Ithaca winters are notorious. Anybody who’s lived in the area for more than a couple of years will be familiar with “ithacation” — the special blend of rain, sleet, and snow that occasionally falls between January and May. Newcomers who aren’t used to winter in Ithaca are sometimes unprepared for how dramatically the weather can change.
But it’s not as bad as people say! Ithaca winters are often beautiful. The locals have developed strategies for toughing out the cold, gray months, until it’s once again warm enough for drinks on the patio along Restaurant Row.
In addition to our guide for saving money on your heating bill, here are nine tried-and-true tips from the locals to help get you through until springtime:
Tip #1: Be prepared for the long haul
First, the bad news: winter in Ithaca really does last a long time. Even people who have been here for awhile get caught off-guard by how long the cold, wet weather can last. Once you get to the end of February, you’ll be tempted to think that it’s almost over and spring is right around the corner.
This is a rookie mistake.
These are the average temperatures for Ithaca winters, recorded at the Ithaca Airport by the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University:
In the Finger Lakes region, snow can (and does) fall all the way through April. Even if it’s not snowing, the weather will be on the chilly side until at least early May. Don’t let your guard down. Pace yourself, and remember that summer in Ithaca makes it all worth it.
Tip #2: Check out Ithaca’s Winter Events
One of the great things about living in Ithaca is the abundance of free local events on The Commons in Downtown Ithaca, where people from all over the region gather together to enjoy food, music, and entertainment:
- Ithaca Ice Fest: The Ice Fest kicks off the winter season. The highlight of the weekend-long event is the ice-carving competition, where dozens of artists transform solid blocks of ice into beautiful sculptures. The Ithaca Chowder Cook-off takes place at the same time: “Ice Festival goers can stay warm by sample over 20 different traditional, exotic, and gourmet chowders from local restaurants competing to be crowned our next Chowder Cup Champion!”. Past festivals have also featured an Ice Bar with local libations, as well as live music and local vendors on The Commons.
- The Chili Cook-Off:For those willing to brave the February cold, the Chili Cook-off is a wonderful culinary event that showcases some of the area’s best cooking. Much like the Chowder Cook-off, local restaurants and aspiring chili champions compete for the top spot in a variety of different categories. Chili samples are available to the public — a great way to warm up and explore a wide range of cooking styles.
- First Friday Gallery Nights: While not exactly a winter-specific event — Gallery Nights take place on the first Friday of every month, year-round — there’s something particularly cozy about stepping into a warm shop or gallery on a cold winter evening. This is a great way to get out, walk around, and enjoy some wonderful local artistic talent.
Tip #3: Winterproof your wardrobe
Cornell’s International Services Office has some excellent guidelines for practical winter clothing. In addition to their recommendations, we’d encourage you to check out some other local stores (all Downtown) for your winter gear:
- The Ithaca Outdoor Store is a great locally-owned source for winter necessities: wool socks, gloves, mittens, and hats, as well as ski jackets and parkas. Their selection is geared more toward outdoor sports than fashion; for high-performance clothes that will keep you warm for several winters, this is the place to go.
- Narrative Space sells high-end menswear (priced accordingly) from workwear brands like Filson, Woolrich, and Pointer — solid cold-weather staples, like boots and flannel shirts, if you’re prepared to spend a bit more.
- Petrune has a mix of new and vintage clothes for women and men; the new items can be pricey, but the vintage selection can yield some great deals — including good-quality wool sweaters and outerwear.
- Trader K’s is a solid option for affordable used clothes, including sweaters, boots, and outerwear. They have a ton of items for sale, so if you’re looking for something specific, be prepared to dig for treasure.
- The Vintage Industry has only a small selection of vintage clothes, but frequently stocks durable workwear that’s great for layering. Definitely worth checking out.
Tip #4: Cozy up with a blanket
There is no substitute for a great winter blanket. Like a favorite sweater, a really good blanket will be your best friend when it’s cold out — something you look forward to at the end of every day. Found in Ithaca (Southwest) and Mimi’s Attic (the West End) are both great spots to check for vintage quilts and blankets.
Tip #5: Join a book club
Book clubs combine some of the best remedies for winter blues: new books, new people, and warm indoor spaces. There are a number of local book clubs to choose from, including clubs hosted by Buffalo Street Books, Tompkins Cortland Public Library, Cornell University, and local community members.
