It was still summer, and my Canadian hosts were already looking forward to snow. We were hiking in Banff National Park, exulting in postcard-perfect Canadian Rockies scenery, and all they would say was "Come back for skating on the lake!"
The anticipation of winter was all around us. The grizzlies we stalked with cameras and scopes were already filling up on berries in preparation for hibernation. The spindly and unimposing Engelmann spruce we walked among, I learned, were actually centuries old, adapted to survive deep snows. And the locals wouldn't stop talking about skiing, or snowshoeing, or waterfall ice-climbing.
Part of their wistfulness, I suspect, was because the area's legendary tourist throngs would be gone by November. But it's also part of being Canadian. These people embrace winter—to the point of conveniently neglecting to mention that Banff's average January temperature is 5°F. My Toronto-born sister-in-law is most comfortable when she can see her breath.
It makes sense. If you live where snow starts to collect on the ground in October and doesn't disappear until April, you'd be pretty miserable if you thought of winter as a burden instead of as a gift. (My New York-raised father equated winter with shoveling snowdrifts and never understood why his California offspring always wanted to "go to the snow.") But you don't have to live in a resort town like Banff to reap the benefits of a season that sends so many of us scurrying indoors. The solitude and wilderness that outdoor adventurers crave in summer are readily accessible in winter if you're willing to don snowshoes or cross-country skis and head out for some recreation.
This issue of Sierra might just tempt you to suit up. Read about ice climbing in Montana, an iconic mountaintop lodge in Oregon, and bisons' efforts to survive Yellowstone winters. We also tempt you with winter gear and resources that'll help you prepare.
So take a cue from our northern friends and venture out into the bracing freeze. But don't forget how fun the rest of the year can be too, eh? —Reed McManus, senior editor