Christmas is over, the tree is history, and for some folks all they have to look forward to is a credit card statement.

Outside, not much is different either, and chances are it will stay like that for the next three months.

If the thought of an all-white world lasting through March is sinking your spirits faster than a relapse of the flu, it’s time to make a change. Don’t hibernate, participate. Winter is prime time to charge up your AA batteries; AA for “Add Adventure.”

Adventure doesn’t have to mean bungee jumping the Old Colorado River Bridge in Costa Rica or skiing the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt. Just stepping out of your boundaries, trying something new, with new friends, in a new landscape, can feed a fresh sense of excitement and accomplishment, the prescribed antidote for cabin fever.

A BOW participant in a snow shelter. Image by Frida Waara.

For women, there’s no better chance to try a new sport or learn new outdoor skills than the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) program run by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources. Since 1991 when Christine Thomas, Dean of the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, launched the BOW program, 41 states and six Canadian provinces have adopted her three-day hands-on workshops. Michigan not only hosts a summer BOW, but for 13 years we’ve also been bringing women together in February to cross-country ski, dog sled, ice fish, snowmobile and even learn to build and sleep in a quinzee, the Athabaskan word for snow shelter. Participants choose from 18 different courses taught by volunteer instructors who aim for small classes so learning is as close to a one-on-one experience as possible.

For years, Sue Petschke has taught snowshoeing at BOW. “First of all, it’s not expensive to get started and it’s a good fit for the whole family, at any age,” claims Sue, who also advocates the calorie burn of a snowshoe hike. “Once you get your balance on snow, you can go anywhere,” she adds, “I really enjoy leading women into the quiet of the winter woods. So many times our winter classes aren’t just about learning a new physical skill, but it’s also about gaining some mental balance too.”

The winter program is open to 75 participants and ages range from 18 to over 80.

Clemene McCarthy, one of BOW’s oldest participants, shows off on some skis. Image by Frida Waara.

“I think Clemene McCarthy from Stillwater, Minnesota is close to 90, or maybe even over,” says Sharon Pitz, Michigan’s BOW coordinator at the Marquette DNR office. “She amazes us with her spirit to get out and try something, even cross-country skiing. Women forty years younger are afraid to try skiing, but how can they say no with Clemene’s encouragement?”

To Sharon and the other instructors, that’s what is so contagious about BOW, “the spirit to try.”

“Without a doubt women come and they are out of their element driving a snowmobile, drilling a hole to fish through the ice, or sleeping in a snowshelter, but it’s such a non-competitive environment where questions are welcomed and information is shared,” says Sue, “that they leave not only with a new skill,  but with a new sense of self esteem.”

“And that’s the real take-home from a weekend like this,” adds Sharon. “Seeing their smile on Sunday and their promise to bring along a girlfriend next time is what makes me want to keep this program going.”   “

Winter BOW takes place February 22-24 on the shores of Lake Superior at Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay, 30 miles north of Marquette. Cost is $180 and includes meals, lodging and most equipment. Renting skis, boots and poles is an extra $15.00. Scholarships–either full ($180) or partial ($105)–are available by application.  Deadline for submitting an application is Friday, January 4.

For more information call Sharon Pitz, Michigan DNR’s BOW Coordinator at 906-226-1321 or email her at Pitzs@michigan.gov. To find out more about the program or how to request a scholarship go to www.michigan.gov/bow.

First image by Sharon Pitz, second and third images by Frida Waara

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