Five Unique Winter Sports to Try Out in Pure Michigan

Winter is a wonderful time of year to break out the skis and snowboards and hit the slopes in Pure Michigan. However, there are a number of other winter sports to try out around the state that aren’t quite as common. Some adventurous winter sports enthusiasts have put their own spin on outdoor recreation with these five unique activities to try out in Pure Michigan.

Ice Climbing

With miles of sandstone cliffs lined with hundreds of frozen waterfalls, Michigan is home to some of the best ice climbing spots in the country.  As one of winter’s emerging sports, ice climbing combines challenge and adventure. With ropes and harness, ice climbers ascend stunning natural ice structures such as icefalls, frozen waterfalls, cliffs and rock slabs. Ice climbing takes daring participants to breathtaking scenery that few experience.

If you’d like to try out ice climbing, Peabody Ice Climing in Fenton, MI  features two towers, 45 and 75 ft tall located on an old apple orchard. Ice climbing varies in difficulty; most beginners will start on a climb with a low incline until they are prepared for the challenge of vertical ice. Peabody’s is a great place for seasoned ice climbers to train and great introduction for people interested in the sport.

Check out the video to see some daring ice climbers traverse a frozen waterfall.

Ice Luge

For those who were inspired by the spectacular athletes going for the gold this winter, Muskegon Winter Sports Complex located on the shores of Lake Michigan in Muskegon State Park offers three 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. There is also a naturbahn style track (all-natural) in Marquette, Michigan.

The 850’ track consists of six curves and two starting areas. Participants slide from the 3/4 mark at speeds up to 30 mph. The track is designed specifically for general public use and those who never have slid before! Equipment is provided.

See what it’s like to luge like a pro in the video below.

Snow Biking

Photo by Instagram user @ryanstephensphoto

Photo by Instagram user @ryanstephensphoto

Some cyclists across Michigan have put a new winter twist on their sport with snow biking! Snow biking is gaining popularity around the state, and particularly in the Upper Peninsula. The Range Mountain Bike Club of Negaunee/Ishpeming is planning to groom some of its system this season, making Marquette County a true hub for winter cycling.

Currently, Fatbikes (locally known as snow bikes) are a fast growing segment of the bike industry. They use an oversized tire with low pressure to increase flotation and traction in soft conditions, they work in all types of terrain but excel like no other bike when it comes to riding on snow. Snow bikes need a packed surface of some sort, like a ski trail, dedicated snow bike trail or anywhere a snowmobile of snowshoe traffic has compressed fluffy snow.

Experienced snow biker, Aaron Peterson says, “Riding on snow is surreal. For an experienced cyclist, the feeling is similar to mountain biking but different enough that it lets you feel an entirely new experience on a bike.”

See a full Q & A with Aaron here along with his video series on snow biking in Upper Peninsula.

Ice Sailing

Ice sailing combines elements of sports like sailing, skating, skiing and snowboarding. Michigan is an ideal location for ice sailing because there are so many frozen lakes. The Great Lakes are especially great for ice sailing with the unobstructed wind. Michigan also has a lot of open space with snow which can also be great places to snow sail.

There are four different kinds of devices used for ice sailing:

  • The wing: The wing is similar to a mini hang-glider. You’re not harnessed in and really feel the wind.
  • The kite: The kite is like a parachute that is attached to you. We recommend having an instructor to harness you in.
  • The sled: The sled allows you to hold onto the sail and have either skis or blades on to navigate over the snow and ice.
  • The sail: The sails allows you to sail across the ice with an ice boat

Watch ice sailing in action below.

Winter Surfing

Surfing in Michigan in the winter takes some dedication and planning. Due to extremely cold wind and water,  some research and planning is required to find the best waves for winter surfing. However, dealing with the cold and often brutal weather elements is well worth it when you are surfing winter waves with a handful of friends.

To surf in Michigan (or anywhere with a cold climate), you must have the proper wetsuit and wetsuit accessories (boots and gloves or mittens).  Many winter surfers use boards that are a little bigger (longer, wider, and/or thicker) than what might be used on an ocean coast. Here are a few Michigan surf shops to help you gear up:

For more inspiration, check out these brave winter surfers catching waves near Charlevoix earlier this winter here.

Which of these unique winter sports would you like to try out in Pure Michigan? 

