Here in New England, we like to think we know what it is to experience winter, from the painfully short days to the bitter cold, and — of course — the deluge of snow. But everything is relative of course, and there are no shortage of places where a Boston winter — even one like last year — would be a walk in the park. And so, WGBH News' Curiosity Desk offers this survival guide to winter from those who "truly" know.


On a relatively mild early-December Saturday in Canada’s Quebec City, the bustling streets and sidewalks were perfectly clear of snow and ice. They won't be for long. Believe it or not, our record 108 inches of snow last winter ranks as a below-average season here, where 120 inches is the yearly norm.

"Sometimes we see the news in Boston about, like, winter storm and we laugh a little bit," said Jasmin Hains, a resident of this city 400 miles north of Boston. "Sorry guys, sorry. We’re just like, 'Oh my God. that is half [of what we get here.]’" 

Hains and lifelong resident Katleen Rousseau say that the yearly deluge of snow in Quebec City is a vital, communal experience.

"It’s a part of us, because when you see a lot of snow in front of a house probably you’ll see like three, four people coming to help," said Hains. Rousseau added, "Oh Yeah! Yes. Eveybody's been helped at least once and you've helped a bunch of people, too. It comes with the welcoming part of Quebec."

Like many residents here, Hains and Rousseau say they carry extra socks everywhere in winter and both have a pair of boots with retractable cleats. They also set me straight about the name of these simple, but ingenious, pop-up, tunnel-like tents that cover many of the driveways in and around the city.

"The tempo," they both exclaimed, laughing. 

These vinyl shelters protect both the driveway and the car and make shoveling out after every storm a thing of the past. As for those who don’t have driveways, their winter storm experience is a bit different than our as well. Rousseau said the city deals with the snow by neighborhood , and you can sign up for text alerts that let you know when your neighborhood will be cleared. Even without the text alert, you'll know.

"There is a flashing light in the street so you know that, even if it’s not your street, you can’t park there," said Rousseau. 

When the light is on, drivers stash their cars in one of the Quebec City's municipal lots, or at one of the university lots around town. That’s because in Quebec City they don’t plow the snow. They completely remove it — all the way to the curb.

Now, the sun sets a little earlier in Quebec City than it does here, so they, like us, deal with winter’s short days. But it’s nothing compared to life on the "top of the world." 


This 4,000-plus person town on the banks of the Arctic ocean is the northern-most established community on the North American continent. Here, they proudly own their nickname, "Top of the World."

"The beginning of November is when the sun drops for the last time and January 22nd is when it rises," explained Cindy Schultz, a 40-year resident of Barrow.

That’s right. Sixty-five straight days of darkness. Twenty-four hours a day.

"So I want everybody there to quit their whining," she said laughing.

All kidding aside, Schultz says the darkness and the depression that can accompany it can be daunting.

"When I first got up here I had a really, really difficult time with the darkness and I’m a happy-go-lucky, easygoing person," she said.

But Schultz has learned. Vitamin D, plenty of light — even if it’s artificial — and getting out of the house are musts. And she says, as simple as it sounds, it's crucial to surround yourself with things you love. She keeps her Christmas lights up all winter long. And in treeless Barrow she, like a few other residents, has constructed elaborate palm trees made out of industrial pipe and whale baleen in her backyard.

Beyond that, she says, just slow down.

"Everybody is on EST time, we call it Eskimo Standard Time," she said. "It’s a slower pace than it is in your neck of the woods, and it makes life a lot easier."

Schultz says the cold is actually far more manageable than the dark in Barrow. And so you want cold? How about Finnish Lapland?


So just how accustomed to the cold weather are they here in this 2,300 person town in northeast Finland? 

"Today I picked up my 5-year-old girl from the daycare and it was minus-28 and they were playing outdoors," said Muonio native Niina Pietikäinen.

For the record, that’s -20 in Fahrenheit. And with plenty more days like this — and worse — on the horizon, Pietikäinen says, ‘tis the season for layers.

She walked me through a typical outfit: "Three pairs of woolen socks, long underwear, another set wool or fleece underwear, then you put an overall on...a hat...a balaclava...you put a scarf on top of that and then you put, probably, two pairs of gloves [on]."   

Pietikäinen swears by natural materials like wool and reindeer for their warmth and breathability. Also key, she says, is to choose function over form.

"We don’t dress so trendy in Lapland, we just put on a lot of clothes," she said.

Pietikäinen says washing your hands with warm water when you come inside helps, as does a glass of red wine by the fire and snuggling under the covers with a loved one or "your huskies". But in a country of 5 million people and 3 million saunas, there’s only one way to truly beat the cold like a Finn.

"We get a shower, then you go into the sauna, we get warm, then you come outside, some people go outdoors and roll in the snow or go ice swimming, and then you back into the sauna," she said. 

She says most Finns take two to three saunas a week throughout the year, and even more in the winter.


If there is one thing that life in these unique, extreme locales seems to have imbued in all of these folks, it’s a remarkable perspective. The real key to surviving winter, they say, is not to fight it off but to let it in.

For Hains, that means holding close the promise latent in winter’s grueling days: "A poet from Quebec was saying, 'The best summer in the world is the summer in Quebec because it’s a summer who knows winter.'"

As for Pietikäinen in Lapland, she says, why wait? "Put your gloves on, put your hat on, woolen socks and a jacket, and just do a snowman or go sledding, tobogganing, and really just enjoy the fact that we have winter."

And even amidst the perpetual winter darkness in Alaska, Schultz couldn’t agree more: "Have a positive attitude because you never know what tomorrow’s going to bring. We all leave this world and you need to just enjoy every day for what it is."

Even if it’s a little bit cold, dark and snowy.