Glorious summer weather and expert-approved outdoor activities made the coronavirus pandemic more tolerable for the last few months. But with the drizzly, dark winter approaching, the outlook for social opportunities seems dire. It was hard enough getting my friends out of their home cocoons before COVID-19, so I asked Washingtonians how they’re setting up to socialize this winter.

Remember to keep any social activities to your immediate household or quarantine pod, and limit gatherings to five people or less. Keep a distance of 6 feet from others and wear masks — it’ll help keep your face warm, too.

Maximize use of yard space

Lindsey Allison Ganahl, a photographer in Issaquah, spent the spring and summer jazzing up her covered porch. “I got a portable propane fire bowl and built gardens on my front porch to create an outdoor entertaining space. It has been life-alteringly good,” she says. She has tried the movable bowl in different locations, but the patio has been a favorite among her friends. There’s room for about three people to keep a safe distance and stay warm.

Portable hot tubs are cheaper than traditional hot tubs and fun for both kids and adults. (Courtesy of Erin Osborne)
Portable hot tubs are cheaper than traditional hot tubs and fun for both kids and adults. (Courtesy of Erin Osborne)

The hardest part of the pandemic for Green Lake resident Erin Osborne has been seeing her parents less often, though they have been able to meet up with Osborne’s children outside. But she’s got an idea cooking: This summer, a friend invited Osborne’s kids to splash around in their portable hot tub while the adults caught up outdoors. Now Osborne is considering purchasing an inflatable hot tub. It’s cheaper than a traditional hot tub, and it can be moved around with relative ease. Paired with heaters and a canopy, she thinks it could give her family options. “I don’t know if my parents will hop into the hot tub, but they might hang out by the heater,” she says. “If friends had them, you could host a pretty sweet distanced hot tub party.”

Outdoor heaters were definitely a popular option among people I spoke to, and I also heard about buying large, wall-less tents or repurposing tailgating canopies to create a sheltered outdoor space to huddle under when it’s drizzling and not too breezy. Even a big car camping tent, if the vestibule covers the entryway but still allows you to see out at your friends, could give you some face-to-face time in a pinch. Once you’re covered, consider options like outdoor movie nights via a projector or distance-friendly games like cornhole. 

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Plot out covered spaces nearby

You don’t need a backyard set up to host loved ones. Keep an eye out around your neighborhood for covered areas that are already built. Finding these spots can even be turned into a game with your kids. Many parks have open-air gazebos, for example, and you’d just need to bring enough gear to stay warm while you chat. Check to see if these need to be reserved or whether picnic tables will be available — they were closed on and off through the summer. Barring that, look for evergreen trees with overhanging branches, or even awnings that provide shelter at the edges of your apartment. 

And it doesn’t always rain in the winter. Consider keeping warmers for your hands and feet around so you can stay toasty while distancing at a park, or try filling a sturdy bottle with hot water. 

Movement helps keep us warm, too — outdoor winter dance parties, anyone?

Get oversized playing cards

Large cards make it easy to play card games with friends at a distance without needing binoculars. (Courtesy of Dominique Duggins)
Large cards make it easy to play card games with friends at a distance without needing binoculars. (Courtesy of Dominique Duggins)

Dominique Duggins of Federal Way recommends really big UNO cards. He bought a deck online that measures about 8 inches by 11 inches (think printer paper) and then laminated them to add durability. If you’re the crafty sort and have some construction paper lying around, you could even make your own! The large print makes it possible to play from 6 feet away or more. Friends can park their cars next to each other and split the deck to minimize any germ spread on the hands, or be careful not to touch their faces and sanitize their hands once the game is over. 

Use your car as a portable rain shelter

Early in the pandemic, I went on a run in my local park and spotted two women who had parked their hatchback vehicles side by side with a single parking space between them. The opened hatchback provided shelter from the drizzle, but they still got face-to-face time without having to go digital. A tarp or extra-large umbrella could help keep a standard sedan door covered. 

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Snow sports will return

When I asked about winter social plans on Reddit, several Seattleites had one answer: snowboarding and skiing. While snow sports areas are bound to look different this year, many plan to be open. Stevens Pass has already announced requirements for facial coverings and reservations. If you plan to ski, snowboard or snowshoe outside of groomed resort areas, be sure to take an avalanche awareness course or connect with hiking groups that know how to properly assess snowfall. 

Outdoor activities are still a thing, even in the rain

Though hibernating may be tempting, it really is possible to have a good time outside, even in the rain. There are lots of low-lying trails that scarcely see snow and where picture-worthy mossy greens abound. Cascade Bicycle Club and other cycling groups offer free group rides throughout the year. You can even pair your social time with volunteering — Washington Trails Association has small trail work parties planned into November. Or stay in the city and wander a nearby park with a friend so you can change out of wet clothes as soon as you get home.

How are you planning to safely socialize this winter? Share your ideas in the comments below and we might publish them in a story down the road.

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