50 Reasons To Love Winter

Do Portland's dark months have you feeling blue? Let us and Heidi, the new Timberline puppy come to the rescue with 50 great ways to ward off the wet and chill.

With Brian Barker December 15, 2010 Published in the January 2011 issue of Portland Monthly

Forget escaping Portland’s wet season. This year, try embracing it. Let us show you how with secret saunas on Mount Hood, moonlight snowshoes, indulgent drinking chocolates, and the best place to watch a coastal storm. Plus, we’ll stoke some fireside chats with tales of Stumptown’s most legendary winters. So ready that hot toddy: the next cold front is on the way. We can’t wait.

1. Saint Bernards Rule

An infallible truth: everyone loves puppies. And Heidi, Timberline Lodge’s new Saint Bernard mascot, is as irresistible as they come. Luckily, at 65 pounds—and still growing—there’s plenty of fur to go around.

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And Heidi, Timberline Lodge’s new Saint Bernard mascot, is as irresistible as they come. Luckily, at 65 pounds—and still growing—there’s plenty of fur to go around.

2. Curling Isn't Just for Canadians

If you’re like us, the sport of curling briefly mesmerizes you during its Winter Olympic cameo, then sadly vanishes from your consciousness. No longer. Twice a week, Portland’s Evergreen Curling Club offers a two-hour introduction to this convivial sport on Lloyd Center’s famous ice rink for just $20 per family. Parlez-vous bonspiel? Now you do.

3. Comfort Food

Baked meatloaf-style, the mac and cheese at NoPo’s homey haven of kitsch, the Liberty Glass, is a hearty slice of soft, flawlessly seasoned, sticky goodness—there’s even a piece of swiss cheese resting atop the gooey masterpiece, browned to perfection. 938 N Cook St; 503-517-9931

4. You Can Lose the Stairmaster

Instead, pick up a book: The Portland Stairs Book. Author Laura O. Foster catalogs Portland’s collection of public staircases, often tucked away in hilly, scenic neighborhoods, like Alameda Ridge, where a five-mile jaunt can include a calf-chiseling 805 stairs.

5. You Get to Beat Up On Your Friends

And broomball gives you a legitimate excuse. Part-hockey, part-Quidditch, and all fun, broomball involves replacing skates with sneakers, sticks with brooms, and the puck with a rubber ball. Lloyd Center Ice Rink lets would-be Gretzkys live out their Slap Shot fantasy with private group matches. They’ve got the equipment; you bring the teams. (And the pain.)

6. Sunless Tans

Even the pastiest bike messenger around town would admit that pretty much everyone looks better with a tan. Wrinkles and skin cancer? Not so much. Enter Portland Spa’s organic airbrush bronzer tan, which gives you a weeklong, all-over glow, minus the melanoma—and minus the orange Oompa-Loompa hue. 0315 SW Montgomery St; 503-222-0105

7. Sleigh Bells 

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Modern transportation proves woefully overrated when the ground is jacketed in snow and ice. Go old-fashioned with Mt Hood Adventure’s sleigh rides around the hills of Government Camp—with bracing open-air sightseeing and propulsion supplied by bell-bedecked horses. Your studded tires will seem downright lame.

8. The Resounding Joy of an Aprés-Ski Dessert

Scene 1: you’re dominating the slopes at Meadows, but the sunlight is fading, and a dank chill has punctured your parka; it’s time to call it a day. Scene 2: you lounge fireside at the Alpenstube Loft in the South Lodge, a rosy hue spreading across your cheeks as you greet the Mt Hood Lava Flow—a helmet-size brownie oozing with Tillamook ice cream, chocolate sauce, and hazelnuts, served in a hot cast-iron skillet. Curtain.

9. Trying, Then Buying

Each January and February, Portland’s oldest ski purveyor, the Mountain Shop, puts on its Tele Tuesdays event under the lights of Skibowl: a night of telemark ski lessons, ski races, and getting first crack at the shop’s latest crop of demo skis (January 11 & February 8; Snowboarders: mark your calendar for the Burton Demo Tour Super Stop at Mt Hood Meadows January 15–17.

