5 Extreme Winter Sports that Michigan Does Best

We’ve teamed up with Expedia Viewfinder to spotlight some of the most adventurous winter sports to try in the Great Lake State this season.

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Cold weather doesn’t bring life in Michigan to a halt. In fact, a whole new array of activities open up during the winter months. Strolling along the chilly beaches of Grand Haven or attending the Motown Winter Blast festival in Detroit can certainly be fun for visitors and locals alike. But those looking for something more rugged, more exhilarating, can push the envelope on adventure.

At Expedia Viewfinder, we love discovering adrenaline-pumping, thrill-inducing activities during our travels, so we joined forces with Pure Michigan to reveal some of the most extreme sports to try in Michigan this winter:

Ice Climbing

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When it’s too cold to scale a mountain, try a frozen waterfall instead. Ice climbing is one of Michigan’s more extreme winter activities, and it’s not for the faint of heart. With ice axes, a belay system, and pure grit, climbers methodically ascend these arctic pillars to reach spectacular snowy summits. Over the past few years, the sport has increased in popularity and Michigan is arguably the best location to ice climb in the U.S. In particular, Lake Superior in Munising is a climber’s utopia, with hundreds of frozen waterfalls ranging from 20 to 200+ feet in height.

Ice Luge

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On the shores of Lake Michigan, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex offers ice luge for mere mortals who’d like to pretend to be Olympians. Not to be confused with the bobsled, the ice luge is flat with two steel runners; it’s built for riders to recline on their backs and steer with their legs and shoulders. One of only four luge tracks in the U.S., the Sport Complex’s track welcomes the general public and provides a rare opportunity to try this velocious sport. The experience is exhilarating as riders hurtle feet-first down the 850-foot track, reaching speeds up to 30 mph (Olympic athletes reach speeds of 80 to 90 mph).

Ice Diving

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One little-known fact about Michigan is that it offers some of the best shipwreck diving in the world. Thousands of sunken ships rest quietly at the bottom of the Great Lakes, some dating back to the 1600s. And it just so happens that the best time of year to view these wrecks is in winter, when the ice coating Lake Michigan acts a sealant against wind, boats, and people who stir up the lakebed. In other words, visibility is best in winter and that’s when you’ll see formidable ice divers chainsaw their way through the surface to sink into the watery world below. An advanced form of scuba diving, ice diving requires a special suit and equipment (and yes, a dive certification is mandatory). But the gear is well worth the experience of drifting through the water to view an elegant schooner or hulking freighter, eerily peaceful and frozen in time.

Ice Sailing

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Called “wind dancing” by some, ice sailing pairs a wing, kite, or sled with a snowboard, skis, or skates. This adds complexity and speed to some favorite winter sports and makes for an addicting challenge. Ice sailing can be done anywhere there is wind and snow or ice, but Michigan is a paradise due to its many frozen lakes—there’s lots of space to play. Ice sailors describe the feeling as energizing and sublime as they harness the wind’s power to glide across the ice.


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In the Great Lakes State, hiking boots are swapped out for snowmobiles during the winter. With over 6,500 groomed, interconnected trails, Michigan takes its motor-powered adventures seriously. One of only three states that offers such an extensive system of trails, snowmobilers can explore miles and miles of picturesque, exciting terrain. Ideal for an extreme winter group activity, visitors can speed over frozen lakes and through national forests to see sights that are often hidden in warmer months.

As the weather cools and the snow falls, Michigan turns into a magnificent playground for the outdoor adventurer. Plan a visit this season to try out (or watch) these extreme winter sports in beautiful Michigan.

Written by Expedia Staff Writer

See What It’s Like to Paddleboard on Icy Lake Michigan

Today, filmmaker and videographer Seth Haley shares what it was like to film adventurous Lake Michigan paddle boarders amidst the serene frozen beauty of a Pure Michigan winter.

Photo courtesy of Seth Haley

Photo courtesy of Seth Haley

As Michiganders, we all know that famous saying which goes something along these lines, “If you don’t like the weather in Michigan, wait a day or two. It will change.” And as the weather changes, the mood changes too.

I moved back to Michigan early last year and took up residence in St Joseph. The lake had captured me long ago, before I ever moved away. But now, I live close enough to see it and experience it every day if I wanted. Everything about it was a kind of homing device–its waves, its calm; the way it looked on a warm, sunny day, as quiet and bright blue as the Caribbean; its grey, threatening anger; its dynamic nature—kind of like Michigan itself, a study in contrasts.

Photo courtesy of Seth Haley

Photo courtesy of Seth Haley

As a filmmaker of an adventurous sort, I make it my business to be out at the lake as often as I can. There is something immensely satisfying in experiencing the lake and capturing whatever mood it happens to offer and then showing it to as many people as care to look.

Shortly after the New Year rolled in on a Sunday afternoon, I was out at the lake with a friend, Karol (Carl) Garrisons. Karol is a reserve coast guard with many years of experience rescue swimming and dealing with cold water temperatures. Suited up in a 6/5 millimeter wetsuit, Karol was out with his surfboard, catching some of the huge waves that had developed over the course of the day. Not a particle of ice could be seen beside the icicles in his beard, but that was all about to change. A storm was brewing. Over the course of the week, the snow came down and the winds blew. Temperatures dropped into single digits. By Friday, the lake was covered with ice as far as the eye could see.

I walked out on our ice-covered pier the next day, careful of my footing. The ice over the water creaked around me. The temperatures were warming, and already the lake had begun to morph. The ice was beginning to breaking up. I looked out over the stark white ice as huge chunks almost imperceptibly swelled up and down, pulsing like a heartbeat, and an idea struck me. A lone figure out in the water juxtaposed against the freezing landscape—now that would be an image to capture.


Photo courtesy of Seth Haley

On my way up the bluff from the lake, I texted Karol. “Do you know anyone crazy enough to go kayaking among glaciers?” (Never mind the faulty terminology. Chalk it up to my excitement!) Turns out, he did. As we planned, the kayaking idea changed to paddle boarding since paddle boarding isn’t something you see a lot of around here in the winter.  Better and better.

The next day, Karol and I headed out to the lake with Josh Nowicki, a local photographer. Josh spends a lot of time photographing the lake and has a massive portfolio of photographs and his own wetsuit to prove it. Intrigued by our plan, he came along to hang out and take pictures. But it wasn’t long before the lake’s pull got to him, too, and he ventured out into the icebergs right along with Karol. Even as we filmed, we could see the lake changing in front of our eyes. Icebergs floated past Karol’s board as the ice opened up and slid out of our bay.


Photo courtesy of Seth Haley

Three hours later, we had some of the most incredible and exciting footage I have ever been privileged to shoot. I knew right then, that showing Michigan in all of its moods, all of its weather, and all of its seasons was something I had to do. Instead of hunkering down when the cold blasts in, I want to be out there in it. Instead of running for cover when thunderheads gather over the lake, I want to film them as they unfold and break over our heads. Instead of just sunbathing on the beach, I want to capture the waves breaking against the lighthouse and share them with anyone who wants to see what it is to experience Michigan.

Check out Seth’s unforgettable footage below!

Seth Haley is an outdoor adventure filmmaker, always on the hunt for new ways to fully experience and capture people enjoying Michigan’s changing landscape. Say hello on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or on www.SethHaley.com and maybe your adventure will be his next story.

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?