How to Throw an Outdoor Winter Wedding
An outdoor winter wedding might sound like an oxymoron, but it's actually totally doable. Here, experts share their pro advice for planning a winter wedding with outdoor elements.
An outdoor winter wedding might seem like a challenge, but it actually presents quite a special opportunity. "The best advice we can give a couple interested in an outdoor winter wedding is: Do it. Take that leap!" says Jaclyn Watson of Jaclyn Watson Events in Stowe, Vermont. "So many couples are intimidated by the weather factor in the winter that they miss out on a great opportunity."
If that's the dream season, time of year, or maybe it's financially the best option for the couple, Watson says don't let the fear of weather hold you back. Instead, to help couples go into planning an outdoor winter wedding prepared, we asked the pros everything the needed to know about planning this type of big day.
What are the perks of an outdoor winter wedding?
One of the major benefits of opting for a winter wedding day is that they are more unusual, so you have a more unique aesthetic already built into your wedding ceremony and reception, explains Juls Sharpley of Bubbles & Bowties in Aspen, Colorado. "I also live in a ski resort town, so there are a ton of activities that your guests can enjoy while they are here that really create a memorable guest experience," she says.
Other pros for wintertime weddings include:
"A lot of favorite blooms are available in the early spring/late winter that so many of our middle summer couples would love to include, but can’t due to availability," say Sharpley.
"Being a less popular time of year for weddings, it ultimately provides a more unique setting for the couple, allowing their wedding to stand out amongst other weddings throughout the year," adds Watson. "Depending on the bravery of the couple, it can also result in truly spectacular, dramatic, and one-of-a-kind photos to remember the special day by."
Another perk of hosting winter wonderland wedding outside is that the space tends to come with a lower financial commitment, according to Watson. "Winter weddings are generally less popular, which of course makes no sense since it's the most beautiful time of year," she says. "But this opens up an opportunity for a couple to invest more into different aspects of their wedding, like flowers or entertainment, or allows more 'bang for your buck.'"
More available dates
Aside from the holidays, it's less likely for someone to be hosting an outdoor winter wedding which makes for booking your venue easier. "It is also valuable knowing that there is less competition. If a couple is in that age group where all their friends are getting married, there is less concern that more than one couple will be fighting for the same weekend," she says. "It helps alleviate the stress of competing with friends, and potentially have to split friends and family across two events on the same weekend."
Lower travel costs
Even if you aren't hosting a destination wedding, this can work in your favor. "Winter is often a less expensive time a year to vacation, so it may allow for a couple to invest in the dream honeymoon they otherwise may have needed to turn down in the warmer months," she says.
What are some of the drawbacks of hosting an outdoor winter wedding?
However, there are some challenges to consider that can complicate hosting a winter wedding outside.
In snowy climates, this could mean a snowstorm, which could be "literal perfection" for wedding photo backdrops and environment on your wedding day, says Watson, but that could also cause difficult travel for your wedding party, guests, and vendors. "On the opposite end of a snowstorm is the potential that if a snowy landscape is what the couple dreamt about if the snow melts, that environment is no longer there," she says. "And in return, there could be a muddy landscape left behind."
If you're planning a destination wedding or hosting a cold-weather celebration, guest access can become difficult. Snow storms can potentially shutdown airports or roads, making arrival problematic.
The holiday season
Although winter is a less popular time to host a wedding, there can still be conflicts if you're planning it during the holiday season. "This means you may have guest drop offs, travel will be more expensive for your guests, airports are more crowded and leaving on your honeymoon may not be a good experience during high traffic season," says Lizzy Liz Chan of Lizzy Liz Events in Huntington Beach, California.
Smaller guest count
Hosting an outdoor winter wedding can also result in a higher than normal guest turn-down in Watson's experience, even if it doesn't conflict with the holidays. "Some guests may simply determine that they're too uncomfortable with the idea of being outdoors for an extended period of time, and decline the invitation," she says.
Winter wonderland isn't guaranteed
If you are dreaming of a white fairytale complete with snowflakes, be warned. "In reality, depending on where you’re located, there is no guarantee that there will be snow on the ground," says Reznick. "Winter without snow means that the grass will be brown and there won’t be any leaves on the trees. Opt for a city venue where you can use the surrounding buildings, skyline, and architecture as a backdrop. Another great option is along a river or harborside. Water is always beautiful and choosing a body of water with some protection from winter winds will help keep everyone comfortable."
How can hosting an outdoor winter wedding help save money?
In general, the winter months are considered "less desirable" and therefore in Watson's experience, venues, catering, and often even other vendors may offer off-season rates, saving the couple money in the wedding process.
Venues, especially those with spaces for outdoor ceremonies and receptions, may offer discounts because the cold winter months tend to be slower. "However, be prepared for that potential savings to get invested into other areas that will ensure your guests have a warm and safe experience," says Lynne Reznick of Lynne Reznick Photography in Morrisonville, New York. "For example, heating lamps and hot air blowers will be essential for your outdoor winter wedding while unnecessary at other times of year."
It's also important to note that the potential discount on your wedding venue also depends on the type of venue it is. "If the venue is mostly geared towards weddings, then you may be lucky to save money here,"says Chan. This allows you the chance to take potentially receive rates as well as food and beverage minimums that are lower than summer months or peak season packages.
However, if your venue also hosts corporate events or holiday parties, the food and beverage minimum may be higher and other vendors like bands might also already be booked. "If the venue concentrates on corporate events, you may be paying a premium because their corporate clients are repeat customers, so they will get the first priority of the date that you may want to consider," she says.
However, Sharpley points out that since winter weddings tend to be smaller, you can potentially get away with a smaller overall budget than a large summer wedding.
