Brotherly Love of the Mountains
By Ben Matthews
My brother, Sam, and I grew up in the Midwest; the story for many who now live in the American West. We grew up in an outdoorsy family, childhood weekends were spent camping, hunting and fishing. But it wasn’t until I left for college that Sam and I started to explore the outdoors without supervision—just two brothers in search of mischief. We became weekend warriors, spending as much time as possible exploring our backyard and beyond. During the holidays, when I was still living at home, we’d gather our friends and family and go out for a day of climbing or an overnight backpacking trip through the Ozark Mountains. This became a treasured tradition for us, experiencing the beauty of our local landscape. It might not have been as grand as the Rocky Mountains of Colorado or the North Cascades of Washington, but it was home and we loved every bit of it.
After graduating college, I headed west in my ‘94 Chevy to my new home. As exciting as it was to finally adventure west, I knew it meant that going home for the holidays wouldn’t always be feasible. This sparked dreams of adventure for Sam and opened up the opportunity for him to explore outside of the Ozarks. So, the winter after I moved west as the holidays approached, Sam and I decided to venture to the Tetons together. We prepared dinner on the back of his pickup truck and woke up to a fresh blanket of snow. We passed the time fly fishing and snow shoeing through the forest.
After my time in the Rockies was finished, I moved even further west to the Pacific Northwest and a whole new set of mountains awaited exploration. The increase in miles didn’t stop Sam from making the trek up north for our holiday adventure tradition. This time, we headed to the wild Olympic Coast. We hiked around and got soaked in the pouring rain. We went to Mount Rainier National Park to ski fresh powder and camp in the snow while making ramen noodles and freeze-dried meals for our holiday dinner.
For those who want to spend the morning snowshoeing in the mountains and the afternoon on the river: Shop Ben's favorite Smartwool socks & apparel.
Baking Holiday Cookies Passed Down Through Generations
By Adam Wells
This story starts with my Grandma Ramona. She’s still with us in the form of stories and traditions. She actually used to say, “You know, tradition is just another word for rut,” but we celebrate her and her lack of sentimentality all the same.
With the holidays upon us, it’s important to remember loved ones who have moved on and to pull those still with us even closer. With that in mind, my parents and I set out to making Grandma’s classic Christmas sugar cookies. We all know the nonverbal agreement that binds our tenuous relationship with Santa—he leaves us presents, and we leave him cookies. That’s the deal. I can’t say we have the data to prove this, but there’s an understanding that, the better the cookies, the better the presents. Grandma Ramona’s secret sauce is tried and true and guarantees optimum Santa satisfaction.
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Holiday Hut Trip With Friends
By Greg Balkin
A few winters ago, my girlfriend and I found ourselves in a group text asking if we had plans for a weekend in December. Our friends had secured extra permits for a few nights at High Hut, which happens to be one of the nicest backcountry shelters I’ve ever stayed in. It’s a beautiful two-story hut, complete with a wood stove and full kitchen that looks right out toward Mount Rainier. It may be a little tricky to get to, but once you get there, it’s paradise. That first winter, the stress of the holidays had crept up on us, and we didn’t know if we could make the trip. But we scoped out some photos, talked to our friends, and finally agreed to join them. And just like that, my girlfriend and I started one of our favorite holiday traditions together.
Even though we shared the hut with a few strangers the first trip, we quickly realized the importance of putting all of our holiday stress on hold for a few days and taking some time to get outside with our community. We were only a few hours from Seattle, but it felt like we had been transported into some winter paradise out there. Feet crunching in the soft snow, dodging snowballs that I may or may not have thrown from the back of the group as we packed in, and the sound of water hitting the hot stove as we boiled down buckets of snow. Spending a few days with the people we love brought us back to what’s important. We’re off of our phones, away from emails and computers. Instead, we’re playing games and building puzzles that are somehow always missing a corner piece (even when someone writes “found on this date” on the inside box). As the sun goes down at a wonderful 4 p.m. up in the Northwest, we have a chance to relax by the fire or brave the cold and watch the night sky together.
Over the years, it has certainly been more challenging to continue holiday traditions from when I was little. I don’t live close to home anymore, I’m traveling often for work, and the holidays don’t feel like a strong priority in my life. But I’ve both grown to be part of this amazing community in Seattle—all of whom feel like an extension of our family. So why not start a new tradition of our own?
Some traditions are more adventurous than others: Shop Greg's gear for a weekend in the mountains.
Anonymous Holiday Wreath-Giving
By Aly Nicklas
My family always taught me to give without expectation. It’s something that I’ve carried with me my whole life. And I believe that there’s no better time to give than the holidays. Over the years, my friends and I have developed this lovely tradition of anonymous wreath-giving—choosing wreaths because they’re nondenominational and symbolize life and growth. We usually wander around the neighborhood with a handful of wreaths and leave them on doors to spread some holiday cheer.
We gather together over holiday staples like hot chocolate and cookies and make the wreaths using simple materials—boughs from the forest and a few accoutrements from a local craft store. It’s really inexpensive, and there’s something really special about giving something that was made with your own hands.