Embrace the Snow with Winter Sports in Traverse City

In Michigan, winter shouldn’t simply be endured – it should be celebrated! This beautiful state offers hundreds of ways to get outside and enjoy the beauty and enchantment of the season. Here, Mike Norton of Traverse City Tourism explains how he learned to stop shivering and embrace the snow!

Winter and I were not always friends.

I grew up in the city, where this time of year meant dark gray skies, dirty gray slush, icy sidewalks and wet feet. Skiing was something rich people did. Snowshoes were for Eskimos. How could I ever have foreseen how much I’d come to love the winter season once I moved to Traverse City?

Here, winter is a different creature entirely.  Maybe it’s this rolling, glacier-carved terrain with all its wide vistas and high lookouts; maybe it’s the predominance of pine, spruce, hemlock and fir (so much prettier in winter than those scraggly hardwoods). Or maybe it’s just that rural settings are better suited to winter than cityscapes.

The secret, of course, is that you have to embrace winter in all its chilly wonder – and although some people can do this while looking out the window, I find I just have to get outdoors and do something. Doesn’t matter what, really — cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just tramping around in the woods.

And here’s the payoff: to come around a corner on the trail and see a herd of deer raise their heads, steam snorting from their noses as they look at you and silently bound off into the trees. To stand in the moonlight in a forest clearing as a fine dusting of diamond-bright powder sifts through the branches around you. To emerge from the woods onto a high bluff at Sleeping Bear, the broad blue sweep of Lake Michigan below you like a giant polished turquoise, and feel as though you’re the first (or last) person on Earth.

Speaking from personal experience, I know that winter-sports newbies can sometimes be discouraged by all the unfamiliar gear, terminology and techniques they’re confronted with. But really, it’s a lot easier and a lot less expensive than you think. And fortunately, there are all kinds of people and organizations here in the Traverse City area who are eager to help you get into your winter groove.

Actually, it doesn’t take a lot of skill or training to use snowshoes. They’re easy to slip on and off, and they’re less likely to suddenly slide out from under you than skis. That’s why I seem to find myself doing more snowshoeing than cross-country skiing these days. Apparently, I’m not the only one, either, since snowshoeing has become America’s top snowsport choice. Last winter over 5 million Americans strapped on a pair of snowshoes and went for a winter hike, and the sport has grown by around 17 percent each year over the past decade.

Traverse City is full of great places for snowshoeing, and one of the best is just south of town on the Muncie Lakes Pathway.  This scenic DNR trail system along the Boardman River, with its rolling forested terrain and small lakes, is a microcosm of the area’s natural beauty and its special winter delights.

The nice thing about the pathway is that it provides a variety of loops and distances so you can easily customize a snowshoe excursion to meet your own endurance and ability levels.  Distances range from an easy two-mile hike to treks of up to 8 or 9 miles, and it’s always possible to take off cross-country and boldly go wherever you like.  A couple of nice side trips along the pathway include snowshoeing along the frozen Muncie Lakes and out across the ice to visit the small islands that dot the lakes, and accessing overlooks of the Boardman River and valley from high bluffs.

Some of my other favorite trail systems include the trail system at Mission Point at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, the Pelizzari Natural Area off Center Road, the Lost Lake Pathway near Interlochen, the 3,500-acre Sand Lakes Quiet Area near Williamsburg and the Vasa Pathway, one of the finest cross-country ski trails in the Midwest. Inside the city, the 300-acre Grand Traverse Commons features great skiing and snowshoeing in parklike grounds among century-old, European-style buildings and stands of old-growth pines.

But seriously, some of the best snowshoeing in the area is at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which has eight marked trails, some leading up to panoramic overlooks high above the Lake Michigan. I just found out about one that I haven’t tried yet, and as soon as I’ve had a chance to check it out I’ll give you a report.

There are a lot of places in the area where you can rent snowshoes for a small fee, by the way. Brick Wheels, the Don Orr Ski n’ Beach Haus, and GT Cycle are several outlets that have snowshoe rentals available.

Mike Norton spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations manager at Traverse City Tourism. An avid cyclist, kayaker and snowshoer, he lives in the village of Old Mission.

How To Ice Climb a Frozen Waterfall in Michigan

In advance of the Michigan Ice Fest in Munising this January 30th – February 1st,  festival organizer and ice climbing enthusiast Bill Thompson lets us in on some of his tips for ice climbing a frozen waterfall in Pure Michigan. 

In casual conversation when it comes up that I enjoy the sport of ice climbing, the usual response is, “there’s ice to climb in Michigan?” followed closely by “you guys must be crazy”.  The fact of the matter is that Michigan has some of the highest concentration of ice climbs in the country, and no we are not crazy!

