"My Michigan" With Snowboarder Nick Baumgartner
STORY BY SPORTS ILLUSTRATED + PURE MICHIGAN
Elite snowboarder Nick Baumgartner competes all over the world, but nothing beats the mountains in his native Michigan. Here are some of his favorite winter destinations across the state.
Snowboarding has taken Nick Baumgartner around the world—literally. He’s carved up virtually every big mountain in the American West, from California to Colorado, and has trained and competed in 20 different countries from Europe to South America. But when he wants to experience true beauty, Baumgartner doesn’t need to leave his home state.
“I've seen some of the most beautiful views in the world,” he says, “And I'm telling you, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan—Lake Superior—is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.”
Born and raised in the “UP” of Michigan, Baumgartner first learned to snowboard with plastic boards on the sledding hill behind his house, and from there graduated to Ski Brule, the local family ski resort in town. From humble beginnings, Baumgartner shredded his way to championships and international medals representing the United States. When he trains with the National Team, based out of ritzy Park City, Utah, Baumgartner makes sure that everyone knows where competitive US skiing was actually born.
“There was a plaque at our headquarters in Park City, and I tell people on the team: ‘You guys know that the ski team started in the UP, right?’” he says. “And they laugh at me like I'm crazy. And then I’d show them that plaque.”
It’s true: Both Baumgartner and the National Team as a whole are technically “Yoopers.” The organization traces its roots to Ishpeming, Mich., which is not far from Baumgartner’s hometown of Iron River, where he still maintains a residence. And Ishpeming is just a few miles from Marquette Mountain, where Baumgartner skied countless times while in college.
Michigan made Baumgartner into a world-class winter athlete, and Baumgartner takes his home state with him everywhere he competes. And when it’s time for recreation, Baumgartner still traverses the Winter Wonderland State (including Traverse City!) for all his cold-weather fun. Here are some of his favorite spots in Michigan, straight from a true Michigan man.
Showing his pride for the UP, Baumgartner loves this ski resort with stunning views of Lake Superior. “This thing is a hidden gem,” he says, before diving into a serious sales pitch. “These are some big claims, but I've been around the world on my snowboard, and on a good powder day, Mount Bohemia is as good as anything that I've ever ridden anywhere on this planet.”
Baumgartner next takes us Downstate to an “amazing” mountain that is just over an hour’s drive from one of Michigan’s cultural hubs, Traverse City. Baumgartner loves to visit year-round: “It's so cool to see how vibrant it is in the winter, even if it is cold.”
Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes
These giant sand formations next to Lake Michigan may seem more suitable for summer, but there’s a secret only locals know: You can actually ski down the sand bluffs. “I was coming back from training camp, and I flew in to for a buddy's wedding nearby,” he recounts. “I had all my gear, so I was like, I know where I'm going. Right over to this bluff I went, and I'm strapping up my snowboard boots, getting my gear on, and then I’m down the hill right down to Lake Michigan!”
This town in the middle of the state is perfect for snowmobiling, one of the most popular winter sports in Michigan. “The snow that they get there is unbelievable,” says Baumgartner. “And the fact that you can get that kind of snow without having to go out West. The snowmobiling is world class and the number of trails that we have up here, I've never seen that.”
Baumgartner’s pick for the most beautiful spot in the world is ideal for adventurous activities. “Ice fishing has always been a fun thing for me and my friends to do because you can just fish, sit there and have a fire, hang out while the ‘tip-ups’ are out.” For those unfamiliar with the art of angling on ice, tip-ups are like passive fishing rods that suspend bait just below a hole in the frozen lake surface. Besides fishing, Superior is also known for its incredible ice caves and ice climbing.
When Baumgartner’s career winds down, he already has a plan for retirement. “When that happens,” he says, “I will be traveling around the state of Michigan riding all these local resorts and I can't wait for it. It’s a pretty amazing place.”
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