Minnesota Winter Survival Guide
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Do Minnesota Winters Deserve Their Bad Reputation?
We all know winter in Minnesota can be brutal. With the cloudy gloomy days, the sun setting early and the bitter cold temperatures that come in January and February, it’s no wonder our winters have a bad reputation. But do Minnesota winters really deserve it?
My very first time in Minnesota was February 2011, which saw a record breaking snowfall and bitterly cold temperatures well below zero. I remember running to my car for warmth and my jeans instantly became cold and stiff in seconds. I quickly learned to never again wear jeans without thermals underneath.
Get the Necessities in Order Before Winter
In a few months, I’ll celebrate a decade living in Minnesota. It’s hard to believe nearly ten years have passed since I first made the decision to move, but over those ten years, I’ve learned how to not only get through winter but to enjoy it. Here are a few of the most important things I’ve learned about preparing for a Minnesota winter:
- Proper clothing comes first, fashion comes second. Your shoes will get covered in snow and salt, the wind will hit you in the face without remorse and the cold air will shock your nostrils and lungs. Staying warm and dry is everything. I love The North Face winter gear, like my jacket and boots, from REI.
- Get your furnace tuned up before winter! When we bought our first house a few years ago, our furnace died in January. We had to run several space heaters and sleep in layers for three days until a furnace company could come out and replace it. We were so thankful no pipes froze or burst in our home.
- Keep warm gloves and a blanket in your car in case of emergency. I keep my Rumpl blanket in my trunk during winter. It’s extremely warm and rolls up into a compact ball so it doesn’t take up much space. Having some snacks on hand is also a smart idea. Be sure to also have working windshield wipers and a full tank of gas. You may find yourself hitting a patch of ice and waiting for hours in a ditch for a tow truck to come. We’ve experienced that more than once.
- Most importantly, get outside and make the most of winter! Don’t waste the sunny days and get fresh air even when it’s cloudy. You will always be glad you did it.
Shop some of my favorite winter items
Minnesotans Know How to Embrace Winter
One of my favorite things about Minnesotans is their ability to embrace winter. Consistently ranked as one of the healthiest and fittest cities in the United States, the Twin Cities offer a plethora of bike trails, walking paths, and winter activities to keep us active, even when it’s 40 degrees below zero. With the right clothing and attitude, nothing is too cold.
Minnesotans are creative in finding ways to make winter more comfortable. Did you know there are more than 11 miles of skyways running through Minneapolis? These above-ground glass tunnels connect the downtown buildings so that we can walk around the city comfortably in foul weather. If you work or live downtown, you’ve most certainly figured out how to get from your parking ramp to your job, apartment, and favorite restaurant without ever stepping foot outside. The Minneapolis skyways are like an alternate universe with hundreds of bars, restaurants, and shops, many of which are not visible from the street.
I’m also seeing so many heated patios and outdoor heated bubble tents pop up at breweries and restaurants. Bring your snow pants or a blanket and order a hot cocktail. It’s actually quite fun!
Did Minnesotans Learn to Enjoy Winter from Their Scandinavian Ancestors?
Minnesota is home to the largest population of Norwegian and Swedish people outside of Scandinavia itself. It’s abundantly clear that the Scandinavian culture runs deep here; just look at the NFL team. Skol Vikings! In 2019, my husband and I took a trip to Oslo and it really helped me understand my Minnesota neighbors and friends. There are so many similarities, and I strongly believe the mindset of Minnesotans comes largely from their Scandinavian ancestors.
Just like the Twin Cities, Norway consistently ranks as one of the happiest and healthiest countries and frequently lands the number one spot. Scandinavian people also know how to embrace winter and they do not dread the isolation that can come with colder months. Instead, they focus on outdoor socialization and creating cozy indoor spaces, as understood through the popularized Danish “hygge” lifestyle. While creating an inviting environment is great year-round, it becomes an essential part of the survival toolkit in winter.
