Snow Day in Portland

With nine snow days under our belt this winter, I feel like I’m back in Chicago without the plows or salt.  Fortunately for our new mayor, Portlanders are a bit more understanding than Chicagoans when it comes to snow.

January is a time for goals and I was ready to hit the ground running.  Then the ground froze.  What’s a girl to do but take a deep breath and make the best of it.

Here’s what you need to know for snow day fun in Portland.


Enjoy it!

Snow in the city is rare.  2017 has seen the most snow in Portland since 1980.  The average snowfall for the city is only 4″ per year.  Hardly enough to have much winter fun with.  This year we made the most of what we call our 2nd winter break.


Go Street Sledding

We discovered that several Portland streets are unofficial sledding hills.  The long time locals know which streets make great sled runs and are careful to avoid driving down them when it snows.  We took a run down Ankeny along Laurelhurst park that sent us sailing over a block!  After almost driving down a prime sledding street I asked neighbors which streets to avoid.  To me, it is uniquely Portland that people will take the long way around to ensure fun takes priority.


Cross-country skiing

We saw neighbors out on their skis from the time snow covered the streets until it started dissipating a few days later.  Since few people drive in Portland when it snows and they don’t plow the neighborhood local streets, there were endless courses for Cross Country skiers.


Park sledding

Terrain in the park that I had hardly noticed before emerged as glittering sled hills.  People of all ages, bundled up in clothes usually reserved for a weekend on the mountain, convened in the parks for winter fun.  The best part of park sledding was witnessing what qualified as a sled.  Hipsters on Rubbermaid lids laughed alongside kids who had pool whales that spun down the hill.  I had been fortunate enough to be at Freddie’s when they had a few sleds this winter and picked up two.  By the end of the week of snow, both had been repaired with candle wax and dryer tape but we kept going.


Ice Skating without the mall

If you want to ice skate in Portland, you usually have to do it with the faint smell of a food court looming.  Due to the stretch of days below freezing our neighborhood pond froze over and we took our ice skates out for some old fashion fun.  Most people were out there in boots sliding around.  It was a great way to make the most of a cold stretch. We did have to be careful to avoid the darker ice especially after hearing about someone who fell through shortly before our arrival.


I thought it only rained here

Get a sled ahead of snow.  They sell out fast when there is snow in the forecast and most winters you only get one chance.

Ask your neighbors which streets should be reserved for sledders when it snows.


Nicknames & Nomenclature

What is Portland known for? Coffee, beer, roses and bikes come to mind. So, I sat wondering as I watched the Blazer’s playoff game last week, why is it called Rip City? The short answer is an announcer randomly said it in 1971 and a professional sports starved Portland grabbed on.

Here are a few of Portland’s Nicknames and their origins.

Rip City- In 1971 the Trailblazers, who now prefer the Blazers since it doesn’t sound as much like Jailblazers, were behind in a game against the Lakers.  Jim Barnett made a shot from just past half court to tie the game and Bill Schonely, the play-by-play announcer, yelled “Rip City- Alright!”  It seems he just said it in excitement and oddly it stuck.  In a Sports Illustrated piece he was asked what it meant and he replied “something good, something positive.”

Rose City-  Roses have made a few appearances in Portland’s history.  Twenty miles of roses were planted in Portland to celebrate the Lewis and Clark Centennial, a sort of World’s Fair that drew 1.6 million visitors to Portland in 1905.  The International Rose Test Garden opened in Washington Park in 1917 and is the longest running public rose test garden in the US.  In 1917 Portland introduced the Rose Festival which is the city’s largest annual celebration to this day.  Maybe the longevity of this name is why Portlanders seem to have a lock on the ability to stop and smell the roses.

Stumptown-  This nickname comes from the early days of Portland when many trees were cut down for the settlement of the emerging city.  Rapid growth was happening in the 1800’s the way it is now and there was just as much criticism about the haste with which the growth was happening.  Trees had to be quickly cleared to make room for the roads.  As the trees were felled, the stumps remained in the ground, and rumor has it caused all sorts of accidents. Being a town that likes to wear rose colored glasses, Portlanders found a use for the stumps- jumping between them to cross the muddy roads.

PDX- This is simply the airport code.  It is the nickname I find myself using most, especially when texting.  Other airport codes like ORD (Chicago) or MCO (Orlando) in no way evoke the place, PDX just sounds like amazing rapper slang for Portland.  Even the old airport carpet has a place in Hipster culture.

Be careful what nonsense you yell in Portland.  It may one day be imbedded in the culture.  “Rip City, Alright!”


The Portland Depression

When I began telling friends and colleagues that we were moving to Portland I was met with varied reactions ranging from “Portland is so you” to “how are you going to handle all of the rain?” I found that rain question especially hilarious when it was asked one February morning as I arrived in my Chicago office looking like Kenny from South Park after standing on an elevated train platform in 13 degree temperatures.


Last winter, our first in Portland, I was thrilled. Although we did not have much snow to play in on the mountain, the winter was mild. I gardened all winter and was so excited to harvest some overwintering foods come spring. We even did some landscaping in February and laid new sod. Natives kept repeating almost daily, “this is not normal.”


Fast forward to this winter. Now on day 17 of grey and rainy I am experiencing what I thought I was immune to- The Portland Depression. The urge to stay in bed. Fighting back tears for no reason.   These are not things in my personality. The grey is really affecting me and no amount of this city’s amazing coffee seems to be curing it.


I have been taking vitamin D like it’s a lifesaving drug. I am wondering if my husband has a happy light in one of the boxes beneath our Christmas Tree. The precautions native Portlanders advised me to take are all too real a year later, as normal returns.


Fortunately normal also brings fresh snow on the mountain and an opportunity to take advantage of something Portlanders have been raving about-playing in the snow on the mountain but not having to shovel it in the city.