by Shane Steele
I've been a rock climber for 12 years. It was my favorite outdoor pursuit until I tried ice climbing for the second time; second because after my first time on ice, I wanted nothing to do with it.
Rock climbing is easy enough to imagine: with a harness and rope, maybe some rubber climbing shoes and a chalk bag, use your hands and feet to ascend a cliff. Enjoy the sunshine, mild temperatures, and generally light-hearted atmosphere of a day at the crag.
Ice climbing as much resembles rock as downhill skiing does cross country. To get an idea, picture gloved hands bearing ice axes with stiff heavy boots and crampons underfoot. Then shrink the daylight hours by half, drop the temperature well below freezing, and add biting wind. Finally, sprinkle on snow to freeze ropes and creep up your sleeves and down your jacket.
My first day on ice was in Iowa -yes, Iowa- at Pike's Peak State Park overlooking the Mississippi River. In the parking lot, we fumbled with cold hands to pull harnesses over bulky winter layers. We then rappelled down a frozen, mossy gully to the bottom of a 50 foot icefall. Time to climb. What I perceived would be straight forward, the swing of ice axes and kick crampons, felt awkward and foreign. Each hit crumbled the ice and fatigued my every muscle. Belaying was a battle between numb fingers and toes and dodging falling chunks of ice loosened by climbers above. By the time we returned to the car I was plenty content to be just a rock climber.
My second day on ice was more than a year later. Living on the North Shore of Minnesota, a friend invited me to go ice climbing on the Cascade River. Tucked on the northern bank is a small creek that drips over the edge of the tall river gorge. Come winter, this creek becomes a frozen playground of ice 30 feet wide and 80 feet tall. Its summit is surrounded by century-old cedars amid perfect white snow. In this setting, it didn't seem to matter that the temperature was just above zero or that I was exhausted and sore from my still uncoordinated efforts up the ice. The richness of the experience captured me.
I have returned to the Cascade River Icefall countless times, not only for the climbing but for the dull roar of the river muffled by snow and ice 100 feet below, the orange light of dusk on the southern rim of the canyon, the familiar thwack of crampons hitting ice, and the smell of crisp, cold air. I still love to rock climb, but I'm an ice climber at heart.
by Paul Pustovar
Are you a competitive person? Do you enjoy traveling the globe? If yes, then the game for you is the Olympic sport of curling.
The sport was started in the 16th century in Scotland where it was played on frozen lochs and marshes during the winter months. Today, the game is played indoors mainly in dedicated ice arenas with controlled conditions. Curling clubs dot our northern landscape but Grand Rapids has one of the best curling facilities in Minnesota with four sheets of ice. It is a vibrant club with a friendly atmosphere where everyone is welcome. Anyone can visit the club and try the game of curling.
THE GAME: Each team consists of four players: Lead, Second, Third (or Vice Skip), and Skip. The Skip, or captain, calls the plays and instructs his players to brush the ice in front of the stone. Each granite curling stone weighs about 42 pounds and is delivered with a predetermined rotation, causing it to curl as it travels 135' to a bullseye-like target on the ice. Brushing the ice can affect speed and direction of the shot. Each player delivers two stones, in consecutive order in each end (or round), while alternating with an opponent. Most games consist of eight ends and the game lasts about two hours. One end is complete when all 16 stones have been delivered by the two teams. The team closest to the center after all rocks are thrown will score the points. Repeat this for six to ten ends until one team is victorious.
Curling is unique in that a player never attempts to distract an opponent during the game. The "spirit of curling" requires good sportsmanship and conduct. Each game starts with a handshake with each member of the opposing team and the game concludes with handshakes once again. Traditionally, the winning team offers their opponents a refreshment after the game.
Another unique aspect of curling is that there is no distinction between amateurs and professionals. It is not uncommon for a regular club curler to be able to curl against a World Champion or an Olympian in a bonspiel (tournament). This leads to a good learning experience for newer curlers as a curler would never try to embarrass their opponents. The bonspiels are usually gender specific for men or women but there are also bonspiels for mixed teams or open bonspiels which include any combination of men or women.