10. It's Swell Season

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Image: Scott Sperley

Tornado Alley’s storm chasers may be doomed to a life on the road. But in Oregon, gale watchers enjoy all the comforts of home—and then some. Check into Cannon Beach’s Stephanie Inn —complete with plush, oversize furniture, Jacuzzi tubs, gas fireplaces, a four-star dining room, and oceanfront balconies—and watch as a theater of surging tides explodes against 235-foot Haystack Rock right outside your room. 2740 S Pacific St, Cannon Beach; 503-436-2221

11. Conquering the Cold

Columbia’s new line of Omni-heat jackets and boots gives a proper stiff arm to Old Man Winter. The jackets’ reflective lining is purported to help you retain 20 percent more heat. And the boots boast an internal electric heating system that’ll warm up your toes when wool socks throw in the towel. Stick that in your corncob pipe and smoke it, Frosty.

12. Someone Else Can Drive to the Mountain

And you can just sit back and relax. During January Portlanders can catch the bio-fueled “Nordic Ski Bus” bound for the Tea Cup Nordic Area, where the 12 miles of cross-country trails are among the most fastidiously groomed in the state. $25

13. You Can Choose Your Own Adventure

If it involves snow, ice, and mountains, odds are Oregon Peak Adventures, Mazamas, and Timberline Mountain Guides can lead you up, around, or into it, from family-friendly Nordic lessons to full-on winter survival classes. In other words, these guides might be the only people who love winter more than you.

14. Our Faces Get an Update

Mix up your makeup routine with the good-for-the-planet brands stocked by Camellia Pure Beauty, such as Southeast Portland’s Alima Cosmetics. At the very least, pick up the locally made Alchemellia’s healing lip balm. This botanical-based formula keeps kissers crack-free, even after a long day stuck in the lift lines. 4759 NE Fremont St; 503-287-4645

15. Trampoline Dodgeball is Real!

Why it took more than 10,000 years of human civilization for dodgeball and trampolines to come together, we don’t know. We do know that Sky High Sports Floors … Trampoline Walls—which opened in Tigard in October, hosts regular all-ages dodgeball tournaments that’ll have your inner Vince Vaughn positively giddy. Sky High also gives the 5-and-under set a chance to aim and hammer with “Munchkin Mondays.” And kids 8 and under do battle on a dedicated court. That ought to put a little bounce in everybody’s step. 11131 SW Greenburg Rd, Tigard

17. Excuses for Pampering

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Whether flying down the slopes or shooting between downtown’s skyscrapers, winter winds leave many a face feeling like a piece of Oberto beef jerky. Soften things up with facial from Root. For the hourlong skin nutrition treatment, which includes a respite in the sauna ($85), the Zenned-out Northeast spa’s delightfully calm estheticians use a line of handmade organic skincare products from Hungary to rearrange your face—the right way. 2526 NE 15th Ave; 503-288-7668 

16. Winter Beer Isn't Just for Christmas

Despite its Yuletide moniker, your best chance to savor a bottle of Portland’s Upright Brewing’s spicy seasonal Noel comes after the Christmas giddiness has worn off—and the credit card bills start rolling in. This sublime Belgian-style cherry winter warmer is peppered with star anise, cinnamon, and allspice, and limited to about 15 cases. It won’t get bottled until late January, so you’ve got something to look forward to after the holidays.

18. Waterfalls Freeze

During cold, wet winters—like this one—look for a concentration of crystallized gushers between Corbett and Ainsworth State Park in the Columbia River Gorge, where as many as five frozen giants, some more than 600 feet tall, can be found.

19. Gray is One of the Most Beautiful Shades

From mid-December through February as many as 18,000 gray whales hug the Oregon coast, bound for their calving waters in the lagoons of Baja California. Search for their telltale spouts at the edge of Cape Lookout, a rocky headland in Cape Lookout State Park that cleaves two miles into the sea.

