A Distinguishing Winter Ritual – Celebrating 26 Years of Marquette’s UP 200 Sled Dog Race

The UP 200 is one of America’s premier 12-dog, mid-distance sled dog races. Mushers say this is one of their favorite races, not only because of the challenging race, but because of the cheering crowds and warm welcome they receive in the Upper Peninsula.

up200finishHappening February 11th-15th, The UP 200 trail covers 240 miles of challenging terrain through the areas of Marquette, Grand Marais, Wetmore, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and finishes at Mattson Lower Harbor Park in Marquette. Today, Barry Winslow from Travel Marquette tells us how you can make the UP 200 a winter ritual of your own.

Crowds gather along the race track which is comprised of the pure snow hauled into Marquette’s downtown streets. Spectators clutch Irish coffee and hot cocoa. Voices and laughter mingle with the excited yipping of the dogs. It’s time for the race to begin. It’s time for the UP 200.

For twenty-six years, mushers and their teams have endured the UP 200 and its scenic trail that runs along the frozen shore of Lake Superior, from Marquette to Grand Marais and back. For the mushers, it’s a chance to test their dogs in the Iditarod qualifying race. For the spectators, it’s a time to enjoy the wintry weather and local culture of this Upper Peninsula city.

A Communal Gathering
For the spectator, the UP 200 is more than an incredible and unique sporting event to watch from a distance. The event is a social catalyst that sparks the forging of a special relationship between the area and its people. Winter is a season that Marquetter’s take very seriously, and the apex of that seasonal appreciation is achieved at the UP 200 every February. This special relationship between the area and its people is replicated by that of the mushers and their relationship with their sled dogs. It is this outstanding appreciation for nature and a tightly-knitted community that makes Marquette County the perfect location for the UP 200.

Photo courtesy of Travel Marquette

Photo courtesy of Travel Marquette

Pristine Cuisine!
From Das Steinhaus to Lagniappe Cajun Creole Eatery to the Wild Rover, race fans eat their fill and get their thrills as they watch the teams of dogs both start and finish the UP 200 from the packed sidewalks and downtown storefronts in Marquette. Marquette, the largest city in both Marquette County and the Upper Peninsula, is home to some of the most delicious local restaurant options in the state of Michigan. A wide array of cuisine choices include authentic German food, delicious Cajun dishes, home-cooked Irish plates, delectable Italian pasta’s, slow-cooked barbecue, fine American dining and so much more.

Marquette takes great pride in their local restaurants, which stems as a direct result of its people, the “small-city” size of Marquette, and the passion for the area that its residents and visitors have. But, with great food there must be great beverages to go along. Marquette County is home to some of the greatest beer in not only the state of Michigan, but all of the country.

Peruse Some Brews!
The UP 200 draws a generous crowd to the five microbreweries in Marquette County. One of the favorites has to be the Ore Dock Brewing Company. Built in an old brick building in downtown Marquette that once functioned as a car garage and dealership, the Ore Dock has re-stylized itself as one of the trendiest venues in the state to grab a beer and dance to some live music. Specializing in Belgians, Saisons and Ales, the Ore Dock delivers a delicious beer menu to go along with the friendly atmosphere.

Photo courtesy of Travel Marquette

Photo courtesy of Travel Marquette

Another UP 200 spectator favorite is Blackrocks Brewery. Located just up the hill from downtown on north Third Street, Blackrocks started up their microbrewery operation in an old two story house in 2010. What started as an “open ‘til empty” policy with their original brewing equipment and smaller capacity is now a full-fledged brewing business with a weekly rotating menu and additional canning facility. Stop in and grab a mug of the good stuff. You never know what’s going to be on tap!

There’s even more beer in the area. The Vierling serves up some delicious varieties from their downtown Marquette location and has been doing so since 1995, making them one of Michigan’s first brew pubs. Ask for their “blueberry beer” and you’ll be in for a treat! Even in the small suburb of Harvey, Chocolay River Brewery recently hit the scene and doubles with the Bayou Restaurant to deliver excellent food and beer at even better prices.

A Progressive Northern City
Beyond the downtown nightlife, breweries, local restaurants, storefronts and boutiques, there is something even more special about Marquette. The shining gem of this incredible place is the comforting aura it gives off and the unwavering attitude of its people. It is a passion for place that drives the people of Marquette County to host such incredible events as the UP 200.

Do yourself a favor and make the trip north to Marquette County this winter. The sled dogs and mushers are ready…are you?

