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The Birds and Bunnies

Make the most of winter and get some sun


In the chill of winter, two types of Idahoans begin to appear: The snow bunnies who thrive during the year's coldest months and the snowbirds who get far, far away until the ice and snow thaw.

Longtime Boise resident Laura Colson falls into the latter category. She flew to Hawaii in December because, as she put it, "I love Boise, but it gets so gray ... I just had to escape the gray."

Balihoo graphic designer Nicolet Laursen is headed to Costa Rica in February to volunteer with a group focused on women's empowerment and work with children and the elderly. Laursen contemplated the seasons heavily when planning the timing of her trip.

"I actually get a serious case of the winter blues every year when the inversion sets in, and I can't go for my usual runs through the Foothills ... I was also checking out the seasons in Costa Rica and decided that February was really the perfect time, right before the rainy season hits."

The reason that many people may leave during the gray that Colson referred to is because they suffer from seasonal affective disorder or SAD.

According to the Mayo Clinic: "If you're like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody."

So that down-in-the-dumps feeling that comes over you when the sky is overcast may be the sign of something. If you suffer from the following symptoms, you may be dealing with SAD: depression, hopelessness, anxiety, loss of energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities, appetite changes (especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates), weight gain and difficulty concentrating and processing information.

Boise psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Bushi sees a number of patients looking for help with symptoms of SAD each winter.

"Cases are generally much more common in areas where days are shorter" said Bushi.

While symptoms can be severe enough to require medication or therapy, Bushi generally prescribes "light therapy for 15 to 30 minutes per day" for patients, whether it's cold or not, simply going outside on a sunny day can make the difference for a person with SAD.

For some, it may not be a matter of SAD, but just a need to get away. For those who live for warm weather mountain biking, hiking and soaking up Idaho's hot summer sun, traveling in the winter makes sense. Or for people like commercial real estate broker Ben Zamzow, traveling to some exotic place every December isn't so much about hiding from the cold as it is about switching things up, no matter what the climate.

Last year Zamzow, an MBA student at Boise State, spent time in India researching global emerging markets. He is currently in China exploring everything from immense urban cityscapes to rice flats to the frigid Nepalese Himalayas surrounding Lhasa.

"Traveling at the end of the year gives you something to look forward to," Zamzow said.

"[It's] a good time of year to reflect on the past year, and set goals for the next, particularly in the context of traveling in an area where most are less fortunate than us ... puts things in perspective. I want to see it for myself: high mountain villages, cheap, good food, different cultures."

But many can't afford to travel to tropical or exotic places--or maybe they don't want to. These people are generally considered snow bunnies, and many of them moved to Idaho because of this kind of weather.

They are the kind of people who can't wait for that first snowflake. That first flake sends them driving past the sagebrush east of town en route to Donnelly, McCall, Sun Valley, Jackson Hole, Wyo., or Park City, Utah, or staying closer to home with regular trips to Bogus Basin. If it's not dumping snow, they aren't content. They're always looking for the best backcountry skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, mountaineering and cross-country skiing. They, too, may suffer the ill effects of a gray valley winter but take advantage of getting up in the high country to get a little closer to the sun.

Former McU Sports ski tech, Rustin Hood is more prone to be a snowbird, hitting the road for Utah or Colorado in the winter. But he also likes what Boise has to offer.

"Bogus, just 40 minutes up the hill, is so convenient. There are also some excellent backcountry options not far from town if you like to hike," said Hood.

Whatever you decide, winter is a great time to get out and explore and still get some sun--even if you're more of a bird than a bunny.