Winter Sports in an Unlikely Place

An image of the snow over North America on February 13, 2014.

In the last 10 years something interesting has happened in Mid-Missouri: we have actually had some real winters here. Because of peculiar weather patterns, partially caused by the shifting climatological dynamics due to global warming, the winters have been snowier and in some respects much colder than those in previous decades. Even with record breaking hot spells in the summer and an overall higher average temperature, we saw some of the snowiest and coldest winters on record in the 2010s. In fact, the winter of 2013-2014 happened to be one the longest, coldest and snowiest since the epic winter of 1978-1979.  Check out this amazing visualization of the extent of snow cover in North America during that vicious winter seven years ago. Since the winter of ’13-’14 we have had numerous cold and snowy stretches, with the following winter season of 2014-2015 being again one of the coldest in many decades. Perhaps most remarkable is the following: two of the biggest snowstorms in the history of Mid-Missouri occurred in the last decade (in 2011 and 2019).

What does this mean for us misplaced snow-creatures who love winter and all the great outdoor sporting opportunities it brings?  It has meant many (though highly variable) opportunities for ice skating, cross-country skiing and for my daughters, sledding.

Cross Country Skiing: Because of its fantastic public trail system, Columbia Missouri is a great place to cross-country ski when it snows. I have spent many hours skiing in the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary in the west part of town as well as the grasslands area in the southern part of Rock Bridge state park. For those lucky enough to have access to cross country skis, check out a couple of great books here at the library about the sport, the best beginner guide called Basic Illustrated Cross-Country Skiing,” by Scott McGee. Although our trails are not groomed for the faster and more athletically challenging skate skiing, tracks are often laid down early by the nordic style skiers in town on the more popular trails, which always makes for a more pleasant experience.

Ice Skating: Another winter wonderland is Stephens Lake when it freezes over (the City of Columbia announces when it is safe). Within hours of the city’s “safe ice” announcement, one realizes how many people in town actually own figure and speed skates, play hockey, and dream at night of the sticks and pucks gathering dust in their closets. I am one of those people. I have done about everything possible on Stephens Lake during hard freeze events: from man-hauling my daughter all over the lake on her sled to playing pickup pond hockey with my brother and friends. My family is usually one of the first on the ice when it is deemed safe and often the last to leave. I was once doing laps around the lake and met a Dutch man with speed skates doing laps as well. He told me that “safe ice” stretches were probably even more rare in the Netherlands now than they are in Mid-Missouri. If you want to learn more about ice skating then take a look at the book Ice Skating Basics,” by Aaron Foeste. A timeless guide, the book teaches beginners some of the basic stopping, crossover and backward skating techniques essential to feel confident on the ice. Ice skating can be terrifying at first. After learning the hang of it, skating almost feels like flying.

Sledding: the most accessible winter sport is, of course, sledding, known as tobogganing in other regions of the country. Many great sledding opportunities can be found in the region where the northern drift plains hit the Ozark foothills: Mid-Missouri is a land filled with river-bottoms and stubby hills and valleys. Adjacent to the Stephens Lake is our very own Stephens Park sledding hill, which on a snowy Saturday can see hundreds of kids and their parents engaging in trips up and down the slope. To make the experience even more enjoyable, Stephens Lake park also has a fire pit and well supplied wood pile right next to the hill where one can warm up during those long winter sledding expeditions. For info on the best kind of sledding gear for family fun, plus other enjoyable outdoor winter activities, please see the book “The Kids Winter Fun Book” by Claire Gillman. The book also speaks to cozy indoor crafts that families can do after legs are tired from building snow igloos.

Perhaps getting out and playing some winter sports after you read about them is part of your Comforts of Winter reading challenge. You get to create your own challenge, and when you’ve completed it, you get a prize! Learn more about it here.


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