How to Experience Sled Dog Racing in the Upper Peninsula

Winter in Michigan is a great time for snow sports such as skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing, but if you’re looking for a different type of winter sports action, then you won’t want to miss the UP 200 and other sled dog races around the state. Today, featured blogger Jesse Land of Things to Do in the U.P. gives us the inside scoop on sled dog racing in the Upper Peninsula.

The UP 200

Photo courtesy of aaronpeterson.net

The UP 200 sled dog race is one of the premier sled dog races in the country. Mushers from all over travel to the Marquette, Michigan each winter to compete in this race. They love it not only for the beautiful and challenging terrain, but also for the warm welcome they receive from the huge crowd that assembles in Marquette to cheer them on.

The start of the race is truly something to see. The city of Marquette shuts down Washington Street, which runs through the heart of Marquette’s downtown district, and covers the street with snow. This is where thousands of people will gather onto the sidewalks on the evening of Friday, February 14th to watch the dog sled teams embark on the 240 mile course.

The mushers travel from Marquette toward Munising, through sections of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and then on to Grand Marais. Grand Marais is the layover point, where the teams will arrive sometime the morning of Saturday, February 15th. After spending a few hours in Grand Marais to rest and refuel, the teams will head back to Marquette sometime late Saturday afternoon and evening.

The Midnight Run

Photo courtesy of aaronpeterson.net

And then there’s the Midnight Run, an exciting ninety-mile race that takes place between the start and finish of the U.P. 200. Midnight run mushers leave Marquette from Washington Street shortly after the U.P. 200 mushers. However, their course is different.

In the past Midnight Run teams have finished in Grand Marais. New this year the teams will race to Chatam, then turn around and finish in Marquette’s Mattson Lower Harbor Park.

Where is the best place to see the dogs?

One of the most popular questions that gets asked by spectators is “where’s the best place to se the dogs?” Luckily, there are many great options.

Washington Street in Marquette is the most popular viewing area by far because the races start right there and it’s located in the heart of downtown. However, for those looking to avoid the crowds or take in a different stage of the race there are definitely other options.

Photo courtesy of aaronpeterson.net

Not far from downtown Marquette, the welcome center offers a great spot to view the teams as they head into the woods. Restrooms are available and food and drinks will be provided here at no cost.

The Prince of Peace Church in Harvey also offers a great viewing area. They’ll have a bonfire to help spectators stay warm. Restrooms are available inside the church, and food and drinks will be available for purchase.

The Lakenenland Sculpture Park offers another great viewing spot as the mushers race right by there.

The Downtown Showdown

And if you’re in Marquette for the UP 200 and Midnight Run, be sure to check out the Downtown Showdown rail jam competition on Saturday night. The snow from Washington Street gets moved to nearby Front Street where an awesome course of rails is set up on which snowboarders and skiers will test their skills. It’s a great time for skiers, snowboarders and spectators alike.

So plan a trip to Marquette, Michigan for the weekend of February 14th, 15th and 16th! It’ll be an action packed weekend full of great events!

If you can’t make it to the race, there are plenty of other ways to experience sled dog racing the Upper Peninsula. Visit michigan.org to see a full list of sled dog tours available near you. 

Have you been to a sled dog race in Michigan? Tell us about your experience. 

This post was written by Jesse Land of Things to do in the U.P. on behalf of Travel Marquette Michigan. 

Embrace the Snow with Winter Sports in Traverse City

In Michigan, winter shouldn’t simply be endured – it should be celebrated! This beautiful state offers hundreds of ways to get outside and enjoy the beauty and enchantment of the season. Here, Mike Norton of Traverse City Tourism explains how he learned to stop shivering and embrace the snow!

Winter and I were not always friends.

I grew up in the city, where this time of year meant dark gray skies, dirty gray slush, icy sidewalks and wet feet. Skiing was something rich people did. Snowshoes were for Eskimos. How could I ever have foreseen how much I’d come to love the winter season once I moved to Traverse City?

Here, winter is a different creature entirely.  Maybe it’s this rolling, glacier-carved terrain with all its wide vistas and high lookouts; maybe it’s the predominance of pine, spruce, hemlock and fir (so much prettier in winter than those scraggly hardwoods). Or maybe it’s just that rural settings are better suited to winter than cityscapes.

The secret, of course, is that you have to embrace winter in all its chilly wonder – and although some people can do this while looking out the window, I find I just have to get outdoors and do something. Doesn’t matter what, really — cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just tramping around in the woods.

And here’s the payoff: to come around a corner on the trail and see a herd of deer raise their heads, steam snorting from their noses as they look at you and silently bound off into the trees. To stand in the moonlight in a forest clearing as a fine dusting of diamond-bright powder sifts through the branches around you. To emerge from the woods onto a high bluff at Sleeping Bear, the broad blue sweep of Lake Michigan below you like a giant polished turquoise, and feel as though you’re the first (or last) person on Earth.

