Five Thrilling Gifts for the Adventure-Seeking Traveler on Your Shopping List

While many will be shopping for gizmos and gadgets for their loved ones this holiday season, we couldn’t forget about the adventure lovers who are always seeking their next thrill. Luckily, Michigan offers some of the most unique and adrenaline-pumping winter activities around.

This year, give the gift of adventure with these five experiences that are sure to blow the thermal socks off the thrill-seeking traveler on your shopping list.

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Dog Sledding Tours

Dog sledding is a wild winter adventure. The hot breath of the huskie pack fogs the crisp winter air as they pull you with focused determination across the glistening landscape. Imagine you’re racing against another team, over the same frozen terrain that explorers did long ago. So “mush!” and check out these exhilarating tours around the state.

Ice Climbing

Michigan is home to one of the best ice climbing regions in the country. One of winter’s newest silent sports, ice climbing combines challenge and adventure. With ropes and harness, ice climbers ascend stunning natural ice structures. Icefalls, frozen waterfalls, cliffs and rock slabs are all waiting to be conquered. Ice climbing takes you to breathtaking scenery that few people experience.

Ski and Snowboarding Packages

SkiingGet stoked! Michigan ski and snowboarding regions offer adrenaline junkies some of the most exciting, diverse terrains in the Midwest. Michigan is home to more than 40 ski areas and resorts that offer both beginners and experts a thrilling ski or boarding experience. So whether you want to catch some big air or just take a lesson, Pure Michigan is the place to look.

Ice Luge 

Luge

For those who’ve always dreamed of being an Olympian, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex offers three separate luge tracks designed to introduce beginners to the sport of luge. Shorter in overall length than Olympic-style tracks, the Muskegon track provides an Olympic thrill with the safety of the participant in mind.  The track is designed specifically for general public use and those who never have slid before! Equipment is provided.

Winter Zip Line

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If you thought zip lining was only for summer fun, think again. Snow Snake zip line tours consist of ten unique and exciting lines that take you through thick woods and over deep valleys at speeds reaching up to 25 mph. The longest line is more than 800 feet long and the highest is 70 feet high. The entire tour is take you more than 4,000 feet. If you know someone between the ages of 8 and 88 who is adventurous and loves being surrounded by the great outdoors, consider booking a zip line tour.

Want to discover more Pure Michigan winter fun? Head to michigan.org/winter for a complete list of activities you can enjoy this season.

 

Dog Sledding in Pure Michigan

Dog sledding, a historic form of transportation is also a fun way to get out and enjoy the winter months. With more than 2,000 miles of dog sledding trails, 11,000 frozen inland lakes and a number of snow-covered national forests, Michigan is a great destination for a dog sledding adventure.

With dog sledding being one of the activities in the Pure Michigan winter video series, we spoke with Tasha Stielstra of Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures to learn more. See her answers below and be sure to check out the video at the bottom of the post!

For more information or to plan your winter vacation, visit michigan.org/winter.

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into dog sledding?

A: Ed and I have owned sled dogs for about 20 years and have been operating our touring and racing kennel on a full time basis for 10 years.  Ed got into the sport with a family friend just after college (at MSU) and I met Ed while I was working in Ludington one summer.  Neither of our families owned or worked with sled dogs.  Needless to say, they have been very patient through all our crazy adventures as we quit our full time careers, raced sled dogs around the world, and built a successful touring business.  We’ve grown in ways we’ve never imagined and now have a full time winter staff of four guides in addition to ourselves, 160 sled dogs, and a successful Iditarod racing team.  It’s a lot of hard work and long days, but we would not have it any other way!

Q: Why do you love dog sledding? 

A: We, of course, we like working with and training the dogs.  Now that our business has really grown, we almost spend more time managing dogs and staff and entertaining guests than actually getting to run dogs.  One reason Ed likes to run the Iditarod is that he’s alone with his dogs for 1,000 miles for 10 days and does not have to deal with any of the day to day concerns of the kennel while he is on the trail.  We also like teaching new people about mushing.  There’s something magical about watching a novice learn the sport and fell so good about what they have accomplished.

