MINNESOTA = WINTER BUCKET LIST HEAVEN 6 Cold-Weather Adventures
When you introduce yourself as a Minnesotan, people almost always shudder and comment on the bone chillingly cold winters. I usually laugh and play along, I don’t want to let them in on the secret; Minnesota is absolutely awesome in the winter. We might have to let our cars warm up for ten minutes before they are capable of sustaining human life, and we may have had sixty days below zero in the winter of 2013/2014 (twenty-three of those were consecutive, which is totally insane), but we also have some of the coolest culture in the Midwest. People in other states are shivering under thick blankets, binging House of Cards on Netflix all winter and Minnesotans are bundling up and getting out to enjoy all the awesome opportunities their state has to offer. Here’s a list of the ten must do winter activities for anyone who doesn’t mind a little cold (or a lot).
1. John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon
On the 29th of January, hundreds of sled dogs and their mushers will gather in Two Harbors on the shores of Lake Superior for the start of a nearly 400-mile race. The course will take them through the extremely rugged and desolate Sawtooth Mountains of northern Minnesota and finishes several days later. The start is exactly what you would expect of an environment full of ultra high-energy sled dogs and their excited, nervous and rugged mushers. It’s an electric atmosphere, perfect for drinking hot cocoa with a healthy helping of whiskey or peppermint schnapps and treating the girlfriend to a morning full of puppies (always a winner). If you can’t make it to the start of the race, the finish a couple days later is also astounding--and is near a nice warm north-country bar…
2. Lutsen Mountain
If you can’t make it out west to the Rockies or Tetons this year, Minnesota offers an awesome alternative that is an easy three-day weekend trip. Lutsen Mountain is a hidden gem in the Midwest. Offering 95 epic runs serviced by a summit gondola, an incredible view of the truly vast Lake Superior and live music by some of Minnesota’s best artists at Papa Charlie’s bar, Lutsen isn’t just worth the drive…the drive is one of the highlights of the trip. Once you reach Duluth, the next two hours are a gorgeous ride along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Winding roads, tunnels through mountains, small towns and epic vistas will guide you all the way to the resort.
3. Beer Dabbler
“Where we don’t have to worry about keeping the beer cold, but instead have to figure out how to keep the lines from freezing.”
On February 4th, the annual Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival will commence at the Minnesota state fair grounds in the Twin Cities. Over 150 breweries will attend and bring their finest craft beers for you to sample or enjoy a pint of. To pair with the great beer, meat and cheese will also be in abundance, just in case you weren’t sure if this event was Midwest enough. Between sampling great beers and food, you can also enjoy fantastic live music and fun activities on the fair grounds. Trust me, after your 3rd sample of an 11% ABV imperial stout, you won’t mind the cold one bit.
You know that sport you pretty much only see on TV during the winter Olympics? You know…the one with the rocks and the yelling and the guys that are furiously sweeping ice for some reason? That’s curling, and Minnesotan’s are really good at it. Minnesotan’s comprise the current U.S. Olympic curling team, but you don’t have to be a pro to enjoy the sport. In fact, it’s one of only a couple Olympic sports during which you can enjoy a beer while playing. Curling is also super easy and inexpensive to try out, especially in Minnesota. Most clubs offer beginner classes, loaner brooms and sliders, and super discounted first year membership rates if you get hooked. It’s definitely not too late in the season to give it a shot, and it shouldn’t take much convincing to get you to agree that slamming 53 pound rocks into each other, sliding around on the ice and hanging out with talented friends sounds like a blast.
5. Boundary Waters Winter Camping
This one is for the truly epic winter adventurers. Bring your own or rent an all wheel drive car or SUV, and make the drive through the north woods to Ely (Pronounced Ee-lee), Minnesota. Stop at a boundary waters outfitter to rent some hardcore winter camping gear (and maybe hire a guide) before venturing out onto the frozen lakes of the Boundary Water’s Wilderness. To most sane people, winter camping sounds like a death wish, but to those of us who have done it, winter camping is arguably more fun than summer camping. Cross-country skiing or snow shoeing for miles to a wilderness campsite is way easier and more fun than hiking or portaging a canoe. Towing your gear behind you in a sled is far superior to lugging it in a backpack, and allows extra room for a growler of your favorite stout. The cold keeps your food from spoiling, plus there are no mosquitoes to deal with and the bears are usually hibernating…which means significantly less chance of attracting a hungry visitor while cooking your thick-cut peppered bacon over the campfire in the morning. With the right gear, some common sense about dealing with iced over lakes and a good sense of adventure, you can become a below zero hero and have an awesome experience to tell your friends about.
6. Live Music
There are too many huge concerts and talented musicians in Minnesota to fit into one article, but the Minnesota music scene is a perfect winter pastime and absolutely deserves mentioning. For those in the Twin cities, there’s First Ave and a plethora of other great venues where you can find local talent rocking out, serenading or jamming every night. In Duluth and up on the iron range, local bars almost always have someone extremely talented enticing customers to come in from the cold, enjoy a drink and listen to some great tunes. Some of the best live shows you’ll ever see are performances by Minnesota natives like Trampled by Turtles, Charlie Parr, Low and The Four on the Floor (among many, many others). If you want to see all the local talent in one week, come to Duluth for Homegrown Music Festival; a week long bender of packed concerts throughout the city, with small but legendary local bands and big names performing side by side.
Minnesota is at times harsh, cold and inhospitable, but it is also one of the coolest (no pun intended) places to live or visit if you are looking for great adventures and fun times. This winter, get out and enjoy some new experiences. Try curling, enjoy a pint of experimental beer, listen to a new band or go watch some crazy mushers race off into the winter wilderness. Whatever you do, make sure it makes a good story and a great memory.
Mike Myers is a professional pilot, offshore sailboat racer, Porsche enthusiast, and adventure seeker who can usually be found in his favorite hipster coffee shop if he isn’t out chasing life’s next great experience.