Speaking from personal experience, I know that winter-sports newbies can sometimes be discouraged by all the unfamiliar gear, terminology and techniques they’re confronted with. But really, it’s a lot easier and a lot less expensive than you think. And fortunately, there are all kinds of people and organizations here in the Traverse City area who are eager to help you get into your winter groove.

Actually, it doesn’t take a lot of skill or training to use snowshoes. They’re easy to slip on and off, and they’re less likely to suddenly slide out from under you than skis. That’s why I seem to find myself doing more snowshoeing than cross-country skiing these days. Apparently, I’m not the only one, either, since snowshoeing has become America’s top snowsport choice. Last winter over 5 million Americans strapped on a pair of snowshoes and went for a winter hike, and the sport has grown by around 17 percent each year over the past decade.

Traverse City is full of great places for snowshoeing, and one of the best is just south of town on the Muncie Lakes Pathway.  This scenic DNR trail system along the Boardman River, with its rolling forested terrain and small lakes, is a microcosm of the area’s natural beauty and its special winter delights.

The nice thing about the pathway is that it provides a variety of loops and distances so you can easily customize a snowshoe excursion to meet your own endurance and ability levels.  Distances range from an easy two-mile hike to treks of up to 8 or 9 miles, and it’s always possible to take off cross-country and boldly go wherever you like.  A couple of nice side trips along the pathway include snowshoeing along the frozen Muncie Lakes and out across the ice to visit the small islands that dot the lakes, and accessing overlooks of the Boardman River and valley from high bluffs.

Some of my other favorite trail systems include the trail system at Mission Point at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, the Pelizzari Natural Area off Center Road, the Lost Lake Pathway near Interlochen, the 3,500-acre Sand Lakes Quiet Area near Williamsburg and the Vasa Pathway, one of the finest cross-country ski trails in the Midwest. Inside the city, the 300-acre Grand Traverse Commons features great skiing and snowshoeing in parklike grounds among century-old, European-style buildings and stands of old-growth pines.

But seriously, some of the best snowshoeing in the area is at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which has eight marked trails, some leading up to panoramic overlooks high above the Lake Michigan. I just found out about one that I haven’t tried yet, and as soon as I’ve had a chance to check it out I’ll give you a report.

There are a lot of places in the area where you can rent snowshoes for a small fee, by the way. Brick Wheels, the Don Orr Ski n’ Beach Haus, and GT Cycle are several outlets that have snowshoe rentals available.

Mike Norton spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations manager at Traverse City Tourism. An avid cyclist, kayaker and snowshoer, he lives in the village of Old Mission.

Q&A with Michigan Native Olympian Nick Baumgartner

Today, native Michigander and Olympic snowboarder Nick Baumgartner answers our questions about snowboarding in Michigan and training for the Olympics! 

Q: How did you get started in snowboarding?

A: Growing up in Iron River in the Upper Peninsula, it would get super cold in the winter months.  I was taught to find fun activities to do no matter how cold it was, plus I was always trying to keep up with my older brothers who I looked up to immensely.  I had to do whatever they were doing and hyperactivity kept us going all day.  Before we started snowboarding, my brothers, sister, and I spent most of our time in the winters at the sledding hill behind my parents house.   For Christmas of 1990, my brothers, Josh and Beau, and I asked Santa for snowboards.  Josh was the first to open his board on Christmas morning and what an awesome sight it was!  It was a Black Snow “The Edge” with metal edges and worthy to shred on real ski hills.  Beau and I received hot pink, plastic “Mogul Monster” snowboards that were only allowed on the sledding hill out back.  I made it a mission of mine from that day on to prove to Santa that I was worthy of metal edges.  I now ride one of the fastest boards in the world, a Carbon Fiber Oxess Snowboard, but it all started that Christmas morning on a sledding hill basically using a glorified sled with bindings.  Huge thanks to my brother Josh for being one of the pioneers of snowboarding in the UP and pushing me to become the Olympic snowboarder that I am today.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your career in snowboarding.

A: My snowboard has taken me on one heck of a journey.  At the beginning I had to fight tooth and nail to earn each and every opportunity.  I didn’t know any pro snowboarders or anyone that could help direct me on the correct path so I took it on myself to create my own opportunities and make the most of them.

I have been a member of the US Snowboarding A Team since 2007.  Being on the A Team has allowed me to continue chasing my dream, because as a single father, finding funding for my season is always crucial.  When I started pursuing this dream, my goal was to receive an invite to the Winter X Games.  The X Games was the biggest venue snowboarding had to offer.  Once I accomplished that goal in 2005, I immediately made a new goal to win the X Games.  This journey to X Games Gold would span 6 years, take me to nearly 20 counties, 2 national championships, 1 Olympic Games, 2 World Cup Titles, a World Championship Bronze, 15 screws and a titanium plate just 12 days before winning and holding my 6 year old son Landon over my head in front of the whole world!  Seeing all my hard work and determination pay off made all the sacrifices I made so worth it.

Q: Have you done any of your training in Michigan? If so, where?