Q: Describe the experience for someone who has never tried dog sledding. 

A: The experience can be for anyone of any age.  Children need to be 10 years old and over to drive their own sled, and there is not an age cut off.  We just had one client who was 77 complete one of our overnight trips where he drove his own team.  There’s really no experience to compare this to.  There’s a sudden rush when the dogs first take off, there’s the serenity of moving under dog power along the trail, there’s the crisp feel of cool weather, and there’s the affection of the dogs who are so excited to see new people every day.

Q: Are there any dogsled races or events in Michigan?

A: Yes, there are many MI races and events.  One of the largest distance races outside of Alaska is the UP 200 in Marquette, MI, which takes place on the third weekend in February.  This is a 260 mile race that runs round trip from Marquette to Grand Marais. There is also a race near us in Newberry, the Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race which is the first weekend in January.  There is also the Copper Dog 150 mile Race in Calumet the first weekend of March.  There’s also a new race, the Ironline taking place in Iron River, MI on February 8-9th.  All of the races are very spectator friendly and great family events. I highly recommend watching a sled dog race in person.  There is also a group in Michigan called MUSH that has events throughout the winter and fall for recreational mushers. 

Q: Where are some great places in Michigan to dog sled?

A: Of course we are biased to dog sledding in the UP.  The trails are fantastic up here, the snow is great, and the scenery spectacular.  We simply have more reliable snowfall than Lower Michigan which means our season is much longer.  The UP is also much less populated which means we have access to long distance touring and training trails and we don’t have any neighbors who live close by would be bothered by 160 dogs singing their good night song.  We are also trying something new in the UP this year, and that is giving people rides to view the lower falls of the Tahquamenon River.  There are some places up here that just are not accessible in the winter time, and the lower falls are one of them.  We have a new agreement with the DNR that we will take people in by dog team to view these spectacular water falls!  Now, after all the hype about the UP,  we also love our relationship with Boyne Highlands near Harbor Springs.  Boyne is also in a great location for reliable snow and we transport our dogs there every weekend for sled dog rides.  It’s nice to have this option for guests as it’s a bit closer to home for many people and the resort is a great place for many winter activities.  We give rides only at Boyne, we don’t offer the drive-your-own team option.

Q: Is there anything that people don’t realize about dog sledding?

A: People who come to our place are commonly surprised at how small and friendly the dogs are.  We have Alaskan Huskies and they all look very different from each other but all are very social and loving.  Many of our dogs we use for tours are our retired racing dogs or dogs who will be the next generation of superstars.  Dog sledding is something that people of all ages and abilities can participate in.  We’ve given rides to children as young as six months and adults as old as 90.  We can also lift people into our sleds if they have difficulty walking or have other limitations. 

Q: What are sled dogs like? How are they the same and how are they different than a family pet?

A: They are not different from family pets.  The love attention, they want to be scratched behind the ears, they love to eat, and if you let them, they will sleep on the couch.  BUT, they also LOVE to pull.   It’s something they are born and bred to do.  It’s very instinctual, like a beagle that chases rabbits.  We retire our dogs into family homes at about 7-8 years old and they make great family pets.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who might want to try dog sledding?

A: Find an outfitter that you trust and give it a try.  I’d highly suggest driving your own team as that is the “true” experience.  However, also be honest with yourself and if that just seems a bit too intimidating, then take a ride with the dogs.  Like I said, be sure to ask a lot of questions like:  “If I drive my own team, is there a guide in front and how many dogs would I have?”  “If I ride in the sled, will the guide be driving the sled?”  “What is the maximum number of guests you have with each guide?”  “Do you provide any gear if I’m unsure if my clothing is adequate?” 

Q: What do you love about a Michigan winter?

A: Snow, of course!  Our lives would be miserable without it! 