Mild Winter, Wild Adventure. Two Dog Sled Experts Chime In

Dog sledding in Michigan is a wild winter adventure. The hot breath of the pack fogs the crisp winter air as they pull you with focused determination across the glistening landscape. While the winter weather of 2015 has been mild, two dog sledding experts share what you can look forward to when the snow finally sticks and how these dogs are training in the meantime.

Photo Courtesy of Gena Dewey

Photo Courtesy of Gina Dewey

Gina Dewey – Shemhadar Dog Sled Adventures

When we tell people we’re dog sledders, they’re always amazed to find out that there are actually races in Michigan.  Not only that, but people are often surprised they can find a dog sled race in one of three places each weekend of January and February.  As a recreational musher, I am thrilled to find sporting events that I can race or partake in and also gather with other mushers who love the unique sport. And although I am a dog sledding enthusiast, I’ve heard from many spectators that just watching these races is more fun than they could have ever imagined.

The two main clubs in Michigan for dog sledding are M.U.S.H. (Mid Union Sled Haulers and G.L.S.D.A. (Great Lakes Sled Dog Association). While both are open to beginning and recreational mushers, G.L.S.D.A. also invites the professional musher and races for a prize.  Our family of mushers began with M.U.S.H. and thought that we would eventually switch to faster and longer races, but after 12 years, have been content each season to race with M.U.S.H. and enjoy our trophies of a shirt or hat.

Dog sledding is a sport that can be challenging in many ways.  One of the first things our family saw when we started was the necessity of team work.  We need each other to get the dogs ready, get them to the starting shoot and bring them back to the trailer at the finish. We have all learned this valuable lesson, as we realized how important this lesson is to children and decided it was worth the time, money and effort for our whole family to race.

While learning these lessons, we have enjoyed each season competing with our dogs and making memories as a family.  Our challenge to you is to find a race to attend this winter and make a memory of your own!

Photo Courtesy of Gena Dewey

Photo Courtesy of Gina Dewey

Tasha Stielstra – Nature’s Kennel Sled Dog Racing and Adventures

During this time of year, I usually find myself writing about our sled dogs heading down snow covered trails in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  But, as everyone knows, this has been a tough start to the winter season for all of us in the “snow business”.   Well, luckily dogs don’t check the forecast and every day is a great day to go for a run—snow or no snow!

When we don’t have snow, we have the dogs pull an ATV/four wheeler.  The dogs don’t care what they are hooked to as long as they get to pull and run.  We have even done a few “El Niño” tours this December where our guests ride with the sled dogs via ATV instead of dog sled.  And though we prefer snow, people still get to work with the dogs, learn how we train them, and get to have a taste of real dog power as 16 sled dogs pull them down the trail.

The scenery is still beautiful, the dogs still happy and the hot chocolate – delicious!  It’s just not as white as any of us would expect in mid-December in Upper Michigan.  But hey, aren’t dogs are color blind?!

It may even sound strange, but if we aren’t going to have at least 6-8 inches of snow on the ground to use a dog sled, then we like the temperatures to be stay well above freezing so that the ground stays softer and isn’t frozen; jumbled dirt and ice can really damage a sled dogs’ feet.  So in that respect, December was still pretty good for training “ATV” dogs.

Photo Courtesy of Tasha Stielstra

Photo Courtesy of Tasha Stielstra

We are still preparing two competitive race teams this year for two of the toughest sled dog races in the world.  For the first time in history, a sled dog kennel from the lower 48-states (proudly from Michigan) will have both a team in the 1000 mile Yukon Quest (run by our race team member Laura Neese) and a team in the 1000 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (run by kennel owner Ed Stielstra).  The fickle weather has provided great preparation for these endurance races as there are plenty of situations where there is minimal snow and tough terrain along the 1000 mile route.

While operating a winter-based tourism business has made me a little nervous thus far, I’m optimistic that winter will come and our memories of green trails will be long forgotten as our guests are whisked away by a team of sled dogs on a magical winter ride.  I’ve been in the winter tourism business for over fifteen years and I’ve learned that there is only one thing we can’t control: the weather.  So in the meantime we control what we can; we keep the smiles on our dog’s faces, keep our spirits high and keep promoting what we love best about this state: Pure Michigan Winters!

Have you ever taken part in a dog sled adventure in Michigan? Share with us below!

Professional Gina Picture

 

Gina Dewey and family own Shemhadar Dog Sled Adventures in Cadillac.  We are recreational mushers, who love to race, but also like to share our love for the sport, by giving tours at our kennel.  

 

 

IMG_0037Tasha Stielstra is co-owner of Nature’s Kennel 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 of their touring business, while Ed manages and races with their competitive racing team.  Check out their website and Facebook page!

 

 

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

Zipline3

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.