Seven Beautiful Photos of Blue Ice in Pure Michigan

Today, visual artist and photographer Shawn Stockman-Malone explains the beautiful blue ice found in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, along with seven spectacular photos to showcase this wonderful winter phenomenon. 

The winter of 2013-2014 has been one of the coldest on record, and in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, many of those winter nights have reached zero degrees or below. These consistently frigid temperatures have  transformed the region into a very frozen winter wonderland, and if you know where to look, you can find an abundance of  the most beautiful of winter phenomenon, aquamarine blue ice.

With the Great Lakes reaching record ice cover, there will be plenty of opportunity to look for blue ice along shoreline as the ice breaks up and piles up with wind shifts this Spring. In a big freeze year like this one, it’s not uncommon to see ice slabs piled up that are  3-6 feet thick or more! And as the sunlight tries to make it’s way through, the blue color really stands out, even from a distance.

Another good place to look for blue ice is around the many seeps and waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula.  Most notable, due to the concentration of ice formations in one area,  is in the Munising, MI area.  Thanks to it’s sandstone cliffs and ridges in which water seeps all year. Just about everyone has heard about the Apostle Islands ice caves by now, but the ice of Grand Island just may be the Midwest’s best kept secret when it comes to frozen winter beauty.  Part of Grand Island’s ambiguity is that it is not as accessible as the Apostles due to it’s access being dependent upon the channel freezing enough for safe crossing. On the island, long stretches of entire cliff faces are lined in ice curtains, and when looking through some of these ice pillars back lit by the sun, they look like magical green and blue spikes of kryptonite.  This year, the hard freeze of the East channel allowed visitors to cross over to Grand Island via a moderate hike, snowshoe or ski to see some of the best blue ice around.

You must be aware of ice conditions before crossing, as the ice pack you are walking on can open up in an instant on a wind shift or storm.   The Grand Island ice curtains took months to form, but undergo change on a daily basis, with the thaw of the mid day sun and the re-freeze of the next frigid night creating new icicles and pillars.  It becomes obvious from observing some of the ice pillars that have collapsed, that this ice weighs tons, so great care must be taken when in proximity of these magnificent frozen structures, as you never know when one could come down.

With more cold temps in the forecast, there’s plenty of winter left. This is the year to get out to one of these places and find your frozen winter wonderland! Here are seven spectacular photos to inspire your visit.

A couple observes the wonder of the Grand Island ice curtains

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

A broken pillar of ice creates abstract ice art

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

A person is dwarfed by the ice curtains of Grand Island

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

View of the ice curtains looking back towards Munising

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

The view looking up

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

The ice becomes bluer after each new layer of water freezes, Presque Isle, Marquette

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

Caught up with Justin “Bugsy” Sailor of Yooper Steez at the Grand Island Ice Curtains

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Photo

Have you spotted any beautiful blue ice near you?

Shawn Stockman-Malone is a visual artist based out of Marquette, Michigan and runs LakeSuperiorPhoto, a photography gallery of her work on 211 S. Front St, Marquette MI. Her work can also be seen on her website and Facebook page.

Ice Climbing in Pure Michigan

By now, you probably know about a number of activities that can be done in Michigan during the wintertime – skiing, snowboarding, tubing, etc. Another lesser known activity to add to the list is ice climbing. With ice climbing being one of the activities featured in the Pure Michigan winter video series, we spoke with adventurer Lisa Nowak on what ice climbing in Michigan is all about.

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into ice climbing?
A: During my freshman year at Michigan State University I joined the Outdoors Club and it changed my life. Not only did the organization help me discover a passion for outdoor adventure, it’s where I made lasting friendships and met my husband. To afford gear, lodging, and gas for the many trips I took in college I flyered campus weekly and rounded up as many beginners as I could find to join me for the weekend adventures. Twelve years later, ice climbing ranks at the top of my list of favorite sports.

Q: What are some of your favorite winter activities?
A: I enjoy downhill skiing, but if I can get away for a weekend, I’m usually going ice climbing. Sometimes this means I get to enjoy snowshoeing and/or winter camping as part of the ice climbing adventure. It’s been awhile, but I also have fond memories of sledding, skating, and ice fishing.