Curling is definitely a life-long sport which is enjoyed by young individuals and can continue into their 80's. Starting at a young age has its advantages and clubs usually have junior programs where these individuals can learn the game and become active in junior play downs.
Curling season runs November through March and all of the local clubs in Hibbing, Grand Rapids, and Bemidji will provide free lessons for anyone interested in the sport. Clubs also have open houses where new curlers can try out the Olympic sport of curling.
by Michael Larson
There are countless qualities about living in Ely that make it the unique place it is known to be. The anticipation of the inevitable change of season that brings a whole new set of activities that you can not do during the other months of the year is one of things I look forward to most. All too often when the temperatures begin to dip here in Minnesota, we do our best to hunker down and wait it out. This winter I encourage you to break that temptation and embrace our wonderfully famous winters with your best furry friend and get out skijoring!
What is skijoring? Skijoring (translated directly from Norwegian as "ski driving") is a great activity and lifetime sport combining one of our favorite Midwest sports, cross country skiing with dog mushing. The concept is straightforward; a dog in harness pulls a person on skis connected by a waist belt and tug line. Over the years the equipment has greatly improved from the early days in Norway with a simple leather strap and rope, to padded waist belts, tug lines with shock absorbers, and fine-tuned dog harnesses.
I love the simplicity of skijoring. You don't need 10 huskies (or even a husky for that matter) nor do you have to be an Olympic athlete. Typically, any dog over 30 pounds that enjoys getting outside and being active will enjoy pulling in a harness. Before hooking yourself up to your dog and yelling "HIKE!", it's best to make sure you are comfortable by yourself on a pair of skis and your dog has at least rudimentary obedience skills. Prepare yourself to spend some time working with your dog in this new activity, but mostly prepare yourself to have a lot of fun.
by Ryan DeChain
Northern Minnesota is home to thousands of pristine lakes that offer up countless winter recreational opportunities for the intrepid. If you're the fishy type, ice fishing is world-class for a variety of species ranging from walleye, panfish, pike, trout, whitefish, and even the delicious burbot (aka eelpout). So suit up, catch a meal and burn some calories in the process. Here's how to get started. If you're new to the area, visit the local bait shop for lake or guide recommendations; these folks are constantly brushing shoulders with "regulars" who frequent area lakes and donate their hotspots. The Minnesota DNR Lake Finder mobile site or phone app is a terrific resource for searching out your own opportunity. It contains valuable lake survey info, maps, stocking data, and more.
Equipment can be as simple or sophisticated as your interest level. A sharp auger is a must, and a power auger recommended for ice greater than six inches. In general, target gamefish around drop offs, points, offshore humps, and along the edges of flats; the presence of weed and rock can enhance these spots. Panfish relate to the same areas, but are often consolidated in main lake basins. And let's be honest, the best winter holes are often where fish houses are piled up. A flasher or LCD fish finder/GPS combo is an invaluable tool for finding productive spots - if you're not marking fish, keep moving. Cold water means slower metabolisms for most species so downsize tackle and equipment. This means 2-4 pound test line and light rods for panfish, and 4-8 pound test for walleye. Pack a tip-up or two with coated nylon line and a wire leader for pike. A tackle box should contain a good variety of jigs, jigging spoons, and standard terminal tackle like hooks and weights. Artificial lures can produce, but livebait like worms and minnows are often needed to trigger bites from tentative winter fish.
