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Finding Winter Wellness in the Wild

Why a Winter Vacation Might Be Better Than a Resolution

Each year, the scientific evidence mounts suggesting the health and wellness benefits of spending time outdoors. The rise of technology has beckoned us inside, where we stay for more of the day than we may realize. The Harvard School of Public Health recently suggested adults spend as little as five percent of their day outdoors. As our perspectives have become more global, we’ve been slowly allowing our phones, tablets and computers become our windows to the world.

The Rock Creek bridge under a dusting of new snow.

In the winter, it’s even more noticeable. When the weather gets cold, we hibernate. A little rest is great for the body and mind, but we also run the risk of changing our habits to be more insular, inside-oriented and sedentary. As we write this on a computer and you read this on a device, we’re mindful that the Internet is our best friend and worst enemy in the fight for wellness.

A cross-country ski trek is a great way to achieve winter wellness.

We have gathered some of our favorite new perspectives on why adventuring into the wild improves the body and mind. As with most things, there’s no cure—no trick that suddenly makes you well. Wellness is a journey, and, most likely, it’s the most rewarding trek you can take. Join us as we open another virtual window to the world of winter wellness and take a look at our winter specials.

Opt Outside.

What began as an antidote to Black Friday has turned into an adventure movement. When REI announced that they would pay employees to adventure outside on Black Friday rather than man in-store sales, the world took notice. Nature lovers were quick to adopt the idea and the hashtag. What we love about this online movement is that it makes us realize that we have a choice in how we spend our free time.  Any time we stay inside to watch this year’s Super Bowl commercials on social channels, we’re choosing not to go outside and take a quick walk. Each episode of our favorite show means an hour that isn’t spent outside. It’s ok to choose to be inside, but we should be mindful that we have a choice.

A private luxury cabin is the epitome of winter glamping

When we do opt outside, we should be proud we made the effort, because it’s all too easy to let time drift by in front of the TV or one of many hand-held devices. Spending an hour or two in the elements makes time curled up in bed or on the couch a little sweeter. This is one of the main reasons why winter glamping has become so appealing to couples, friends and families. Just as a meal tastes better when you’re hungry, the fire feels better when it’s warming your toes after a snowshoe trek.

After we spend a few hours at Discovery Ski Area, nothing could be sweeter than a Winter Warming Ritual in The Spa at Rock Creek or an après-ski at the Philipsburg Brewing Company.

The Winter Warming Ritual is a spa wellness treatment that includes time in this cedar sauna

Perhaps we can use the “après-ski” mentality with more than just a day on the slopes. We should opt outside if only to make the comforts in our lives more rewarding. A few hours dedicated to physical wellness begets a few hours of deep satisfaction and mental wellness.

Take a Three-Day Break.

Deer cross through The Ranch at Rock Creek's snowy valleys

In National Geographic’s January Issue, writer Florence Williams wrote an article entitled, “This is Your Brain on Nature.” It begins by following Cognitive Psychologist David Strayer into the field to study the effects of nature on the psyche. He asserts that endless distractions in our working lives take their toll.

“Our brains, he says, aren’t tireless three-pound machines; they’re easily fatigued. When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too. Strayer has demonstrated as much with a group of Outward Bound participants, who performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after three days of wilderness backpacking.”

A winter horseback ride can improve your mental and physical health

When we look for an escape, perhaps a three-day weekend is more helpful than we think, as long as it includes time spent in the wild. Although The Ranch is best experienced in a week or more, we believe a measure of winter wellness can be achieved in a long weekend.

Skiing at Discovery Ski Area in Philipsburg, Montana is a great way to achieve winter wellness

We’re gearing up for our Valentine’s/President’s Day long weekend that will be filled with skiing, skating and fireside bliss. These winter wellness weekends extend through the end of March, when the snow starts to clear, but the benefits of three days in the wild Montana outdoors can improve mental wellness for months following the trip.

Play in the Snow, Like a Kid.

Former Late Show comedian David Letterman has lived at least part of his year in Montana for decades. Last December, the Whitefish Review, a Montana-based journal, published an interview with the newly retired host. Letterman discussed raising his 12-year-old son in Montana. He mentioned their love of skiing in Montana and exploring the outdoors. When you travel with a child, you are reminded of how fun it is to go outside and play.

A girl plays in the snow at The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana

He speaks about the value of teaching his son that anything is possible using the outdoors as a classroom.

“Because of my son I’m not growing up. Because of my son I do things I would have done when I was 12, to show him—look, you can do this. It’s okay. You can do this. Don’t be worried about this. Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. A lot of this is in Montana. A lot of this is skiing or hiking. I have gotten into the habit of jumping into any body of water we come across when we’re hiking in Montana—that as you know, is really too cold for any form of life other than fish. (laughter) You can feel your heart being sucked into your digestive tract. And so I’ll just jump in. Because I want him to know that it’s okay for him to just jump in.”

Rock Creek's beautiful water reflects the Big Sky and the snow covered trees
Photo courtesy of Lindsay Roberts, The Spa at Rock Creek Massage Therapist

We often take ourselves too seriously when we make New Year’s Resolutions. Snow can cause a host of issues for commuting or trying to make it for an extra gym session, but trying to remember the days when fresh snow was a treat will help you enjoy the start to your year all the more.

Our Activities Department is constantly thinking of new ways to play in the snow. This year, we’ve added fat biking and daily yoga to our long list of winter adventures (joining cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowboarding, sledding, skating, hockey, UTV tours, sleigh rides, fly fishing, ice fishing, snowshoeing and horseback riding).

Take a Vacation. Now.

The doom and gloom of going to work and coming home in the dark can make you wish winter away. In fact, several scientific articles have suggested that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is occasionally misdiagnosed. SAD is attributed to a lack of sunlight, but many people who believe they have it may just have the winter blues due to a change in routine and a less active lifestyle. If that’s the case, their depression is likely to continue throughout the year.

Winter mornings can be exceptionally sunny in Montana
Photo courtesy of Lindsay Roberts, The Spa at Rock Creek Massage Therapist

One of the best ways to fight SAD and the winter blues is to get out and enjoy winter for all the right reasons. If you find yourself feeling low, nature therapy is an excellent treatment. People who are convalescing have been shown to improve faster if they have a window that shows a natural landscape. Some doctors are even writing prescriptions for free entry into state and national parks for patients that need a boost from nature.

Shape Magazine just published an article called “7 Reasons to Take a Real Winter Vacation.” While summer is so often considered prime vacation season, winter travel might actually be better for your well-being. It will help you fight off depression before it worsens and jump start your metabolism. Shape lists calorie-burning benefits, Vitamin D, reconnecting with nature, traveling with buddies and comfort food as reasons that you might want to book a trip now instead of waiting for the warmer months. Healing, it seems, is one of travel’s most underrated benefits.

Making snow angels on a mountaintop at The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana

A dose of the outdoors can set you onto a new path. A winter vacation may turn you into a believer about the curative powers of the great outdoors. With that in mind, we hope you’ll adventure outside this season often and in new and exciting ways.