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? 

Ice Sailing in Pure Michigan

There’s still plenty of time to partake in some fun winter activities here in Pure Michigan. Skiing, snowboarding and sledding are all well-known winter activities, but why not try something new like ice sailing?

Michigan is an ideal location for ice sailing – one of the activities featured the Pure Michigan winter video series. Below Dan Hill of Action Sports Enterprises tells us more about this unique sport.

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

A: I own a company called Action Sports Enterprises and I am the organizer for the Ice and Snow Sailing Festival/Winter Sailing Cup of North America.

Q: What is ice sailing and how did you get into the sport? 

A: Ice sailing is essentially powering sports that you already enjoy either by the environment or by wind. That includes sailing, skating, skiing and snowboarding. You do those same events that you love, but now you are doing them either directly on ice or on ice that has snow on top. 

I was introduced to wind sailing when I was selected as a Gate Judge for the Vancouver Winter Olympics and have had a passion for the sport  ever since.

Q: Why do you love ice sailing?  

A: I love ice sailing for many reasons. You can do it anywhere there is wind and snow or ice and it incorporates sports I already enjoy.  The sport is also very green and a form of free power. The idea of powering sports that people already enjoy with wind is exciting!  For those who have yet to try it, it is truly wind dancing.

Q: Who might like to try ice sailing?

A: I think anyone who enjoys the outdoors - especially kitesurfers, sailors, ice skaters, windsurfers , skiers and snowboarders should try the sport. It is really unlike anything else and great time especially if you already love outdoor sports. 

Q: Do you have any advice for ice sailing beginners?

A: First of all, I recommend taking a lesson or demoing some equipment at one of our events. Adding wind power to activities like skiing and snowboarding requires a lot of balance. 

Q: What equipment or skills do you need to start ice sailing? 

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

The wing – The wing is almost like 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. For the kite, you’ll need an instructor to harness you in.

The sled – If you’ve ever seen wind surfing, you know what the sled is like. You hold onto the sail and have either skis or blades on to navigate over the snow and ice.

The Sail- Sailing on the Ice with an Ice Boat

Q: In 2012, WISSA came to Michigan. Why is Michigan such a great place for ice sailing and what was the reaction from participants? 

A: Michigan is a great state for the sport because it has so many frozen lakes. The Great Lakes are especially great with the unobstructed wind.  Michigan also has a lot of open space with snow which can also be great places to snow sail.

We’ve had rave reviews from event participants from across the globe that Michigan is ideal for ice sailing and we have to agree. Next year, we are hoping to add a fourth class of “ice boaters” to the event and nearly 50 participants are already interested.

Q: Where are some great places in Michigan to go ice sailing?  What is your favorite place? 

A: One of the best places is St. Ignace right near the Mackinaw Bridge and it really a great setting, but any frozen lake is great place to go.

Q: What are some of your other favorite winter activities?  

A: I also enjoy snow kiting, skiing, snowboarding and skating.

Q: What do you love about a Michigan winter?   

A: You can be active and still stay cool while doing winter activities.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do or place to go after a long day ice sailing?  

A: Going in the Traditional Sauna that we had built on the ice in St. Ignace. When you’re done sailing for the day it feel s great to warm up and we bring the traditional, all wood sauna right out on the ice. We also have ice bowling out there too and it’s a lot of fun too.

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

Dan Hill is president of Action Sports Enterprises and is hopeful to make Michigan the next “World Cup” for wind sailing. Find out more about Ice Sailing and Dan at www.wintersailingcup.com  and www.iceandsnowsailingfestival.com for advice and equipment.

2012 World Ice and Snow Sailing Championships in Pure Michigan

Last week, the 2012 World Ice and Snow Sailing Championships were held in St. Ignace. For those of you that are not familiar with ice sailing or would just like to know more, check out this blog post from earlier in the month that explains the championships and how ice sailing works. More than 40 athletes from 12 countries were represented at the championships (including participants from Bulgaria and Cuba, the first time those countries participated). We caught up with Dan Hill, president of Action Sports Enterprises and the coordinator of the 2012 World Ice and Snow Sailing Championships to get a recap.

Opening Ceremonies

The opening ceremonies were a festive affair, with many leaders of the St. Ignace community, including Mayor Paul Grondin, in attendance. Members of the Ojibwa Indian tribe were on hand and played a big role in the festivities. They cooked a big meal and did a friendship dance with all the athletes and Indian drummers and hoop dancers from Arizona also performed. The event also revealed a Traditional Finnish wood sauna that was placed on the ice for free use for anybody looking to keep warm. The opening ceremonies also honored Heath Robinson, a Navy Seal who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011.

School Support

There was a great surprise during the week, as a class of schoolchildren stopped by to meet the athletes, who entertained the students by pulling them on sleds and talking about their countries and culture. The event was such a success that later in the week, all classes in grades 1-8 stopped by to meet the athletes. The students also made posters for the athletes to take home. For many of the athletes, it was the highlight of the week.

Closing Ceremonies

The wing used in ice sailing looks very similar to an eagle’s wing. For the closing ceremonies, a member of the Ojibwa tribe took a block of ice and carved a wing with the logo of the championships right onto the ice. A chef also made Bananas Foster and other desserts that incorporated fire to give the closing ceremonies a fun “fire and ice” theme.

The support from the St. Ignace community was fantastic and the North American championships will be held in St. Ignace next year. For more information about the championships and to see results from the races, check out the World Ice and Snow Sailing Championships Web site.