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? 

Pure Michigan February 2014 Fan Photos

Lingering snow and ice led to stunning scenery in Pure Michigan this February. Our fans had a busy month exploring ice caves, frozen falls, snow-covered trails and more! We received some fantastic photos from our Pure Michigan Facebook community this February. Here’s a gallery of just a few of our favorites from the month. For more fan photos, be sure to visit our Pure Michigan Flickr page.

Which photo from February is your favorite?

Exploring the Eben Ice Caves in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Today, featured blogger Jesse Land of Things To Do in the U.P. tells us how to have a fantastic Pure Michigan winter adventure at the Eben Ice Caves in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

Photo courtesy of Habibi Photography

The Eben Ice caves in Marquette County are one of Michigan’s prime winter attractions. Each winter, once the ice caves start to freeze up (usually sometime in December), visitor’s flock to the tiny town of Eben Junction to see the ice caves and, while they’re out there, support local businesses like the Eben Ice Caves concession stand, the Rock River Cafe and the New Moon Tavern.

Eben Ice Caves – The Basics

The “Rock River Canyon Ice Caves” better known as the Eben Ice Caves, form when melting snow runs over the edge of a small cliff and freezes, forming “ice caves” Much like the large ice formations along Munising’s Grand Island and parts of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, if you were to visit here in the summer you would see little to no water running over the edge.

It’s the perfect combination of a slow snow melt and frigid temperatures that causes these “caves” of ice to form.

The Hike to the Caves

Photo courtesy of Things to Do in the U.P.

This isn’t an attraction where you can pull up in your car, walk a few feet and be done. It’s not a long hike, but yes, you will have to get out and stretch your legs. And for the pet owners out there, yes, the area is pet friendly. Each time I’ve visited the ice caves I’ve seen more than a few dogs on the trail.

The hike from the parking area to the ice caves is about .75 miles. The first .25 mile stretch is a very flat walk through a farmer’s field. And just a note on that, the farmer allows people like you and me to pass through the field at no charge and if the kind family that owns the land ever stopped allowing this, the hike to the ice caves would be much longer. In addition to that, the land owners now offer portable bathrooms in the parking area at no charge. So, show your thanks by purchasing a hot beverage or a snack at their concession stand if you’re able!

A Word on Snowshoes and Ice Cleats

Photo courtesy of Things to Do in the U.P.

After a foot of snow got dumped on the area just two days before my recent visit, I asked a friend who lives in nearby Chatam if I should bring snowshoes. “It’s never a bad idea to bring the shoes,” he said, “but I”m guessing it’ll be packed down by then.”

He was right. Snowshoes would have only made the hike more difficult. So if you have them, bring them in case you happen to visit right after a big snowstorm. Otherwise, wear ice cleats.

Some form of ice cleats (I like Yaktrax but any of them should help!) can go a long way toward enhancing your Eben Ice Caves experience. Trust me. On any given day, about half the people visiting the caves are wearing cleats, and the other half wish they had them. The main reason is that, with ice cleats, you’re able to walk around inside the ice caves on relatively sure footing. And without them, it’s a little treacherous. The ice inside the caves is very smooth so traditional rubber boots tend to slide around quite a bit.

But another reason to wear cleats is that the trail out to the caves has some steep ups and downs. You’ll see many spots where people slide down hills on their bottoms, and then struggle to get up the other side. In short, if you’re wearing cleats (like myself and my cohorts were on our last outing) you’ll be able to walk right up and down those slippery spots. On my last visit, a college aged girl looked a little stunned as I walked right by her on a slippery hill and said “Oh, so that’s what it’s like when you have traction.”

Okay, enough about the ice cleats. You get the point!

Getting There

Photo courtesy of Habibi Photography

The Eben Ice Caves used to be a little hard to find, but no longer. Just set your GPS for Eben Junction, MI. (Or use Google Maps to find it.) From M-94 in Eben Junction, turn north onto Eben Road and drive about 1.5 miles to Frey Road. Turn right on Frey Road and drive to the end (if you can) or if it’s a busy day just find a spot to park along the road. It’s not unusual to see fifty or more cars parked here on a nice weekend day. Also, Eben Road and Frey Road have yellow signs on them that say “Ice Caves”, so keep an eye out for those.

All in all, though it’s a bit of a drive out to the ice caves, I’d highly recommend checking them out! As far as Michigan ice caves go, these are the most accessible I know of.

Have you been to the Eben Ice Caves? What did you think?

 

Written by Jesse Land of Things to do in the U.P. on behalf of Travel Marquette Michigan.