Winter warm ups

As the last of the leaves fall and our mountains turn gray, the animals are preparing their winter burrows for a little down time. Some humans too — or at least those in sync with the seasons — may also be getting ready for hibernations of sorts: dusting off movie collections, re-padding their recliners, stocking up on potato chips and settling in for a winter indoors.

Ice is nice: Feeling chilly? Ice climbing will make you sweat, and is one of a host of cold-weather outdoor opportunities. Photo courtesy Matt Gentling / Black Dome Mountain Sports.

For the rest of us, there's always the standby list of activities we keep close for times like this: hiking on nearby trails, braving a cold night of camping, going ice skating and breaking away for the occasional ski, snowboard or sled trek down the local slopes. Of course, these traditional winter activities are enough to stave off the boredom, but why not explore some new ways to mix up the action?

• Try enduring the cold months on the run. You'll keep the extra pounds off and your heart rate up. Jus' Running (523 Merrimon Ave., Asheville) will be offering free six-to-eight-mile group runs every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. If you don't want to go the whole distance, come along for as far as you like, say organizers. To keep up with other groups and races around the area, check the running calendar and updates at www.jusrunning.com.

• Speaking of winter road racing, the Arthritis Foundation is holding the Jingle Bell 5K Run/Walk on Saturday, Dec. 5. The event will be held at the Montford Recreation Center in Asheville and begins at 10 a.m. Be sure to lace jingle bells through your shoelaces, and come dressed in your favorite winter holiday costume. Cost is $25. Participants can register online at http://2009jinglebellrunasheville.kintera.org.

• Black Dome Mountain Sports guides will be taking participants out by appointment to roadside ice cliffs on Highway 215 for a variety of ice-climbing experiences. These demo events are offered either free of charge or with nominal fees to cover the special equipment needed. Call the shop at 251-2001 to get updates on ice-formation conditions and planned outing dates.

• On warmer days when there are no icy cliffs, you can join professional coaches at the Asheville Aerial Arts outdoor studio for some airtime. In the backyard of a central Asheville residence (31 Elizabeth St.), you'll find an 18-foot-tall rig fully outfitted with a static trapeze attachment, silks and other implements of the trade. The studio will be open for sessions all winter. So instead of watching a Cirque de Soleil performance from your indoor theater chair, do your own aerial twists, squirms and stretches over a safety mat near home. Group sessions are $10 per hour. Visit www.ashevilleaerialarts.com or call 305-5615 for more information.

• For those who have seen enough of Asheville's hiking trails and want to veer a little more off the beaten path, catch up with the hiking groups leaving from Beech Mountain, elevation 5,505 feet. Seasoned and knowledgeable volunteer guides will be leading free hikes during the months of December, January, February and March. For more information, visit www.HikeBeechMountain.com or call 387-3003.

• If the aforementioned activities aren't enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck soar with excitement, take a freezing dip at this year's inaugural Polar Plunge at Beaver Lake. The party starts at 1:30 p.m. at 30 Deva Glen Road in north Asheville, where plucky plungers will submerge at 2 p.m. Pre-register by sending your $25 check, made out to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, to the above event address, c/o Brenda Canter. But first get your registration forms by e-mailing blc-cpa@charter.net; you need to get your forms and check turned in before Thursday, Dec. 31 (limit 50 people).

• If you're not into raising your heart rate this winter, but you still want to get outdoors, check out the Astronomy Club of Asheville. Since the night sky appears especially clear in chilly conditions, group members make a point to huddle around the telescope in some dark corner on select nights through the winter. (Suggestion: Dress warmly.) Although new-moon nights on the top of Mount Pisgah have been a favorite viewing time as of late, dates and times do change, so check the Web site for updates before venturing out: www.astroasheville.org.

To avoid cabin fever this winter, be sure to keep your schedule loaded with fun and adventure. But play it safe out there: Go out in groups, and explore new activities under the skilled hand of an expert.

Jonathan Poston lives near Asheville — when he's not out adventuring elsewhere.

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