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WINTER GUIDE: Good cold fun

Get some exercise — and get social — with these winter activities

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During the bleak Rochester winter, it can be tempting to go into hibernation mode — grab the warmest down comforter you own, pop open a box of bon-bons, and curl up for a Netflix marathon. However, staying active during the winter is important, not only for your physical health, but your mental health as well. Studies have shown that regular physical activity during the winter can help fight the effects of seasonal depression. If there's one thing we know, it's that Rochester can be particularly depressing in the seemingly never-ending snowy months.

But why confine yourself to a sweaty gym when there are plenty of fun, social, outdoor activities all around the Rochester area? This article takes a look at some of these alternative activities and is intended for those seeking something different than the usual winter fare. Perhaps you don't ski, or maybe you're a little squeamish about ice skates ever since Will Ferrell's "Blades of Glory." Just bear in mind that this is by no means a comprehensive guide to outdoor opportunities in Rochester, just a starting point. If you have other ideas on how to stay in shape and still be social during the winter, leave them in the comments section of this article on rochestercitynewspaper.com.

If you're like me, then your running consistency takes a real dip during the wintertime. There is just something about running on a treadmill that is especially torturous; sweating profusely as your face flushes and you choke on stale air. Why put up with this drudgery, when you could run in the Snow Cheap Winter Trail Series (yellowjacketracing.com/fleet-feet-snow-cheap-race-series)? Sponsored by YellowJacket Racing and Fleet Feet Sports, this event takes place every-other Wednesday night at 7:15 p.m. in Cobbs Hill Park, and is based around nighttime races. (The final race takes place on March 5.)

The Snow Cheap series encompasses all levels of commitment and skill. The races are chip timed for the especially competitive, but there are plenty of people who participate more socially. "Essentially, everybody just comes out to play in the woods," says event organizer Ellen Brenner-Boutillier.

The races take place at night, so headlamps are required, and they take place in all weather conditions (snow shoes are donned for especially snowy conditions). The race series has 250 to 300 participants every year, with 200 or so people taking part in each individual race. Individual races cost $12, or you can pay $50 for the whole six-race series.

Not only does this offer a great opportunity to get those endorphins flowing, but it's also a great way to get out and meet fellow runners. "It's a really economical and fun way to remain fit during the wintertime," says Brenner, who has been taking part in Snow Cheap Trails for several years, and who has met several friends through the series.

If the social aspect of a running club is what appeals to you, then you might want to check out the more raucous group, the Flour City Hash House Harriers. Described on its website (flourcityhhh.com) as a "drinking club with a running problem," this group combines running with vulgarity and alcoholic beverages.

According to club senior member Marcus Vendittuoli, the activity of "hashing" actually dates back to the Revolutionary War days when British expatriates would get together and go running to sweat off their weekend hangovers. Afterward, they would turn in at the local hash house for some cheap food (also called "hash") and some pints...to replenish the alcohol they had just sweated out.

Today, hashing has evolved into a more structured game, where runners are separated into two groups, the "hares" and the "hounds." The hares start first, creating a course using biodegradable household items like flour, baking soda, and toilet paper while the hounds chase after them and try to keep after the trail. Along the way there are mandatory stops where participants have to stop and chug a beer.

The Hash House Harriers meet up for runs every Sunday during the winter, and they always encourage new people, deemed "virgins" in club lingo, to come out and join. "We love having virgins, mostly because we love to see the shock and awe on their faces when they see us in our glory" says Vendittuoli.

Aside from the drinking, this glory includes innuendo-inspired nicknames, raucous vulgar chants, and plenty of playful banter between members. In fact, at the end of each hash, members engage in a post-hash ritual where they sing songs and take turns levying ridiculous accusations against each other in attempt to get each other to drink more. "People are there to have fun; it's a fun-loving atmosphere and it provides a chance to get away from the drone reality of your job," says Vendittouli. "I like it because it makes running fun."