20. Crabs Get Fat

Winter’s nutrient-rich ocean currents fatten Dungeness crabs like hazelnut-finished hogs. Down in Newport, you can charter a boat and haul them out of the bay yourself. But if you lack such salty gumption, chart a course instead for Veritable Quandary. Here, the Dungeness crab benedict, doused with a decadent cipollini onion hollandaise sauce and served with sautéed spinach and potatoes, invites waves of winter cheer. 1220 SW First Ave; 503-227-7342

21. This Beach Stays Dry

Opened in October, White Sands indoor sand volleyball courts offer a taste of the beach, sans frostbite. Owner Brian Chapman trucked in loads of pillow-soft sand from Florence for the facility’s four courts. Luxurious, it ain’t (the courts are set in a warehouse by the Hillsboro airport), but with leagues for every ability level, tournaments, and Bob Marley blaring, it’s the one place you can dig your toes into the sand this winter—and keep them. 1600 NE 25th Ave, Hillsboro; 503-781-8022

22. You Can Cook Healthy

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No doubt the turkey wasn’t the only thing that got stuffed over the holidays. Time to dial up Hipcooks’ “Healthy, Fresh, Zingy” classes. Held inside an Ikea-esque space on N Williams Avenue, the four-part series teaches novice cooks how to prepare delicious, fresh meals, like sesame-crusted ahi tuna with roasted red and yellow pepper soup and mini sorbet sandwiches for dessert. Kinda blows your “ants on a log” out of the water, huh? 3808 N Williams Ave; 503-281-0614 

23. The Kids Can Start Working on That Snowboarding Scholarship

Windell’s Ski Camp is renowned for its summer programs on Hood. But its winter free-ski, snowboard, and skateboard camps hold a distinct tactical advantage: smaller class sizes, with student-to-instructor ratios hovering around 5 to 1. Sochi 2014, here we come.

24. Old-School Imbibing

They’ve had 131 years to get it right, and man, has the time paid off. The Spanish Coffee at Huber’s oldest bar—turns any day into a sizzler with a knock-you-sideways combination of Kahlúa, Bacardi 151, triple sec, and coffee that’s theatrically “flamed” right before your eyes, then topped off with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of nutmeg. 411 SW Third Ave; 503-228-5686

25. Elk Are Much Cooler than Reindeer

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Image: Rick Swart

Hear them bugle at Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area, a 2,490-acre preserve in the northern Coast Range, where more than 200 Roosevelt elk gather each winter to graze in mountain meadows.

26. An Impossibly Cute Bookstore Awaits You

One foolproof escape from the weather for your kids: inside a book. Even better when it’s one from Green Bean Books, a vibrant, dime-size children’s-book specialist on NE Alberta Street that boasts frequent story-time sessions, author readings, craft time, piles of fuzzy toys, and a cozy green couch ideal for riding out the storm clouds. 1600 NE Alberta St; 503-954-2354

27. Laughing You Way to a Six-Pack

Developed by Indian physician Dr. Madan Kataria and brought to Portland by for-hire instructor Andrea Crisp in 2008, laughter yoga combines the belly-shaking act of giggling with yogic breathing to help boost your energy level and mood (thanks to increased levels of serotonin). The ensuing ab workout is just a bonus.

28. The Pelican Beckons

overnight Storm watching isn’t the only reason to go coastal this winter. On January 22, the Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City hosts its Winter Brewer’s Dinner, a rib-sticking six-course German feast—think weisswurst, potato pancakes, dumplings, oxtail, and spätzle—paired with Pelican’s beloved beers, like the chocolatey Tsunami Stout. 33180 Cape Kiwanda Dr, Pacific City; 503-965-7007

29. We've Got More Vertical Than Colorado

The reward for kicking steps in the snow to the top of Super Bowl, an imposing cliff-lined face 1,700 feet above the Cascade Chair at Mt Hood Meadows? A 4,500-foot, off-piste descent to the bottom of Heather Canyon—a longer drop than you’ll find at any resort in the Mile High State.

