buying a fur pelt in Maine from a trapper and sewing it into the rim of your hood: “Coyote here is plentiful,” he said.

ERIC WARD, Moosehead Lake ice fisherman

Eric Ward, lifelong Mooshead Lake ice fishermen, never sits still when he’s out on the big lake. Photo courtesy of Eric Ward

Even when it’s 30 below, Ward, a Registered Maine Guide, enjoys fishing on Maine’s biggest lake, Moosehead in northern Piscataquis County. Clear-sky cold days aren’t as bad as they seem, he reminds outdoor enthusiasts. “In the afternoon, when it gets above zero, it seems warm,” he said. Ward’s top tips?

Bring hot liquids: Always carry a thermos full of hot liquid or bring a small camp stove, like a Jetboil, to heat up liquids or to make water from snow.

Build a fire: Ward never goes outdoors without a lighter for a fire, not just for emergencies, but also to help him warm up. Another option? A can of Sterno (or “canned heat”) provides an instant fire for a half hour.

Keep moving: Ward often jigs (ice fishing by standing over the hole and moving the line). He never stands still for long outdoors in winter: “If I’m going fishing, I’m not hanging out.”


GREG WARNER, veteran Sunday River snowmaker

Warner, a native Mainer, has been making snow at one of Maine’s biggest ski areas for three decades. He is regularly out at night when it’s negative 30, and he regularly gets frozen snow pounded into his face. He has had frostbite on his cheek three times. Yet Warner still finds a calm zero-degree night lovely. Here are his suggestions for enjoying Maine’s coldest season:

Bring a change of clothes: “Back 30 years ago, by the time you got a (snow) gun run done, you were sweating if you did your job right. So I always had at least three to four pairs of clothing,” Warner said. Technology for snow guns and winter clothing is more advanced now, but Warner still brings extra clothes when he spends winter nights outdoors.

Do the balaclava: It’s not a dance, it’s a ski mask. When you’re handling high pressure water and high pressure air, you need to protect your face. The classic mask works for snowmakers — and everyone else. Warner recommends you add ski goggles in order to completely cover your face.

BILL YEO, Everest climber who also skied across Baffin Island, Canada

Yeo is always adventuring somewhere, be it the Himalayas, the islands of the Arctic Circle or the Amazon. But he’s also ice climbed, skied and tented in frigid conditions right here in Maine. Just last winter while skating on Highland Lake in Windham, he went through the ice. But because Yeo swears by all-wool underclothing, no problem. He was dry in an hour without suffering hypothermia. (Note: Don’t try this at home).


The ultimate mittens: Yeo’s warmest pair, Outdoor Research down mitts, are rated for climbing at 26,000 feet. They don’t come cheap; expect to pay $200. When he was skiing across Baffin Island, they ripped. Yeo quickly stitched them up with dental floss. “I would have a lost a finger without them,” he said.

The better bargain: Hand warmers, which cost $30 for a box of 40, are a more economical option for keeping your hands warm, if you aren’t, say, in the Arctic Circle. Yeo swears by them.

Bigger boots: Yeo’s all-time favorite winter boot is made by Baffin and rated to negative-140 degrees (and that’s no typo). It has saved his skin — literally — on many frozen trips. They also run about $200. A less-expensive approach? Buy your boots a size or two bigger than you need, Yeo says, to fit two pairs of socks.

Overboots: They slip over your hiking boots or Nordic ski boots offering added insulation, hence added warmth. This gear, which costs just $75, comes highly recommended from the guy who 30 years ago lost three toes to frostbite. Enough said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.