Tips on How to Survive the Russian Winter

Winter | © Dmitry Protsenko / Flickr
Evan Haddad

The saying goes, when it rains, it pours. In Russia, it snows – and then it snows some more. Even in summer, you can spot Russians sporting some form of outerwear. At the first drop in temperature, leather jackets and puffy coats fly off the racks. That’s when you know the fur coats will soon be out of hibernation. But there’s more to surviving the Russian winter than just a fashionable, warm coat. Below are tips on how to make your winter experience stylish and safe.

Layers, layers, layers

Underneath a down-filled waterproof coat, wool is going to be your best friend. When the thermometer dips below -15°C, wool stockings, socks, sweaters, scarves, hats, and gloves are going to keep you warm – too warm, in fact. When you go indoors, you’ll need to shed some of those layers; otherwise, you’ll be a walking banya under the collar.

Winter’s Last Fury

Mind the stairs

At some point during the winter, so much snow has accumulated that people give up trying to shovel it. The stairs into the metro are particularly dangerous during rush hour when you’re swept up in an impatient, rushing crowd of Russians. Make your way to the handrail, and hold on tight as you descend.

Snowy stairs

Watch out for falling icicles and snow

This tip is related to the one above. A visitor to Russia will find that while city plows and street cleaners may neglect the roads and stairs, roofs get first-rate attention. That’s because snow drifts get heavy; too much of the fluffy white stuff can collapse a roof. It’s not uncommon to see heaps of snow flying through the air and crashing upon the street. Keep your eyes peeled for sections of sidewalk that have been taped off.

Take pit stops to warm up

Do it anywhere; no business will be too annoyed if you just stop in for a few minutes to warm up. In -25°C – and yes, it happens – being outside longer than 20 minutes is not only unpleasant, it can be dangerous, even if you are warmly dressed. If you stop in a café, it’s best to have a warm drink while you’re there. Liquor is a Russian favorite, but it’s not smart to get too drunk. Yes, booze makes you feel warmer – but the cold is still there.


Embrace the cold

There’s no better way to survive a Russian winter than to embrace it. That means skating, skiing, strolling through outdoor holiday markets and drinking mulled wine. The New Year holidays from Dec.21-Jan.8, while typically the coldest time of year, are the most festive; throughout the country, Russians enjoy outdoor activities in spite of the cold – and you should, too.

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