30. One Word: Cashmere

Souchi’s hand-loomed cashmere pieces are among the softest—and most stylish—sweaters anywhere. (Vogue and British Elle magazines have featured owner Suzi Johnson’s designs). Slip on a hip-length, hooded cardigan, and find someplace cold. 807 NW 23rd Ave; 503-525-0043

31. It's Teatime

Rainy days invite introspection. And another steaming cup of tea. Get your fill of both at the Tower of Cosmic Reflections, the ultra-authentic teahouse at the Lan Su Chinese Garden, where a soothing selection of teas and snacks rotates to complement the garden’s seasonal foliage. 239 NW Everett St; 503-224-8455

32. You Own the Mountain

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Gather up your ski buddies and rent out the east side of Mt Hood Skibowl as your private kingdom for the night. The Cascade Chair, accessing eight runs, is your throne; the tubing hill your jester’s court; and the rustic Multorpor Lodge, with its traditional Old World fare and mighty stone fireplace, your palace. It’s good to be king. Rate negotiable.

33. Things Can Get Steamy

Overnight Trip
The Finns know a thing or two about riding out a long dark winter in style. Their secret? A good sauna. Embrace the Suomi spirit inside a six-person cedar sauna set just a few yards away from the 12 miles of cross-country trails around Trillium Lake. To indulge, you’ll need to book a night at the adjacent three-bedroom Barlow Trail Cabin. Inside, massive windows stare up at Hood’s summit. It’s hard to imagine a better spot to watch the snowflakes drift down than in between the soothing clouds of steam next door. 503-819-7952

34. Tubes Aren't Just for Socks

At Cooper Spur, easily Hoodland’s coziest and most family-friendly resort, tubing is serious business. Seriously fun, that is. The Spur’s dedicated Tubing Center has two runs and a rope tow, with all tubes provided, for a mere $10 a day. There’s even a tubing merry-go-round for the tots.

35. Circuit Training

Chalk up and scale 14,000 square feet of challenging rock walls inside the Circuit Bouldering Gym’s newly opened Northeast Portland location. Or drop by the original gym on SW Macadam Avenue on Saturdays, when first-timers can snag a day pass and a climbing-shoe rental for less than $10. 410 NE 17th Ave; 6050 SW Macadam Ave; 503-246-5111

36. The Pacific Reveals Its Secrets

overnight Oregon’s beaches endure relentless volleys from winter squalls. And as fierce outgoing tides scour away the sands, sometimes eroding the beaches as much 17 feet, the Pacific loosens her lips. The stories unfold in many shapes: as rusty cannons, like those from the USS Shark, a navy schooner sunk in 1821 near the Columbia River Bar and discovered among the storm-throttled sands of Tillamook Head in 2008; as remnants of ancient forests, called ghost trees, like those revealed near Arch Cape; and as golden lumps of beeswax found up and down the coast.

37. Because the Hearth, She's A-Burning

Surrounded by cushy chairs and pillowy benches, the marble fireplace at the Heathman Hotel’s Tea Court Lounge will surely stoke your dampened spirits—whether you’re in the mood for hot toddies with friends or curling up with a cup of coffee and the crossword puzzle. 1001 SW Broadway; 503-241-4100

38. Borscht is for Dinner

Call it a baptism by beet: Beaker & Flask’s kitchen elevates borscht—a Ukranian peasant staple—into the Cadillac of comfort food. Bowls swirl with luscious slices of fried confit pork, spoonfuls of horseradish cream, and deep-red chunks of earthy beets. One taste and you’ll be a believer, too. 727 SE Washington St; 503-235-8180

39. Plants Are Blooming

With more than 1,000 species of plants—and 21 miles’ worth of trails—the Hoyt Arboretum never loses its sheen. For a blast of color this month, look for yellow-tinted bear’s foot, spicy-scented, pink-leafed dawn shrubs, and the fiery red stems of Siberian dogwoods. 4000 SW Fairview Blvd; 503-865-8733

40. Knitting is All the Rage

Get your stitch on with the Naked Sheep Knit Shop’s roster of introductory “Learn to Knit” courses, or unspool some pent-up creativity with a “Pick a Project” class, where you can string together cable-knit hats, Fair Isle stockings, or maybe one of those adorable button-eyed sock monkeys. Grandma would be proud. 2142 N Killingsworth St; 503-283-2004

41. Parents Can Ski Guilt-Free

Mt Hood Meadows is one of a handful of ski areas in the country with its own state-certified, on-site day care—a 3,500-square-foot facility that cradles babes as young as six weeks old while parents hit the slopes ($25 an hour or $95 for the whole day). If you’re still feeling guilty, sign your snow bunny up for ski lessons (ages 3 and up)—they’ll be on your tail soon enough. 

