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.

Snowmobiling

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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

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? 

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.