Yes, hard water is here to serve up some camaraderie, quiet time, exercise and if you're lucky, a delicious meal - all set in the wilds of our Minnesota northwoods. Get out and enjoy it.
by Susan Kavanagh
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to fly? If so, ski jumping is the sport for you. Oh yeah, I've heard them all: "You have to be crazy!," "It's way too dangerous," "You'll get killed or break all your bones," etc. Well, let me set the record straight. It is NOT the wild and crazy daredevil sport that's been ingrained in the American mind. Ski jumping is rated as the second safest winter sport, only behind cross country skiing, by the International Ski Federation. Most parents don't flinch about letting their child snowboard, but that is the most dangerous snow sport. Don't get me wrong, there are inherent risks in any sport involving motion, balance, and speed. However, with ski jumping you learn incrementally and are closely monitored by the coaches for skill and confidence before being allowed to advance to the next stage. The sport is very highly controlled and conditions are monitored for safety at all times.
So, how does it work? In simple terms, ski jumpers bend low and ski down a track extending their body at the take off. It is not about height but about distance flight. After the take-off, the jumper uses the body and skis to help generate lift as they fly through the air. Many think that a ski jumper goes high up in the air when in reality they are only a few feet up as they go parallel to the hill as it slopes down and they glide into their "redwing" landing which is a style of landing where one foot is ahead of the other, the knees are slightly bent, and the arms are outstretched to the side. Besides getting points for their jump distance, the skier is also judged on their style and a good landing earns good points.
Most people start jumping young and progress through the years but starting jumpers can range in age from two years old to adults. Those who start jumping at a young age have an advantage as their bodies are learning the techniques more easily. Jumpers progress to bigger hills as they build skills and confidence and the hills vary is size but most commonly the smallest hills are 10 meters. The jumps then get bigger and bigger until they reach the Olympic size jumps of 90 and 120 meters. The size of a jump is determined by the distance from the take off to the point on the hill where it starts to flatten out.
I would encourage anyone to go out and give it a try if you get the chance - you won't regret it. For more information on ski jumping in Coleraine, MN or to come on out and have a go you can contact: Sue Kavanagh at [email protected] or visit our website at
by Rheese Carlson and Jess Gassman
With daylight a bit shorter and time riding on the pontoon is over, Minnesota's favorite season is upon us. As we wake up on those cold dark mornings looking over the lakes and ponds that surround us, we wonder... what will the date be this year when we can lace up the skates with all our friends and play the one game that all northern Minnesotan's know how to play? That ONE game that has brought so many great friends and memories into people's lives. The great game of Hockey. The pickup games after school and before practice become battles of the older sibling versus younger in the best-of-seven series, or until mom rings the dinner bell.
Conversation at dinner quickly turns from how was your day, to talk of the game you just got done playing. Your younger brother tells the story how he was pushed into the snowbank after he scored the winning goal with a move he saw his favorite player make, the same move he had been practicing all summer in the driveway. The only problem? It was you that he beat with that move; the snowbank was your response. These are the times of the year when you see the smiles on your parents' and grandparents' faces, as they reflect back on the same memories you are making today. The time they played on the same ponds, lakes, and local rinks that you are playing on today. Remember to cherish those times. Remember to SKATE218.
by Grant Schnell
My passion for the outdoors started as a young dude. My passion for riding bikes started around the same time. Fast forward 30+ years and things are the same. Winter is my favorite season (Autumn is a close second). No bugs, less people outside (I do like people), and simplicity. The winter landscape keeps things simple. Staying warm, hydrated, well fed, and a good sleep are all you need. Why not bring a fatbike and pulk into the picture? The art of fatbiking in the winter has spread like the plague all over the world in the last five years. Many riders have taken a liking to fatbikes but that doesn't mean they want to sleep outside in the winter. Packing plush sleeping bags, a wood stove/hot tent, and good food in the fatpulk meant that Seth Downs, Chris Gibbs and I were on an adventure.
