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In Wisconsin, the annual Christmas tree hunt usually involved visiting a local tree farm, marching around the rows of perfect trees, deciding if this is the year we’ll pay extra for a Balsam, and then trying to spot one that will fit and look the best in our living room. Snap a quick picture in front of the tree, and then watch Aaron take charge with his saw. Sometimes a sleigh ride and hot chocolate would be involved and, if the weather cooperated, maybe a few snowflakes. It was always a fun day that I looked forward to. For me, it marks the start of the Christmas season.
Now we live in Oregon. The annual Christmas tree hunt has taken on an entirely new meaning. Sure, we still have the usual vendors in parking lots selling trees, but the one big difference, I don’t know of any tree farms to cut down a fresh tree. Instead, we head to the mountains, and truly hunt for our tree. For just a $5 permit, you can find a “wild” tree. We’ve joined in on a tradition with our friends (there were 28 of us this year) of tree hunting which always involves a picnic lunch of hot chili to warm up after the trees are found.
The hunt, for our family, is for a Noble Fir - a tree that grows above 5000ft (websites claim they grow as low as 3000ft, but we haven’t seen any). Noble-fir-trees.com says “…nothing beats the majesty and grandeur of a real noble fir tree.” In the past, these trees were only found in Oregon, but have since populated the western slopes of the Cascades. Soft needles that seem to never fall off the tree, good spacing between branches, and a silvery colored trunk – it looks like it was made for Christmas. The catch this year: there have already been feet upon feet of snow above 5000ft in the Cascades.
Jason with his tree Pete and Gina hauling in their tree
Because of the snow, we had to venture down a new access road this year, as our usual spot was not accessible. Somehow we fit seven vehicles in a tight turnaround, unloaded four dogs, 11 kids, and 17 adults.
After a few hours of sledding, snowshoeing, and snowballs, the trees had been found and everyone had found their way back. A fire was being tended, the chili was cooking, the cookies were plentiful, and smiles by all. The hunt was successful.
Pulling the boys along in the tire tracks. Sledding with Gabriel.
THE BOYS (twin 3 year olds):
The lesson was definitely learned this year how quality gear for kids is a must for playing in the snow. How I wished I had planned ahead and done my shopping at CWO for the boys! I was in a panic the week before our hunt trying to find base layers, snow pants, mittens, and a sled for the boys. I feel the temperature in the 30s gave us a huge break in them staying warm.
Coats - Old Navy coats and generic snow pants didn’t cut it. After only a few hours of playing in the snow, the zippers were broken, and the coats were soaking wet. Thankfully they did their job in keeping the boys warm, but that was about it. Next year, I’ll be stepping up to Obermeyer or Patagonia where I know the boys will stay dry, comfortable, and have quality components in zippers, pockets, and hoods.
Just an hour in, and you can already see the coat getting wet.
Snow Boots – A cheap, generic purchase again, and we ended up with wet feet. I know Sorel makes high quality children’s boots for a great price that will keep their little toes dry and warm.
Socks – I already knew I didn’t have good quality snow boots for the kids. Anticipating their feet getting wet, cotton socks weren’t going to cut it. I had them wear my SmartWool hiking socks which turned in to giant tube socks on the boys. They served their purpose. The socks were damp at the end of the day because of the boots, but their toes were warm. However, since the socks did not properly fit, Gabe still has a nasty blister on his ankle almost a week later. I’ve already ordered the proper size SmartWool socks for them.
Sled – Have you ever been sledding on a Mountain Boy sled? I’ve been on the Ultimate Flyer. The inexpensive plastic sled we bought served its purpose, but in the back of my mind, all I could think of was how much MORE fun we could be having on a Mountain Boy. Speed (Mountain Boy describes it as “greased lightening” on the bottom of the sled) on any kind of snow along with the ability to turn like no other would have made our shoveled out sled run (thank you Jason!) even more amazing.
Base layers – a combination of Smartwool as my next to skin, on both top and bottom, layered with Patagonia Capilene as a mid-layer on top was perfect. I worked up a sweat, several times, pulling the boys around on their sled in the knee-deep snow. When I stopped, I never felt damp or cold thanks to the merino against my skin.
SmartWool Layers with Patagonia Capilene = Warm and Happy
Patagonia Down Sweater – I love, love, love this. I have only had my new Down Sweater in hand for a few weeks, but I have not worn any other jacket since. My other jackets have a hard time competing against the minimal weight with 800 fill goose down, DWR (durable water repellent) tear resistant and windproof shell made from 100% recycled polyester, and to top it off, it makes an easy travel jacket by zipping in to its inner chest pocket.
Patagonia Down Sweater zips into its chest pocket.
SkHoop Short Down Skirt – Another new love - a down insulated over skirt. As I zipped on my new skirt, over my Mountain Hardwear fleece pants, I instantly felt the warmth come over my legs. The skirt sat on my true waist – that one right below the rib cage – which felt awkward at first, but was quickly grateful for. I never had a draft up my back when I would bend over to help the boys, and never had snow come in when sitting or sledding. I loved the zippers on both sides of the skirt. When standing and watching the kids play, or eating my chili, I had them zipped all the way down to keep the warmth in. While pulling the boys around on the sled, I had them both zipped about ¾ of the way down and still had great warmth and good mobility. The biggest reason I loved this - sledding. I simply zipped the skirt up most of the way on the side, sat down on the sled, had enough give in the skirt to place the kids between my legs, and off we went. No more cold and snowy butts while sledding! I can’t wait to wear this skirt again playing in the snow, or sitting on bleachers watching those late season football games.
Sorel Joan of Arctic Boots – There have only been a few occasions when I’ve worn these boots. I bought them during my last winter spent in Wisconsin and wore them only a few times. I haven’t had much of a need to wear them here, as daytime lows in the winter are rarely below 30 and the snow that does fall on the valley floor, quickly melts away. The need has returned as the boys are a bit older and ready to venture into the mountain snow. My feet stayed warm and dry (thanks also to my Darn Tough socks). I had no fear of trekking through the deep snow banks knowing the faux fur snow cuff would stop the snow from creeping in. I had debated giving these away last year, as they were collecting dust in the closet. It is no longer a debate, they have re-earned their spot. I had forgotten how essential good boots are in the snow and will look forward to dry, warm feet for years to come.
Dry and warm feet with Sorel's Joan of Arctic
Yaktrax Pro – Aaron wore these. He has already put numerous miles on them running on the icy roads during Wisconsin winters, but again with no icy roads here, we haven’t had much of a use for them since we moved. He put them on over his boots and had excellent traction walking on the packed snow of the access roads where most of us were slipping and sliding around. These are a definite must if you live where the ice sticks around on the sidewalks, if you are a runner and don’t want to be confined to the treadmill because of icy roads, or find the need to go walking on a slippery and snow packed road or trail where snow shoes would feel bulky. These would make a great gift or stocking stuffer at only $30 for the Pro and $20 for the Walker.
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Hope you all stay dry and warm as you venture outside this winter!