How an Alaskan Celebrates the Winter Solstice

Photo: Luc Mehl

In the darkest days of December, a snow-covered hillside can be a saving grace. Just having a place to put skis on and go outside, to feel the warmth of light, does wonders for our legs and also our minds.

The Winter Solstice is on December 21, the day the southern hemisphere reaches peak light and the north hits peak darkness. The hours of sunlight will vary depending on where you live. The Winter Solstice is a special day for us. It’s the first day of winter and a shift toward lighter, longer days that are prime for adventuring into wild, wintery places. We think the Solstice is a holiday to celebrate with intention: a moment of reflection, an opportunity to get outside with friends and family. We’re rallying our members to join our cause to Keep Winter Wild as we head into another lap around the sun. But we also wanted to take time to promote a message of wellness, because in these dark days, getting outside and taking a walk in the snow can remind us just how important and necessary it is to keep our winters wild.

When the snow is good, skiing or snowshoeing can be a boost for mood and energy. But a slow start to winter in Anchorage, Alaska, where it’s light outside for just a few hours mid-day right now, has made this time of year feel even darker for skiers like Sarah Histand.

“This time of year when it’s dark and there’s not that much to do in the winter is really hard,” Histand says. “It’s a really tough time of year for me and I think for a lot of people. And it just seems like it’s growing in length.”

We met Histand at our Grassroots Advocacy Conference in Boise this fall. She’s a fitness and wellness coach in Anchorage who designed a winter sports training program called Ski Babes. When she’s working with her clients, helping them get strong for ski season, most of Histand’s training is physical, but a solid 30 to 40 percent is also for mental resilience—which goes a long way in the days surrounding the Winter Solstice. Histand gets a boost of endorphins from interval training in her living room, and she says she has a serious supplement regimen with Vitamin D. She also has a sun lamp. But the best way to approach selfcare in the darkness, says Histand, is to go outside—even if you have to use a headlamp.

Histand has been ice skating at a frozen lagoon in town. (She also took off to Baja, Mexico, for a week of sunshine, warmth, and kiteboarding.) She’s looking forward to the Solstice, because it’s a turning point.

“At the Solstice, we can see the glimmer of the other part of our world opening back up again,” Histand says. “It’s way more important to me than New Years is to mark everything that we’ve accomplished, that we survived the darkest time of the year, and just thinking about the things we want to bring into the next year.”

To celebrate the Solstice, Histand takes time to be quiet and reflective. She also makes a point to do something active outside. “We try to do something special, whether it’s skiing or a friend gathering. It’s not very formalized, but it’s something to mark the date,” Histand says.

What do you do to celebrate the Solstice?