A: I choose to do most of my training here in Michigan.  Most of my team moves out to Park City, Utah and trains at the Center of Excellence which is home to both the US Ski & Snowboard Teams.  This facility is one of the best training gyms in the world, but it’s not home.  Training to me isn’t just about weights and cardio, you also have to have your head right.  In order for me to be able to compete at my peak level I need to be physically fit just as much as I need to be mentally fit.  Being home with my family, my son Landon, our dog, and using the beautiful backdrop that is Pure Michigan as my training facility is the perfect combination.  In the summer, training consists of many miles of running, swimming with my dog Oakley, kayaking with Landon, exploring the U.P. and enjoying life to the fullest.   When it comes to traditional conditioning–sprints, running stairs, hitting the weights and making sure I am in the best shape I can be– I head back to my old high school and train with some of the local kids from the West Iron County High School Football team.  This is awesome, not only for me, but for them as well.  They look up to me and by trying to keep up they can push themselves to be the best they can be.  This gives me an opportunity to help these kids reach their full potential.  I know they get a lot of inspiration from me and I love that- it fuels me.  One thing I can’t stress enough is that they give me the inspiration I need in return.  Regardless of whether or not I am standing on top of that Olympic podium in February, the football boys that conditioned with me will have played a huge roll in my preparation.  Training in Michigan is the best way for me to be fully prepared physically and mentally.

Q: Where is your favorite place to hit the slopes in Michigan?

A: When I am home in the U.P. I love hitting up Ski Brule right here in my home town of Iron River.  Ski Brule is where I first rode a snowboard with metal edges and it’s only 7 miles from my house.  Without growing up next to such a great place like Brule I would never have gotten where I am today and for that I am so fortunate.  In the lower Peninsula, I would have to say Boyne Mountain because there are so many things to do on and off the slopes.  I may meet the age requirement of an adult but I’m just a giant kid and being able to Snowboard, zip line, ride a standing wave, hit the water slides and so much more all in one day is pretty sweet.

Q: What do you love about winter in Michigan?

A: I love just about everything in Michigan all the time.  Hunting, ice fishing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, sledding…the list could go on forever.  Michigan is a winter paradise–there’s so much to do as long as you aren’t afraid of a little snow and a little cold.  I love the people here- even when it’s below zero people will give you the shirts off their backs and I couldn’t imagine a better place to raise my son.

Q: What was your favorite thing about growing up in the UP?

A: Being able to grow up in the outdoors was so awesome.  Everyday for us was an adventure, whether we were hunting for food, hunting for treasures, building forts in the woods, riding bikes in the neighborhood, or playing Kick the Can at night, my friends and I always had something to do.  I think we got to do a lot more than most kids in the world since Iron River is a safe place and the people in the community are so kind.  The U.P. gives you so many more options than other places when it comes to doing something active and fun.  If you love the outdoors you will never be bored.  It is definitely a small community up here, but whether something good or bad happens, everyone rallies together to provide as much support as possible.

Q: What is the most exciting part about being an Olympic athlete?

A: For me the coolest part about being an Olympic athlete is that it gives me an opportunity to use my story to help inspire others.  Kids are our future, and I know that with my personal experiences I can show kids to DREAM BIG, because with some hard work anything is possible and no goal is too lofty.  I also love sharing my journey with as many people as I can; I know I am very fortunate and want to give back the best ways that I can.  Being able to travel is also pretty sweet.  I love being able to see how people all over the world live- it definitely gives me a different perspective on life.  With all the travel however, the best part of every trip will always be coming home to the U.P. and to my boy.

Q: What advice would you give to any beginning snowboarders out there?

A: Anyone that is new to snowboarding should know that the first few days can be tough, but with a little hard work you will learn very fast.  Snowboarding has a steep learning curve, so within 3 days you can go from a complete beginner to an intermediate snowboarder who can keep up with your friends.  I have been snowboarding for 17 years and some days I wish I could go back and have that first day all over again.  I love watching people learning to snowboard because even when they are having a rough time they are having so much fun.  Whatever you decide to do, I urge you to eat healthy, be active, and dream big.  If we take care of our bodies and stay active, we give ourselves the best chance to stay healthy and fully enjoy life.  Life can be so much fun; try to smile yourself and try to make someone else smile everyday.  It’s amazing how a nice gesture can help someone, because you never know what that person may be going through.

Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Vine and like me on Facebook. I want to share my experiences with as many people as I can.  When I check my social media and see all the support and kind words, it really motivates me- I read every single comment.  When things aren’t going perfect, everyone’s kind words help to lift me up and keep me charging forward.  I have some of the best supporters in the world, and more support would never be a bad thing.  I will do everything I can to bring an Olympic Gold back to Michigan, but I promise to represent the USA, Michigan, the UP, my family and all my fans the best that I can. My Name is Nick Baumgartner and I am PURE MICHIGAN!

Wishing Nick the best of luck as he competes in the Winter Olympics in Sochi this February! Will you tune in to the 2014 Winter Olympics?