Ice Climbing in Michigan has changed a great deal over the years.  Back in the “olden days”, only a handful of climbers danced up routes that seldom saw two ascents in a single year.  Now with the popularity of ice climbing it is common to see climbers “up here” every weekend.

Nestled on the shores of Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers some of the country’s most outstanding ice climbing.  The area is predominately sandstone which rises magnificently up to 200 feet above the shores of Lake Superior which has been shaped over the decades by wind, ice and pounding waves. These cliffs, colored in shades of brown, tan, and green by the iron, manganese, limenite and copper in the water, give the area its name sake.   During the cold winter months, these sandstone cliffs seep water that forms spectacular ice curtains and pillars which ice climbers are drawn to.  Add dozens of true water falls to the mix and suitable climbing conditions December through April and Munising becomes an ice climber’s paradise!

For me the attraction of ice climbing is part location and part sounds.  Image being on the shores of one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, snow lightly falling and not a sole around for miles.  The sound of your ice axe sinks into to the pillar with a confident “THUNK”.  Moving your feet slowly up, crampons biting into the ice, you ascend to a place where few people are privileged to visit.  The sounds, sites and movement are truly addicting.

Now ice climbing isn’t a sport where you run down to your local outdoor store, purchase the gear, and head on out to climb…….now that WOULD be crazy!  The best way to experience the sport to see if you like it is to head on out to the Michigan Ice Fest.  Traditionally held the first weekend in February in Munising Michigan, this grass roots event has been taking place since the early 1990’s, making it one of the oldest Ice Fests in the country.  During Ice Fest there are opportunities to try out the latest climbing gear and clothing, take instructional courses and clinics on a variety of ice climbing-related subjects, as well as interesting and inspiring slide shows from world-class climbers.  If you are an aspiring ice climber- the Michigan Ice Fest should be on your calendar!

With the right training, just about everybody can ice climb.  Many are driven by the challenge, others to the opportunity to experience the unique landscape and beauty of the Upper Peninsula in winter.  Whatever their reasons are, I can assure you that there are thousands of ice climbs in Michigan, a unique opportunity to learn how to do it, and you really don’t need to be crazy to try!

Have you tried ice climbing in Pure Michigan? Tell us about it! 

Bill Thompson is co-author of An Ice Climber’s Guide to Munising, Michigan. For the last 28 years, Bill has lived and climbed in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is co-owner of Down Wind Sports in Marquette and is also the organizer of the Michigan Ice Festival, which draws 400+ climbers to the region annually. Bill enjoys traveling to different climbing destinations nationally or internationally, but can be just as happy cragging locally with his son, Blake. 

15 Reasons to Love Winter in Michigan

Photograph courtesy of John McCormick

Winter has arrived in Pure Michigan! To celebrate the season we asked our fans on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram “What does winter in Pure Michigan mean to you?” 

From skiing and snowboarding to warm fires and hot cocoa, winter means something unique to everyone. Below is a roundup of just some of our favorite responses from fans. If yours is missing, tell us in the comments section below what winter in Michigan means to you!

Finding the perfect tree and having apple cider with the family putting it up.  -Angela Blasingim

When I was a kid in Petoskey and Grand Rapids it meant lots of ice skating!  -D Kay Graham Hostettler

Snowshoeing all over the north woods going to places I can’t get to in the summer because of too much brush. Going right across frozen lakes and ponds – walking on water.  - Starlajane Thunder

Crisp clean air and pretty snow flakes.  -Sandy Little-Wolney

Playing in the snow. Enjoying the beautiful white trees.  - Jackie Daniels

Lots of snow and skiing!  - Instagram user @_rangerous

Pure beauty. We live in a state that gives us the magnificence of all the different seasons and winter brings purity.  - Kaitlyn Smith

Cross country skiing, hot cider, snuggling under covers.  -Dianne Thole

Frozen Lake Michigan with ice as far as you can see.  - John-Carolyn Hinch

Beautiful snow! Crisp fresh air.  - Jill Schultz

Winter in Michigan means long afternoons and evenings on my uncles farm. Roaring fires and playing the piano. Horseback riding with the neighbors. Maybe taking out the four wheelers or ice skating on the pond if it’s frozen enough. Bliss.  - Instagram user @alicialouise5193

Serene beauty.  - Amy Socrainte

A b&b up north in the thumb and keeping warm!   – Twitter user @AmyJoyHagen

My last winter in Michigan was ’77-’78. It was long, cold, and record breaking, but I enjoyed everyday.  - Mike Jackson

Snowboarding. Sitting downtown Traverse City with friends and hot beverages. Seeing my family again while I’m on break from school. Being where I belong.  - Instagram user @klostrowski

Why do you love winter in Michigan