Location also matters — a cold-weather destination venue like a mountain ski resort is likely to come with a higher price tag. That being said, "while hotel rooms may come with a higher price tag, vendors may be offering ‘out of season’ perks and special pricing," says Mara Mazdzer of Fuse Weddings and Events in Salt Lake City, Utah. "Be sure to do a little research on your location to determine what pricing will shake out to be."
Lastly, couples need to budget for other unexpected aspects that are strictly unique to outdoor winter weddings and not other seasons. "While an outdoor winter wedding offers an opportunity to create an unforgettable guest experience, creating that guest experience can come with unforeseen costs," she says. "Tents, heating for tents and the possible need for snow removal are all big ticket expenses that deter some clients from moving forward with an outdoor winter wedding."
How can we ensure our outdoor winter wedding is a success?
Communicate with your guests ahead of time.
Always keep communication at the forefront of your guest experience. "If you plan to wed in wintertime, make sure you share with your guests the typical weather in the area so they can best prepare," says Sarah Blessinger of Kindred Weddings and Events in North Hollywood, California. "Will they need a parka? Or just a light sweater? It’s important to make sure that your guests' comfort is always part of each decision you make."
Use historical weather data to help plan.
This will give you a good idea of what temperatures you can expect so you can plan ahead. "If a tent will be necessary, start pricing out options and don’t forget to ask about snow removal costs if you’ll be in an area where it may snow," says Mazdzer. "Be sure to ask about the various options tents offer from a fully enclosed tent, an enclosed tent that’s been draped to further keep heat in or even an enclosed tent that includes forced air heating to determine which option will be the best fit for the temperatures and weather expected in your area."
Prioritize keeping guests warm.
Don’t skimp on heaters for the reception, instead err on the side of caution and make sure you have more than enough to keep your entire reception space comfortable for guests. "Having blankets or pashminas on hand in your wedding colors is a nice way to help guests stay warm," says Reznick. "Or take it a step further with personalized blankets draped over the back of each guest’s seat. They could be the perfect cozy 'escort card' and wedding favor all rolled into one."
Use your menu to your advantage.
Use creative choices as a way to help guests stay cozy. "Some clever ideas include creating a spiked apple cider station or a make-your-own hot cocoa bar," she says. Comforts like a grilled cheese and tomato soup, signature hot drinks, a spiced wedding cake, or DIY smores with your fire pit can go a long way.
Go for a clear tent.
If you’re getting married at a venue with a beautiful backdrop, consider a tent that won't block it. "This allows your guests to have that indoor but outdoor experience," says Chan.
Remember, heaters matter.
Just like fans are necessary for the summer wedding receptions, patio and tent heat vents are a must-have for outdoor winter nuptials. "Whether it's patio heaters lining the ceremony edges, or dispersed around a cocktail space, or tent heater vents pumping warm air into a tented winter reception," says Watson.
Provide pre-ceremony treats.
Think hand warmers, fuzzy socks, blankets or DIY hot chocolate station.
Don't forget about lighting options.
Lighting is so important when you’re outdoors as it gets darker earlier in the day. "This can set the tone and mood for the evening," says Chan, "make it more romantic." For table decor and centerpieces, she recommends lots of candles. "The more candles, the more romantic and warm your guests will feel," she adds.\
Pick warm wedding party attire.
Long sleeve wedding dresses are a must, according to Chan. But you can find a strapless dress and pair it with a fun faux fur coat. But don't forget warmth when picking out bridesmaid dresses too. And for grooms or groomsmen, Sharpley recommends suited overcoats or cashmere scarves.
Look for a pavilion.
If your outdoor winter wedding ceremony space has a pavilion, consider using that for your nuptials. "Hosting an event beneath a pavilion roof can protect against the elements, but even without that extra protection, patio heaters along the edges of the ceremony can really create a cozy environment," adds Watson.
Other things to consider
Outdoor winter weddings don't have to be cold or "uncomfortable."
Although some might assume that this type of wedding will definitely be at least chilly, with proper planning it be "warm, lovely, and offer guests a wedding experience unlike other weddings they have attended," she said.
Play out the "worst-case" scenario.
Use this as to gauge whether you're still happy with your plans. "Imagine it snows heavily, is your ceremony planned in a covered space or would you and your guests be fully exposed to the elements?" says Mazdzer. "If there are possible scenarios that would impact your experience in a negative way, you may want to reconsider your outdoor winter wedding plans."
You may need a Plan B and a Plan C.
You should have backup arrangements in the event of extreme weather circumstances. "Are you the type of person who can easily adapt and pivot your plans mid-execution, or do you prefer to have a sure solid plan because change sends you into a stress spiral?" says Blessinger. "You want your wedding day (and the weeks leading up to it) to be a time of joyful anticipation, not one filled with last minute decisions that leave you unhappy and unmotivated."
Create a lighting plan.
Remember that the sun sets much earlier in the winter months, so working closely with your photographer, planner, and vendor team to ensure you have time for natural light photos will be essential. "A first look is especially important for a winter because it allows us to capitalize on natural light for all of their portraits, including their wedding party and family portraits, before the sun sets," says Reznick.
Similarly, if you want your ceremony to take place in natural light, you’ll need to schedule it in mid-afternoon to allow for the whole ceremony to take place before the sun sets. "This will impact your entire timeline," she adds.
Think outside the box.
You don't have to go with typical winter wedding ideas like pops of pinecones throughout the greenery and centerpieces, a white wedding theme, or a Christmas-inspired color palette. Opt for your bridesmaids to wear an unexpected hue, your groomsmen to rock boutonnières free of cranberries, and a floral design that is the opposite of what people expect for winter nuptials.