If you prefer to relive the glory days of gym class, where your biggest responsibility was kicking a red rubber ball as hard as you could, then be sure to check out outdoor kickball this winter. That's right — outdoor kickball. In the winter.

Known colloquially as "winterball," winter kickball takes place outside even if there's a foot of snow on the ground. "Playing in the snow is a lot of fun. People are diving all over the place, it's harder to kick, the ball gets covered with snow so it's harder to throw," says Ryan Kimball, founder of the Kickball League of Rochester (kickball-rochester.com). "To me, it's one of my favorite seasons, because the playing field is more leveled."

While KLOR's winterball league is already underway, it's never too early to start thinking about getting a team together for next year. Alternatively, NACKA Kickball (nackakickball.com) is hosting the PAWSome Winter Challenge Charity Kickball Tournament on January 25 as part of its annual fundraiser for animal wellbeing group PAWS of Rochester. The tournament will be held outdoors at Camp Eastman Park and will start at 9 a.m. regardless of the weather conditions. For more information, including registration procedures and specific rules, visit NACKA's facebook page.

If you're looking for something on the less-strenuous end of the spectrum and like exploring, then consider geocaching this winter. If you're not already familiar with the activity, geocaching can be described as a kind of outdoor Easter egg hunt. Someone hides a small package, known as "cache," in some location (usually a park), and then uploads the GPS coordinates for that cache to the international geocaching website geocaching.com. People can then download the coordinates to their GPS device and go out searching.

While the contents of caches vary, they usually contain small trinkets or mementos of a previous cacher. You are welcome to take these items, but only if you leave something in return. As Kurt Devlin, one of the administrators for the Rochester Geocaching website (georoc.org) describes it, "Geocaching is a self-pollinating community."

With geocaching it's not the destination, but the journey that's rewarding. As Devlin explains, geocaching is really about getting out and exploring new areas. "It takes you to some beautiful locations, locations that you may not have known about before," he says. "You may drive by a park for years without paying any attention to it, but then you'll go and find a cache there and have a new appreciation."

Devlin has been caching since 2007 and has found more than 2,200 caches. With more than 1,700 active caches in Monroe County alone, there are plenty of opportunities for exploration. And with ever-increasing smartphone technology, geocaching is more accessible than ever. Geocaching by Groundspeak is the official app of geocaching.com, but there are several other top-rated apps for geocaching, such as Geosphere or C:geo, which is a free app for Android devices.

Orienteering is similar to geocaching, combining hiking, running, and creative problem solving in a real-time setting. Participants are given a map with a series of points, called controls, which they need to log in order to complete the course. Participants must therefore "orientate" themselves constantly, navigating the course from control to control.

Orienteering caters to all skill levels, whether you're in it for the workout or you're just out to have fun. As Laurie Hunt, president of the Rochester Orienteering Club (roc.us.orienteering.org) points out, "We have highly competitive athletes and also people who come with their babies on their back packs." The Rochester Orienteering Club hosts events at several parks around Monroe County, including Mendon Ponds, Durand Eastman, and Genesee Valley parks. Those interested in getting involved should visit the organization website and look at the schedule get more information about specific locations and dates.

No matter the skill level, the only objective to orienteering it so collect all of the controls, so it doesn't matter how fast or in what manner you do so. Part of the fun of orienteering is that participants get to plot their own courses. You could go for the more conservative, roundabout path to a control, or you could go direct and bushwhack through dense undergrowth. After each course, members get together to compare strategies, talk about controls, and fraternize with one another.

"When you talk to people about a shared experience you get a real connection," Hunt says. "What can be better than that?"

Certainly not Netflix. Maybe bon-bons.

In This Guide...

    Winter Guide 2014

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    WINTER GUIDE: 14 for 2014

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    WINTER GUIDE: Don't break the banks

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    WINTER GUIDE: The cozy catalogue

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    It's fairly common to suggest some escapist epics or saucy stories to take to the water's edge during the warmer months. But when are we more in need of mental transportation than mid-winter?

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