42. Cats Get Us Up There

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Image: Peat Bakke

Waaaay up there. From Timberline’s Palmer Express, at 7,000 feet on Mount Hood, hitch a ride on the 12-seat, Bombardier snowcat, which carries skiers and riders every 20 minutes up the Palmer Glacier to 8,500 feet. The price is included with your lift ticket, but the run down through deep, untracked snow feels like you’re stealing kisses.

43. Because Snow Glows

When moonbeams bounce of off new fallen snow, the forest is as bright as day. See for yourself along the easy 1.5-mile snowshoe to Mirror Lake at the base of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain near Government Camp. Green Trails Map no. 461, Government Camp

44. The Zoo Doesn't Hibernate

Wet-season outings to the menagerie mean more face time with the animals, and less time in lines. Maximize your ogling with January’s two-hour parent-child classes, which provide a behind-the-scenes look at how the staff cares for all-star residents like polar bears and primates. Also eternally cool: the sight of a gray wolf’s breath rising in the chilly Northwest air. 4001 SW Canyon Rd; 503-226-1561; 

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45. Kids Can Ride

Kidical Mass to be confused with Critical Mass, that lemming-like bike protest that was a hip way to get arrested about 10 years ago—is a perfectly legal family excursion designed to help kids get a feel for the road. Portland’s Kidical leaders plot short, traffic-light routes across the city; in these soggy months, the ride, which draws close to 100 kids and parents, provides a great excuse for getting the bikes out of the garage.

46. Chocolate Grows Up

Yeah, hot chocolate got you through a cold snap—when you were 9. Now, it’s time to step it up a notch. We suggest a flight of extravagantly rich, velvety drinking chocolates at Cacao. Six bucks scores you a trifecta of espresso-size doses of chocolaty goodness—one classic, one cinnamon-laced, one spicy, all three perfectly mature, and oh so indulgent. 414 SW 13th Ave; 503-241-0656

47. The NHL Starts Here

Since relocating to Portland in 1976 from Edmonton, Alberta, the Portland Winterhawks have sent 103 players to the National Hockey League, including former New York Ranger and 2007 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Mark Messier and Brenden Morrow, the current captain of the playoff-bound Dallas Stars. Catch the next crop of young guns this month during their grudge matches against division rivals Seattle and Spokane.

48. We're Feeling Lucky

Sometimes the only way to combat January’s icy winds is from within. Enter Lucky Strike’s fiery menu of Sichuan classics. Our pick? The hot-pepper chicken bath: tender morsels of chicken buried beneath a pile of gleaming dried peppers and studded with seductively tongue-numbing prickly ash. It’s a full-body paddle-shock of midwinter warmth. 3862 SE Hawthorne Blvd; 503-206-8292

49. We Have Our Pick of Volcanos

Explore Hood’s fiery neighbor, Mount St. Helens, with a series of guided snowshoe treks led by the Mt St. Helens Institute, including a three-mile trek to Ape Cave and a Valentine’s Day outing to see June Lake’s 60-foot waterfall.

50. Misery Loves Company

And you can find plenty at the Worst Day of the Year Ride. What began in 2002 with just 250 bike riders braving mid-February’s blustery skies has ballooned into a weather-be-damned anthem that now draws 4,000 participants annually. Strap on your helmet, zip up the Gore-Tex, and gut out an 18- or 45-mile rain-soaked course that’s tempered by rest stops packed with Nossa Familia coffee, warm cider, and a finish-line party doused with Lucky Lab beer. February 13

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