My First Winter

So I just moved to Montreal after living in San Francisco all my life, and so among the many new things I’ve experienced, one of the hardest things to adjust has so far been the winter (and it’s not even done yet).

First some background about where I come from: for those of you who have never been to San Francisco, just know that there are no seasons there. The average winter temperature there is 53.7 degrees Fahrenheit (so about 12 degrees Celsius), and the average annual temperature is 57.3 degrees Fahrenheit (about 14 degrees Celsius). In my lifetime, it has snowed only once in San Francisco, and it wasn’t even counted as actual snow.

That’s where I’m coming from, so you can imagine my shock when it dropped below 5C (41F) in fall. And then it got cold enough to snow.


The Cold

First there was the cold. Now, obviously, I had been warned plenty of times before coming to school in Montreal that it would be much colder than I was used to. And it’s not that I didn’t believe people, because I did, it’s just that I wasn’t aware that anything could be this cold. It doesn’t help that I already have Raynaud’s disease (if you’re not sure what that is, here’s a link to a definition courtesy of the Mayo Clinic). Because of Raynaud’s disease, my hands and toes would go numb at around freezing. Here in Montreal, the same would happen, except as soon as the temperature dropped, I would lose all feeling and color in my extremities, and everything exposed to the cold would burn (so hands, ears, nose, cheeks, and weirdly enough, knees).

To my credit, I didn’t complain about it aloud that much, but that’s only because as soon as it got colder than -5C (23F) my facial muscles would start to freeze and I’d start having difficulty talking.

And then God forbid I spent more than an hour outside, no matter how bundled up I was. One time, on a ski trip to a nearby mountain, on a day that was -10C (14F), I got frostbite on not one, but two toes. Now, there are a lot of things in my life that I’ve considered painful, and the pain from frostbite is up there. I spent two weeks trying to get to sleep with a burning pain keeping me up. And of course, the skin on my toes was completely white – a discoloration that has fortunately only lasted about two months. The best thing about the frostbite, though? The fact that even after nearly two months, whenever it gets a little colder than normal outside (so at least twice a week) the pain flares up again.

Now, I’m sure any of these cold-related problems could have easily been avoided, but as I’ve already mentioned, I had no clue they existed. I just assumed everyone was exaggerating about how bad East Coast winters really were (and before you say anything, yes, I was rather naive).


The Wind

But arguably, the cold isn’t the biggest problem here. The biggest problem is the wind. Because if it’s just cold outside, all I’ve got to do is bundle up and walk quickly, and it’s not too bad. But with the wind, it’s an entirely different story.

For example, last Saturday, temperatures were expected to be around -18, -19C (-1F). But thanks to the wind, it felt like -30C (-22F). People were advised to stay inside, and if you did go outside, you were advised not to stay out longer than thirty minutes because there was a good risk of getting frostbite.

And even on days where it doesn’t feel like -30C, the wind is a huge problem. It blows your hood off. Worse, it blows snow and ice into your face, a highly unpleasant experience I would liken to several thousand mini daggers stabbing you in the face. All in all, it’s a fun experience.


The Snow

Yet as much as I’ve been complaining about the winter, there are some positive aspects of it, namely the snow. I have always had a bit of a fascination with snow (because, after all, you ski on it unless you live in California) and so living here, constantly surrounded by snow-covered everything, is literally living in a winter wonderland. Granted, the snow is a little out of place with the construction (which despite it being the middle of winter is miraculously still going on), but otherwise, the snow fits perfectly into the setting of old buildings and bare trees covered in a thin dusting of powder. And for someone who’s spent all of her previous winters wearing a leather jacket and walking through the streets of San Francisco surrounded by fog, the snow is pretty exciting. And so I’m glad to be living in Montreal, even despite the cold temperatures and brutal wind. It’s truly a magical experience.

(Although it would be more magical if it were like five to ten degrees warmer and the wind weren’t as harsh, but hey, you can’t have everything).

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