Find Creative Ways to Get Outside and Enjoy Winter
Whether it’s cozy blankets, an outdoor bonfire, or lighting candles inside, winter in Minnesota is viewed as a new season, bringing with it refreshing experiences. This is demonstrated clearly by all the winter festivals that take place in Minnesota. From golf tournaments and kite festivals on frozen lakes, to yoga classes in the snow and ice bar festivals serving drinkware made from ice, winter is an exciting season in Minnesota. Both Scandinavians and Minnesotans embrace winter and stay active even in the very cold, dark months. I believe it’s this fulfillment they get from their hobbies that makes winter not just bearable, but actually quite exhilarating.
Dogs Can Teach Us a Valuable Lesson
Having a Newfoundland dog who loves winter has also helped me get outside and enjoy the cold months. Our Newfie, Ole, comes alive when it snows and will often fall asleep burrowed in the snow until we call him inside for the night. We discovered early on that about 30 degrees below zero is where he starts to feel a little cold.
When he was a puppy and had a ton of energy we had to find creative ways to exercise him. I soon realized my husband’s full body camouflage hunting suit is extraordinarily warm! I’ll put that on and run around on a frozen lake or play in the snow with Ole in February. There’s nothing sweeter than watching a 100 pound puppy bound around in the snow with an incredible zest for life.
Attitude is Everything
For this coming winter, we have a different set of challenges with COVID. Some of those winter events and festivals may look different, or be canceled altogether. To prepare for this, I’m already making plans for a few winter day trips and getaways where I can go cross country skiing, snowboarding and hiking in the snow. I enjoy the changing of seasons.
I think if winter wasn’t so cold here we wouldn’t appreciate the hot summer days we spend swimming in the lakes, or the beautiful fall days we see in September and October. Over the years I’ve come to make the most of deep snow, strong winds and slick ice. With some simple preparation and the right gear, winter in Minnesota is actually a pretty spectacular time.
For another fun read about Minnesota culture, check out The Most Minnesotan Things Ever, by Susan at This Big Wild World. And, for more winter inspiration, check out my blog post on 37 COVID Safe Outdoor Winter Activities and the 5 Best Winter Destinations in Minnesota. And for recommended winter gear, check out winter boots at Merrell, and The North Face jackets, hats, and boots at REI. I also love my Rumpl blanket, which I keep in my trunk in case of an emergency.
I have to agree about attitude. Winter comes every year so you might as well make the best of it.
Exactly! Winter will be here whether we want it or not.
I love your positive attitude here! As a fellow “Northern Plainser”, I have NO desire to deal with the Minnesota winters. We are WAY too spoiled in the Black Hills with our milder winter weather. 🙂 I’m glad you find ways to get out and enjoy it though!
Haha thank you! It’s all about mindset 🙂
You’re so right. Winter is a state of mind! I find that just spending time with other winter lovers makes me want to get out and enjoy it. I love the idea of a skywalk in the city, though – for those bitterly cold days!
That skyway has saved me from many blizzards!
I love this! It’s so cool (heh- pun intended) that Ole helped you get out more and appreciate the chilly, but beautiful weather! It sounds like Minnesota folks really know how to stay happy and healthy!
I have to admit, before we moved to Canada I haaaated the cold. Now I’ve learned that I just hate *being* cold. If I dress appropriately, then I never seem to get too chilly when we go skiing or snowshoeing – if anything the issue can be sweating under all those layers!
Exactly! If you’re dressed properly, it’s fine! Sometimes I start sweating when it’s zero degrees out because I have so many layers on haha
I’m from Central Texas, and I am trying to prepare for the Minnesota winters I keep hearing so much about…let’s just say I’m a little worried lol. I have no idea how to live below 40 degrees Fahrenheit
As long as you stay dry you will be fine! Buy good boots so you’re feet don’t get wet and find a winter activity, like cross country skiing to help you get through winter. With ice bars, outdoor yoga on frozen lakes, and snowshoeing events, winter can be a magical time here 🙂
I’m so glad to have found your site.Next month I’m relocating from CA to St Paul.
A real winter Christmas sounds magical. I would love to explore and see all the winter events and learn to cross country ski.
I’m 66 years old and my only child lives there.
The fear is driving in ice and snow…….I won’t go anywhere if I have to drive especially at night!!!
Thank you so much!