Britain doesn’t do winter very well. Yes, there’s the lure of an occasional country pub with a roaring log fire. I’ll give you that. And those long chilly nights are fine till Christmas. Come late February though and enough is enough. In general, over on this side of the Atlantic it’s just a bit too grey, drizzly, damp and way too…meh.
In North America, on the other hand, winter is a season to be celebrated. It’s properly cold, which is something you can tackle easily if you layer up and dig out that woolly bobble hat. Don’t forget your thick socks too: if your toes are cold, it spreads to your whole body quicker than you can explain what a hot-water bottle is to someone from Arizona.
For a start, airfares are much lower – if you can plan in advance this is the season for real bargains – and hotel prices tend to be less than in the high summer season (with the exception perhaps of Miami, where winter is high season as all the snowbirds fly south to the beach). And you’ll have fewer crowds to contend with: imagine a very different side of Yosemite National Park or the Grand Canyon, for example. If you’ve enjoyed them in August, why not explore with a backdrop of snow?
Of course, winter is the season to go skiing or snowboarding and if you’ve enjoyed a week on the slopes in Europe, you’ll love going downhill in North America, be it in Canada or the US. It’s just an altogether more relaxed, friendlier experience over there. Nightlife is less geared towards carousing into the wee small hours (well, compared to some European resorts anyway) and more towards great food and just kicking back with new friends over a beer or two.
And if you really want to test the limits of your thermal undies, then head to Fairbanks, Alaska - where minus 50 centigrade in winter is not unusual, a temperature at which boiling water thrown into the air freezes before it can hit the ground. So why come? Two words: Northern Lights. Although they prefer Aurora Borealis here, as the lights are usually overhead at this latitude, rather than to the north.
Local native Alaskans believed the flickering aurora is their ancestors dancing for them and that if you listen carefully you can hear the sky singing. You can never guarantee seeing the lights, but mountain ranges to the north and south of Fairbanks create stable weather conditions that mean this city is as guaranteed-a-spot-as-it-gets.
Of course, America is a vast country and while New Yorkers might be ice-skating through Central Park, you could always head to the beaches of Florida or Hawaii in January if you want to swap long johns for swim trunks and bikinis.
You could always combine both…how about trying to track wolves in Yellowstone National Park, then humpback whales off the coast of Maui? And then back to Britain and straight down the pub for a chance to look through all your holiday snaps beside that cosy log fire.
Will Hide is a London-based travel writer who spent 12 years on the travel desk of the Times before turning freelance. He still writes regularly for the Times as well as the FT, Telegraph and numerous magazines. You can follow his travels at Been There, Done It.