1. Go into denial.
Like clockwork, when August rolls around and the fireweed blooms, Alaskans begin grumping, in succession from north to south, “I can’t believe how fast this summer flew by.” — Alaska speak for, “Nooooo! Winter isn’t here yet. It’s too soon…!”
2. Look to the hills.
We start counting out to the inevitable. The further down the mountains termination dust falls, the closer winter creeps. When icy white fully overtakes and consumes our beautiful summery world, it’s simultaneously “game over” and “game on.” As far as Alaska’s summertime fishing, camping, hiking, gardening and general bliss goes, it’s an all too abrupt “game over.” Conversely, for our hardcore, extreme cold weather sports fiends, it’s “game on” with a vengeance.
3. Send woolen garments to the cleaners.
Be it merino, cashmere, or a blend, if it’s got more than 40% wool in it and is a wearable, there’s a high chance it gets hauled off to the dry cleaners for sprucing up. Especially if we’re talking about that favorite sweater from last Christmas’ loot pile and the ‘good’ special-occasion- only winter jacket.
4. Change over tires.
Granted, Alaskans don’t own this adaptation outright. We know that plenty of other cold weather climate-dwellers undertake this winter prep activity. The difference between us and them is that in Alaska, it’s also a sign we’ve come out the other side of our denial and transitioned into acceptance. Winter tires on our vehicle mean the difference between getting somewhere or going no place at all.
5. Provide a matchmaking service (for gloves).
This one takes the whole ‘missing sock’ phenomenon to the next level. Missing mates for gloves could be anywhere and more often than not, it’s far less trouble to pick up a new pair (or five) from the sale bin. But we do try— particularly when it’s our favorite pair.
On that note, it’s highly suspect that Alaskans fuel the entire US winter glove market. There’s driving gloves, work gloves, snow machining gloves, skiing/snowboarding/sledding gloves, general use gloves, the ‘good’ gloves, the ‘grubby’ gloves, patched together with duct-tape gloves, leather gloves, wool gloves, heat-tech gloves, gloves for our smartphones, glove liners, and then the extra pairs of gloves for guests and just-in-case situations. Heck, if we lined up all our gloves with a missing mate in an end-to-end line, we could probably circle earth a few times. Surely, there’s a study somewhere on the ratio of the number of gloves owned by the average Alaskan vs. the number of matching pairs of gloves owned by an outlander. Finally, Alaskan research intrigue worthy of the Freakonomics guys!
6. Swap out window screens for storm windows.
Every fall, our dads ceremoniously hauled out their handmade ‘storm windows.’ While using nothing more than wooden frames with heavy-duty plastic stapled to it, the dads dutifully removed the window screens and replaced them with the storm windows.
With advances in technology, there are now more visually appealing options available. When it’s a zillion degrees below zero, half inch- thick condensation frost on the inside of your windows and a radius of bone-chilling cold emanating from each, additional cold barriers are a must. Especially when the heart-stopping heating bills start rolling in.
7. Sort out ski area season-pass situation.
For the die-hard slope bums, this is a non-negotiable. Most specifically, for those within reasonable distance from a ski area. In Alaska, for those who eat, sleep and breathe the powder, a season pass is de rigeur.
8. Perform the bi-annual Alaskan gear swap.
While there are numerous ‘Alaskan gear swaps’, the one with utmost importance to daily life is this. We change over our summer vehicle ‘trunk’ contents from random baseball hats, sunglasses, bug spray cans, bear spray cans, half-full water bottles, miscellaneous bits of hiking, fishing or picnicking gear to our cold weather survival kits — including shovels, sandbags, blankets, head lamps, jumper cables, pieces of old carpet, tow ropes, first aid kits, knit hats, winter jackets, pairs of gloves, anti-freeze, windshield wiper fluid and more.
9. Stock up on kitty litter.
Many Alaskans prefer to go with the ‘kitty litter in the trunk’ option instead of sand or gravel to deal with slippery situations on the roadways. For the cat people out there, this makes perfect sense. For the rest of us, there’s also the traditional option of sand bags and gravel.
10. Purchase blue tarp.
How Alaskans love their blue tarp. Everything that cannot be parked inside a garage, shed or covered parking area gets the blue tarp treatment. Especially, those shiny new motorized ‘toys’ from end of summer clearance sale shopping sprees and unfinished construction projects. An Alaskan can never own too much blue tarp.
11. Clear out the garage.
Our garages have a mysterious way of filling up in summer with Alaskan sized DIY projects and undertakings. In winter, they belong to the lady of the house and her chariot of choice. The chivalrous Alaskan chap does this clear-up so his lady love can park, without being asked. The less mindful fellow gets the evil eye and other not so subtle hints to help him snap to it.
12. Assess the ice scraper situation.
Quite possibly the most essential Alaskan winter preparation items. Every vehicle must have a smallish ice scraper for the glove box and a larger one with a brush at one end available for quick access near the driver seat. Considering windshield wipers can only remove so much snow, functioning on Alaskan roads sans ice scraper/snow brush combo makes for a serious and dangerous challenge.
13. Elevate things.
Unless one is unperturbed by the idea of personal possessions freezing to the ground until spring, it’s a mark of Alaskan ingenuity to hoist all manner of outside objects off the bare ground. We love to plop them on top of pallets or other repurposed ground barriers to keep our goods “good” that much longer.
14. Invest in reflective tape.
While we don’t attach high-visibility reflective tape to every item we own, we can get slightly manic about it — particularly for objects at the end of our driveways, especially mail and newspaper boxes. We also spend a lot of time taping up the kids. Winter in Alaska is dark with a capital ‘D’ and any glowing tape minimizes disaster.
15. And invest in batteries (for head lamps).
Alaskans cannot survive without batteries and head lamps. The day these babies were let loose on the open market is practically an Alaskan national holiday. What’s a shame is how long it took designers to make the head lamps look cool. How sweet it is to sort out a close encounter with a snowbank in hands-free mode. Especially when it’s 7pm and the sun went down more than three hours ago — or worse, when it won’t show its face again for another sixty days.
16. Locate the sun lamp (or buy another one).
For the SAD (seasonal affective disorder) sufferers, these little lamps are essential. The short days and long nights make for some severe vitamin D deficiencies and all the moody troubles that come with them. Before the proverbial ‘they’ discovered there was a ‘lamp for that’, surviving winter in Alaska was a depressing challenge.
17. Expand home entertainment library.
Though this be a year-long endeavor, there are ebbs and flows to the tide of shopping. Pre-winter is an excellent time to stock up on home entertainment fare for the family. And, we’re not just talking about tech toys. It’s not uncommon for a weekend evening to be spent playing cards or board games with a group of friends at whoever’s house has the largest capacity dining table.
18. Start planning vacation.
One of the Alaskan’s happiest ploys is escaping the Alaskan winter to a beach with big, beautiful sun. Consistent chart toppers for the ’time-out’ Alaskan: California, Mexico and Hawaii. One- or two-week breaks for far north winter refugees do wonders in helping us press the ‘reset’ button in our brains.
Granted, we’re not all deeply spiritual or tuned in to any particular faith — but if there were one time a year Alaskans presented illusion to the contrary, it would be pre-Jack Frost. The phrase most often uttered under our collective breath during winter prep is, “Please let it be a mild winter….” The second half of that phrase is, “…and please let this be a year with good snow.” We all do this in hopes the Great Who or Universal What that’s listening will have mercy on our woes and turn the winter extreme down a degree; and snow play up one.
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