Q: What do you love about the Michigan outdoors in the winter?
A: I love the variety of activities that are available to us in Michigan. Fresh air and the scent of pine is invigorating. Picking out animal tracks in the snow is fun. It’s easy to enjoy the outdoors when you’re dressed for the weather.

Q: For those who don’t know, what is ice climbing and who might like this sport?
A: Ice climbing is similar to rock climbing. Climbers wear the same harness and use the same rope skills for setting anchors and belaying their partners. Instead of climbing rock, ice climbers ascend frozen waterfalls with specialized equipment. If you seek adventure and like winter, you will love ice climbing.

Q: Where in Michigan can you ice climb? Do you have some favorite places to ice climb?
A: The Upper Peninsula has fantastic ice. Some climbs are located a couple hundred feet from where you parked the car. Others are nestled miles into the backcountry. Personally, I love climbing in the Munising area. The waterfalls tourists hike to in the spring become our playground in the winter. If I don’t have a weekend to commit to a trip up north, I head over to Peabody Ice Climbing Club in Fenton where there is a 45ft and a72ft tower of ice that offers many interesting climbs within an hour from my house in Lansing.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who may be interested in trying ice climbing for the first time?
A: Attend the Michigan Ice Festival (takes place the first weekend in February each year) in Munising. This three day festival is beginner friendly with tons of demo gear available to rent. They have beginner climbs safely rigged with the necessary ropes and staffed with belayers so you can walk up and climb. World class ice climbers teach dozens of clinics for those looking to develop technique.

If you can’t make it to the festival, hands on guidance can also be found at Peabody Ice Climbing Club in Fenton, MI where they offer rental and ice climbing instruction.

For experienced rock climbers looking to get into ice climbing, Downwind Sports is the go-to gear store in the U.P. They rent axes, boots, and crampons and sell an ice guide book to help you locate the climbs.

Q: What equipment is needed to start ice climbing?
A: For starters, you need proper winter attire. The technical gear (ice axes, ice climbing boots, crampons, helmet, climbing harness, and sometimes snowshoes) can all be rented, but if you are cold and wet, you will be miserable. This means NO COTTON. Bulky gloves are not ideal for holding onto the axes so bring a second pair and swap back and forth. If the temperature is above freezing, a rain jacket is ideal. For cold weather, a down jacket is indispensable when you are waiting for your turn to climb.

Q: The sport looks like it could require some strength; do you recommend anyone try the sport?
If you have the endurance to jog a ½ mile and do 20 pushups, you are probably physically fit enough to try ice climbing. Ice climbs vary in difficulty; most beginners will start on a climb with a low incline until they are prepared for the challenge of vertical ice. Picture yourself swinging the axes into the ice and using the handles to hold onto for balance. They are not pull up bars. You use your feet to kick little steps into the ice and inch your way up like climbing a ladder.

Q: What is your favorite thing about ice climbing?
A: I love the challenge. Each time I rope up for a climb, I am laser focused on the present. I have to carefully push my limits to grow and improve, and know when to back off to stay safe. There is no room for mindless chatter to creep into my thoughts like upcoming deadlines or wondering if I said the right things at my last work presentation. Ice climbing also takes me to breathtaking scenery that few people see.

Q: Does one particular ice climbing adventure stand out to you? Why?
A: Two words: Agawa Canyon. While this place isn’t in Michigan, us Michiganders should be boasting about how close we are to this natural wonderland. In Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, fifteen friends and I hopped on a train heading north. Two hours past civilization, the train made a stop at a trestle nestled 600 ft deep inside a wide canyon lined with dozens of enormous ice climbs. Traveling by train means you can practically bring the kitchen sink. We were camping in sub-zero temps, but we filled our bellies with gourmet dinners, laughed while we sang songs around the campfire, and smiled thinking about the epic ice routes we had climbed. It was an incredible four days.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do after going ice climbing?
A: Hanging out with friends around a hot fire with a bowl of chili in one hand and a microbrew in the other, makes the perfect ending to a day of ice climbing.

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

Lisa and Chris are Michigan natives who love to travel and play outdoors. Their passion for sports like ice climbing, rock climbing, kayaking, and backpacking has taken them all the way around the world, but they always find their way back home to Michigan. In their days of organizing trips for the Outdoors Club at MSU, Lisa estimates they have introduced more than 200 people to these adventure sports that are such an important part of their life.