If snow shoveling isn’t Chautauqua County’s most popular winter sport, it’s a close second to all the other ones that take advantage of our annual 16 ½ feet of snowfall. It’s a lake effect legacy, the envy of the finest winter resorts across the nation. New York is home to more ski resorts and tallies more visits to ski slopes than any other state in the union.
January 2014 is also National Staying Healthy Month, the perfect matchup of New Year’s ‘Get Fit’ Resolutions with some of the best winter sports opportunities in the world. While a snowy evening can be great, snuggled by the hearth with a good book, some hot chocolate or a glass of wine, a brisk day of cross-country skiing through a winter wonderland can tone your muscles and burn up 600 to 675 calories an hour of those Christmas cookies and New Year’s cheer. Cross-country is an aerobic sport, one of the best and most enjoyable.
Snowboarding is a relatively new winter interest that eclipsed skiing in popularity with younger enthusiasts in recent years, according to Steve Deyo, co-owner of Jamestown’s Cycle Shop. “But based on sales, and the fact that over the last 50 years that we’ve been selling skis they have improved dramatically, skiing and snowboarding are back to about 50/50 in popularity now.” For those who are counting, snowboarding is said to burn up 450 to 500 calories per hour. There are no published figures for calories burned falling down in either skiing or snowboarding.
Winter activities in Chautauqua County offer recreation and fitness to sports enthusiasts and winter landscape lovers alike. The county now boasts more than 400 miles of multipurpose winter trails groomed by local snowmobile clubs. In addition to snowmobiling some trails also offer an ideal setting for sledding, winter hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing over old railroad beds and abandoned trolley lines. Some cross farm fields, delve deep into scenic woodlands and lead down seasonal roads through the winter wonderland.
For low-impact winter sports fans few things can match the grace, beauty and pleasure of ice skating. While there are few carefully groomed venues that can match Jamestown’s JSB Ice Arena, one of the beauties of ice skating is that wherever there is a frozen body of water there’s an opportunity to skate. Farm ponds and any one of the larger or smaller lakes throughout Chautauqua County offer scenic, outdoor fun on the ice. For a casual hour of romantic gliding across a pond in the winter moonlight, expect to use up about 300 calories. For 60 minutes of hard-hitting hockey plan to drop at least 600 calories, win or lose.
While every sport or activity, regardless of the season, brings its own promise of fitness, each requires its own unique precautions too. Winter sports require unique safety measures according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
• Protection from the cold requires the right gear, including multiple layers of warm, water and wind resistant clothing. For high-speed sports like skiing and snowboarding helmets should not be considered optional along with goggles and an extra pair of gloves.
• Cold winter air is very dry and winter exercise carries a surprising risk of dehydration. Drink lots of fluids. Alcohol is not recommended.
• When trying something new, take lessons.
• Know where the closest shelter is and take it immediately for any symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia, including numb patches of white skin, waxy, dark skin or swollen, burning and itchy skin. Confusion, disorientation, fatigue and lethargy are early and critical symptoms of hypothermia. The especially cautious with children who lose body heat much faster than adults.
For the heartiest of winter enthusiasts, Silver Creek this year offers a Polar Bear Swim for Charity on Sunday, January 12, between noon and 5pm, launching from the Firehouse on the Lake. Swimmers will jump into Lake Erie’s frigid waters at 1pm. Swimmers generate pledges for financial support of the local food pantry, the Silver Creek Fire & Rescue and Sunset Bay Fire Dept. and other charities. Scientists believe swimming in cold water burns calories, but a few minutes of it for fun and charity is probably a better reason to jump in than a New Year’s fitness resolution.
Naturally, some winter activities are more for fun than fitness. Sledding and tubing and tobogganing are ever popular with youngsters, the grown-ups who love to watch them, and for the ones who still want to be kids themselves, winter always makes that possible too.
An annual favorite is the Chautauqua County Horseman’s Association Currier & Ives Sleigh Rally at Chautauqua Institution. This year’s event is scheduled for Sunday, January 19, between 10:30am and 4:30pm. This one is purely for enjoyment, not fitness. But it’s a poor New Year’s resolution that doesn’t include at least some of the simpler pleasures. The horse and sleigh combinations are beautiful and the displays of skill are inspiring.
Sleighs, horses and drivers in this competition are judged more on the skills of horse and driver, though points are also earned for attire, harness and vehicle. Separate divisions are judged for light horse, pony, draft and team. At noon the classic, traditional Currier Ives Drive tours the scenic grounds of Chautauqua Institution. It is a splendid sight to see all the horses and sleighs along the streets lined with beautiful homes of the 19th century.
Sleigh rides also take guests through the historic grounds of Chautauqua Institution on Saturdays and Sundays throughout January and February. Rides run every half hour from 1pm to 3pm. Tickets are on sale at the Chautauqua Bookstore on Bestor Plaza. A Chautauqua sleigh ride is a perfect family outing, a romantic couples excursion or even a once-in-a-lifetime photo op for camera bugs.
Chautauqua County isn’t your everyday winter getaway, it’s part of the way of life that makes this region so unique and unforgettable. This winter, forget hibernating. Whether for fitness or fun head outdoors; there something out there for everybody worth braving the cold for.