In Minnesota, trail options are limited for fatbikes and longer distance traveling. We do have some wonderful sections of groomed winter single track popping up in places like Cuyuna, Duluth, the Twin Cities, and some state parks. We ended up choosing the Matthew Lourey Minnesota State Trail and chose to ride mid week to avoid snowmobile traffic. Fatbiking is not recommended on groomed trails because of the snowmobile traffic, however, this trail is legal on the list of Minnesota state trails found on the MN DNR website. This trail runs through Minnesota state forest for many of its backcountry miles. Some of the state forests allow dispersed camping so that's another reason we chose the Matthew Lourey. Operating with Leave No Trace principals in mind, we felt comfortable camping along the trail. We left a vehicle at our ending point (St. Croix State Forest) and another at the starting point (near Pickerel Lake). Luckily the trail parking lots had been plowed.
Scenery was excellent with rolling hills, a few frozen creek crossings and thick forest cover. After five miles, the pace continued to be pleasant, the trail was firm, and the fatpulks continued to pull smoothly. Mile ten came and went as we rolled up and down hills, through a few swamps and across some frozen creeks. Snow depth was around 18 inches in the woods, which made for well-covered trails. Around mile 15 my out of shape legs started to get tired but I was having too much fun to stop and this was the price I paid for traveling with two dudes that breathe bikes. Mile twenty rolled around and I was spent. We started at 11am and it was now around 3:30pm. It was a good spot to stop because the trail would soon go through some private property and we wouldn't be able to camp there. Camp was set up in no time. We worked like well oiled bike chains to gather firewood, cut and split it. In a warm tent, after eating good food, we struggled to keep our eyes open. By the time 7:30pm hit, we were counting pedal revolutions (aka - sheep).
Not sure what time we woke up but spirits remained high after a good night's rest. Breakfast was served. Packing up camp went smoothly. Then we pedaled off. In a mile or so we left the state forest and entered into some private land. There was some logging activity but the trail remained in good condition. After about 10 miles of pedaling, the Matthew Lourey entered into state forest again.
Temps were warming up and our tires were starting to poke through the hard crust of snow. Snow depth was starting to decrease as well. About three miles from our ending point, the trail followed a tar road for a half mile. We decided to stash the pulks in the woods as we wanted to avoid dragging the pulks on the bare gravel shoulder of the road. We pedaled to the finish with smiles. Fifty fat miles later, we made what we thought would be around a three day trip into two days. We finished with temps around 34 degrees and it rained that evening. Overall, an uneventful and perfect fatbike camp trip transpired. The spark is now lit for rides of this kind in the future.
by Alexa Lang
I grew up in central Minnesota at my parents' twenty-acre hobby farm where we raised, trained, and loved our Alaskan husky sled dogs. I competed in professional sprint sled dog races with a four-dog team. My whole family was involved in the sport. We crafted the tuglines, boxes for transporting the dogs, and our sleds. My sled was handmade with wood from ash trees that grew on the farm. The harnesses were locally handcrafted, and some were even custom made. My dad organized races so I could participate in more local races. Every new snowfall brought with it excitement leading up to the race. Hundreds of mushing friends joined us for races in Leader, Crosslake, Detroit Lakes, Brainerd, and other central Minnesota locations.
On the back of the runners with my dogs was my happy place. The moment I would bring out the harnesses, sled, and tuglines, the dogs were ready to run. As soon as I would pull the snow hook anchor, we would take off; the dogs were silent and everything seemed perfect. They trusted that I would guide them and I trusted they would listen.
One mushing experience stands out: our annual Boundary Waters winter camping expeditions near the border of Minnesota and Canada. For the 22-mile excursion we would bring two teams of eight dogs with three sleds. Only sleeping bags designed for thirty below zero protected us from the fierce cold. The quiet and beauty of those trips are special memories. I hope to one day bring my children on a winter dogsled trip so they can experience the unique beauty and peacefulness of northern Minnesota on a dogsledding adventure. In the frozen wonderland of northern Minnesota, I not only welcomed the wintertime, I embraced it. My parents and siblings are still involved in dogsledding. It is a blessing to continue to enjoy the beauty that is mushing in Minnesota with my dogsledding family.