Tip #6: Check out a Trivia Night
Let’s be honest: in a college town like Ithaca, it can be difficult to find ways to socialize that aren’t dedicated to drinking. Trivia nights can be a great way to enjoy the bar scene without overindulging. There are dozens of bars in Ithaca, and it seems like almost all of them host a trivia night once in awhile. Keeping an up-to-date list of trivia nights in Ithaca is difficult with so many in town. Start by checking out one of the Geeks Who Drink quiz nights — hosted locally, with locations changing regularly — and explore from there. Happy quizzing!
Tip #7: Find a new board game
If you’ve been trying to warn people for years that Monopoly was designed to ruin relationships, in order to teach people about the evils of capitalism (no, seriously) don’t worry: there are better games available. Thanks to the recent renaissance in the world of board games, there are now thousands of great options to choose from. Everyone from complete beginners to veteran gamers can find something perfect for spending a warm evening at home with a group of friends. Comics for Collectors (Downtown) and Great Escape Adventures (Northeast) both have a good selection of contemporary board games to explore.
Tip #8: Stay active outdoors
This one might seem counter-intuitive if you’re trying to avoid the winter weather, but trust us — hiding away inside makes the weather seems worse than it actually is. Too much inactivity can make you feel sluggish, which only worsens the winter blues. The best remedy is finding a fun way to get some fresh air. The good news is that the Finger Lakes region has some great terrain for winter recreation:
- If you’re new to winter sports, snowshoeing is a fun and easy introduction. It only takes a few hours of practice to get started, and you’ll be able to explore snow-filled trails that would otherwise be inaccessible. Cornell Outdoor Extension’s Outfitting Center rents snowshoes by the day, so you can get out and explore for as long as you want!
- There are several different winter resorts within a short drive of Ithaca. Greek Peak is the closest spot for downhill skiing and snowboarding, with 54 trails, six lifts, and four terrain parks. Toggenburg Mountain — plus Song and Labrador Mountains — are all about a one-hour drive northeast of Ithaca. All offer season passes, lifts, rentals, and lessons; several resorts allow you to get season passes to multiple local slopes.
- If downhill isn’t your thing, cross-country skiing is a more relaxed and less expensive option. You can rent cross-country skis and snowshoes at the Cornell Outdoor Extension’s Outfitting Center (linked above), as well as the local Eastern Mountain Sports on Route 13. The Cayuga Nordic Ski Club is a great way to learn about local trails from experienced cross-country skiers.
- If you’re ready to buy your own gear, there are two great local shops to help you out. The Cayuga Ski and Cyclery on the West End can get you outfitted with brand-new skis, boots, and other equipment, plus help you with repairs. If you’re looking for something more affordable, Old Goat Gear Exchange (Downtown) has a wide selection of used outerwear, ski boots, and skis.
Tip #9: Stock up on warm beverages
The best way to warm up on a cold day is with a steaming mug of something tasty. Being stuck inside is a great opportunity to try something more involved than your daily brew, and make something fancy for yourself — or your friends, if you’ve got company over.
- Gimme! Coffee can get you set up with every type of coffee-brewing method you can imagine. French press, Chemex, Aeropress, pour-over — you name it, they probably sell it. Their staff can also help you pick out the best beans for your brewing set-up (including Certified Fair Trade and Organic coffees) — as well as giving you some tips to fine-tune your technique, to get the most out of every cup. Gimme’s cafes are located in Fall Creek, the West End, and Trumansburg.
- Wegmans has an absolutely stunning selection of loose-leaf teas, if you’re looking for something more soothing than coffee. Buying loose-leaf tea is a really affordable way to try a bunch of different flavors with a minimum of specialty equipment.
- For the full Ithaca experience, you can buy a locally-crafted tea set from one of the area’s artisans. The Handwork Studio in Downtown Ithaca sells a wide range of handcrafts, including tea sets; many vendors at The Ithaca Farmers’ Market make and sell pottery; the website for the Finger Lakes Pottery Tour also has a list of local artisans.
- Hot chocolate is a no-fail winter classic, and if you’re an adult, you can treat yourself to something fancier than Swiss Miss. Ithaca Coffee Company and the Ithaca Bakery are great places to check for pre-made gourmet blends. If you want to venture into making hot chocolate from scratch, GreenStar Co-op sells some of the best local ingredients for a decadent cocoa experience.
With these helpful tips, you’ll be more than prepared to get the most out of winter in Ithaca, and ready to enjoy summer in Ithaca when it comes again. If you want more ideas for things to do in Ithaca, you can sign up for C.S.P. Management’s Tenant Newsletter to get updates about local events (and occasional special offers for tenants!) Follow this link to sign up for the Tenant Newsletter.