Q: What is your favorite thing to do after dog sledding? 

A: Share the experience and stories with others. 

Learn more in Dog Sledding | A Pure Michigan Winter below, from the Pure Michigan winter video series.


Tasha Stielstra is co-owner of Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures in McMillan, MI.  Her husband, Ed is a 7-time Iditarod finisher.  They own nearly 160 Alaskan Huskies and two small children, Fern and Nate. Tasha does the marketing and managing for their touring business, chases puppies down the trail, and spends a great deal of time playing with monster trucks (with 2-year old Nate). Nature’s Kennel can be found online at www.natureskennel.com or on Facebook at Nature’s Kennel.

 

Iditarod Sled Dogs – From Michigan to Alaska

Did you know that you can find Iditarod sled dogs right here in Michigan? Tasha Stielstra, owner of Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures, fills us in on why she and her husband train their Iditarod team in Michigan over other states and what it entails.

Learn more about dog sledding in Michigan on michigan.org. If you’re interested in fall tours, see Tasha’s past post on fall dog sledding.

Iditarod sled dogs in Michigan?  You bet!  My husband, Ed, has completed Alaska’s 1,049 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race seven times.  What makes our Michigan-based team extraordinary is that for the past two years, Ed has been the only musher from outside of Alaska or Canada to complete the race.  We are often asked if and when we will move to Alaska.  And our answer is, “Never”.  There are unique challenges that we face while training our Iditarod team in Michigan for a race that spans across the state of Alaska, but the fact is that training is training, no matter where you live.  There could always be an excuse for not going for a run (it’s too cold, too wet, too hot, too…) but regardless of where you are, if you don’t do it, you’re not training. 

I’ve lived with Iditarod sled dogs now for about nine years (and my Iditarod-addicted husband for fifteen years), and every time I think of the Iditarod, I am amazed at what an Alaskan Husky sled dog can do. I looked up a marathon training regime from one of the best known marathon trainers and runners in the world, Midwestern running icon Hal Higdon.  Hal is probably the closest human equivalent to an Iditarod sled dog.  Hal figures that he has been continuously running since 1949, a fact that I find amazing as well.  Hal suggests an 18-week training program for running a 26.2 mile marathon. The first week of March a little less than 18 weeks away.  The first week of March is the start of Iditarod 2013. The Iditarod is approximately one thousand miles or thirty-eight marathons in length, run back-to-back.  I don’t even have to put the fact into writing, Iditarod dogs are amazing. 

Ed and I raise and train our Iditarod sled dogs from our home in McMillan (90 minutes northwest of the Mackinac Bridge).  In about 2 years’ time, our pups go from slobbery, kissy, roly-poly puppies to slobbery, kissy, Iditarod veterans.  If Hal Higdon were to take one our dog dogs for a walk down the street, you probably would not even glance twice.  Both man and dog would appear very average.  Fact is, neither are average. Hal (born June 17, 1931-age 81) has finished 111 marathons and Rhu (born June 12, 2005-age 7) has finished 114 Iditarod marathons.  Rhu weighs about 45 pounds, likes to ride in the car and sleep in the bed.  I’m guessing Hal is a bit (but not much) heavier, and also likes to ride in the car and sleep in bed!

With less than 18 weeks to go, Iditarod marathon training in Michigan is in full swing.  We are excited to make our state proud once again this year as Michigan’s one and only Iditarod team.  You can follow Rhu, our team and our progress at www.natureskennel.com

Tasha Stielstra is co-owner of Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures in McMillan, MI.  Her husband, Ed is a 7-time Iditarod finisher.  They own nearly 160 Alaskan Huskies and two small children, Fern and Nate. Tasha does the marketing and managing for their touring business, chases puppies down the trail, and spends a great deal of time playing with monster trucks (with 2-year old Nate). Nature’s Kennel can be found online at www.natureskennel.com or on Facebook at Nature’s Kennel.