50 Ways to Beat the Winter Blahs

Go extreme, go ice climbing.
“Time to get some air under our ass.” That’s what cold weather means to ice climbers, and they can’t wait for it to arrive. Ice climbing is like rock climbing—only more dangerous, because: (a) you are climbing up a frozen waterfall, which is slippery; and (b) you are carrying sharp, heavy equipment.

ice climbing
Photos of Robert Ginieczki ice climbing the
Salmon River courtesy of www.jimlawyer.com.
“It’s inherently dangerous because you are in a vertical world,” says Ed Kasperek, an avid climber and cold weather camping guide. “And if you do fall, you also risk injuring yourself on one of your tools.”

If you like the idea of hanging off a frozen waterfall by a quarter inch of metal strapped to your boots and a quarter inch of axe stuck into the ice, read on.

First, you have to be in excellent physical condition, not only because of the strain of the climb, but because the approaches to the climb are often long and difficult. “In the off season, that means spending a lot of time at the gym,” says Kasperek, who is fifty-eight years old. “I hate it, but I’ve got to do it to keep up with my buddies.”

Second, you need a strong spirit of adventure and a desire to be challenged. “Climbers will lie and say they are not afraid of heights,” Kasperek says. “But we are. We work in a zone that’s about two feet ahead of us. And we don’t look down much.”

After the membership to the gym and the right mental state, you need gear. The equipment, which costs about $1,800 to $2,000, includes boots modeled after ski boots; crampons, which cramp on to the boots and provide spikes for your feet; axes to cut into the ice; and the usual climbing paraphernalia: harnesses, carabiners, and rope; and a helmet.

ice climbing
Photos of Robert Ginieczki ice
climbing the Salmon River
courtesy of www.jimlawyer.com.
“Safety is huge. Don’t even think about doing it without a helmet,” Kasperek says. “And don’t buy used equipment. Harnesses and ropes deteriorate in the ultraviolet light from the sun. Buy new, and date your equipment so you’ll know when to replace it.”

If you climb almost every weekend during the winter, that means replacing it every two to two and half years. If you only go once a month, then you can keep it for up to five years. After you have the equipment, always start out with an experienced climber to show you the ropes. And generally speaking, age isn’t an issue in this sport. “In the West, people start ice climbing when they’re young, around twelve or thirteen, and they continue until they are in their seventies,” Kasperek says. “They just slow down a little and choose climbs they know they can handle.”

Women actually make better climbers than men for several reasons. “They have better balance and flexibility, and they’re better at problem-solving,” he says. “Where a man tries to muscle his way through, a woman will be a lot more skillful.”

So if you are suffering from winter ennui and meet the criteria above, it may be “time to get some air under your ass.” 200 Waterfalls in Central and Western New York from Footprint Press is an excellent resource for finding frozen waterfalls. Also check with the camping guides at Eastern Mountain Sports.

Donna I. Evans is a freelance writer and public relations professional who would prefer to trust her horse over a chunk of ice any day of the week.

Photo by Josh Flanigan.
Lay some tile.
More than words, the Buffalo Scrabble Club loves drinking tea and kicking butt. Recently, I attended a gathering of some distinctive personalities, all of them entranced in deep thought. They all know that aa is a word meaning rough, cindery lava. They travel hundreds of miles to have similar meetings with like-minded people, who also know that aa isn’t just an acronym for Alcoholics Anonymous or American Airlines. Who are these people? Are they scientists obsessed with the mysteries and possibilities of volcanic activity? Are they etymologists who get their kicks from dead languages and word origins? While scholars of any type are welcome to these weekly engagements at Kenmore Baptist Church, the regular attendees are something else entirely.

“We’re word freaks,” exclaims Ida Scaglione, a devoted member of the Buffalo Scrabble Club. “This is truly a subculture, and I’m proud to be a part of it. I’ve learned so many obscure words, but don’t ask me what they mean. Who cares?” Herein lies the peculiar beauty of an organized Scrabble competition. The players don’t look like gridiron greats, and they prefer the twists and turns of a good book to the adrenaline burn of a decathlon, but when you put a Scrabble board in front of them, they see red—and burgundy, magenta, scarlet, maroon, and crimson, as well as any word that contains “X,” “Q,” or “Z.” Only one thing matters more than the words, and it isn’t their definitions. It’s winning.

I learned from experience that Scrabble ain’t no joke, by agreeing to a game with Joan Tondra, director of the Buffalo Scrabble Club. Before the contest, Joan and the rest of the group were mingling, laughing, sipping Lipton, and giving me a warm welcome, even offering to help me write this article. Then the games began, and everything turned upside down. The woman next to me started cursing. Another told me in all seriousness, “Once you start, you’ll never stop.” The air was sucked out of the room, and I realized I was facing one of Buffalo’s best players. As I tried to keep my composure, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Was this really just a board game? Thankfully, Tondra gave some insight into the massive mood change.

“Scrabble is like therapy for me,” she explains. “When the board is in front of you, that’s all you think about. Everything else that could stress you out—politics, money, work, family—just fades away. The only thing that matters is the game, and the competition.”

So these people weren’t insane; they were “in the zone.” Dave Leonard, another serious Scrabbler, also helped me understand this emotional sea change. Leonard received awards for the high score of the previous week (558), including nine bingos over three games. (For the non-word freaks out there, a “bingo” is when you use all seven letters at your disposal). “I love Scrabble because there’s so much concentration and memory involved,” Leonard explains. “No game is identical; there are infinite possibilities. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Even though unique word combinations will never make me shriek with pleasure, it’s hard not to respect the bona fide passion these people have for this little game. After all, isn’t worshipping words healthier than idolizing steroid-ridden athletes, booze-laden rock stars, or cocaine-fueled politicians? What’s wrong with people working their brains? I used to think board games only came in handy for family members who can’t stand talking to each other, until I met Harvey Lichtblau and his son Daniel, who call Scrabble “a fun, competitive family affair.” Suddenly, as if in some bad sci-fi movie, I realized that I was the real weirdo. I watch reality TV. I cried when the Bills lost the Superbowl. I think Lionel Richie has some good songs. I have nothing on the Lichtblaus.

Towards the end of the contest, with Joan kicking my wasted corpse all over the board, I foolishly wasted a triple-word score on the measly word it. This was obviously a faux pas, but Buffalo’s queen of Scrabble kept her composure and said, “I probably wouldn’t have done that, Joe.” She proceeded to use up all of her letters to make the word ensured. “Bingo,” Joan expressed with a healthy, triumphant grin. Soundly defeated, I sheepishly gathered my belongings and got out of there as quickly as possible. Mr. Romance was going to be on in fifteen minutes.

If you don’t like watching Fabio butcher the English language, you might enjoy the Buffalo Scrabble Club, which meets at 6:30 p.m. every Thursday at Kenmore Baptist Church (10 Wardman Road at the corner of Delaware).

Joe Sweeney is a Buffalo-based writer and musician whose album reviews are archived at www.angelfire.com/music5/sweeney/home.html.


Back to the Table of Contents

Back to Top