PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVE HENKE AND KATHERINE HARRIS
Winter is a state of mind, and we’re just getting warmed up.
It’s cashmere scarves, faux fur vests, and shearling-trimmed boots, which may never actually crunch the snow but will look extremely glamorous while you sip hot toddies by the fire in the chalet. (Not everybody skis in Lutsen.)
Or it’s breathtakingly active: skating, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, flying down a hill on a big tube.
Get moving. As Kare 11 chief meteorologist Belinda Jensen says, “It really makes our long winter so much more enjoyable.” Spoken like a true weather geek, sure, but Jensen doesn’t just play a snow queen (with a whole wardrobe of coats!) on TV. She met her husband, David, on the slopes. Their 9-year-old son, Tanner, is already on a ski team, and 4-year-old Tori is on her way. Says Jensen, “It’s turning into a true family outing and a sport that we all enjoy together.”
Nationwide, winter sport participation is on the rise, and Minnesota is at the forefront of that trend. You can see it on the hills and trails: About 350,000 Minnesotans downhill ski and snowboard, and more than 5 percent of the state’s residents cross-country ski. The enthusiasm is palpable at our many outdoors stores: Minnesotans spent more than $78 million on snow sports equipment, apparel, and accessories last winter—which puts us not far behind coastal states that are more populous and definitely more mountainous.
Technology is making it easier to triumph over the elements. Jackets are thinner, and boots are warmer—function truly has met fashion. Equipment has become more comfortable and stable, so baby boomers are getting back on skis or snowshoes even after knee surgery. Freestyle skis—shorter, curved on both ends, and designed for jumps and tricks—are prompting renewed enthusiasm among young people. As the joke on the slopes goes: The children of snowboarders are rebelling by taking up skiing.
Whether you get outside or cuddle up inside, there are so many ways to make the most of winter. Seize the season! And keep the warm drinks coming.
Cross Country Skiing
Go Nordic. Minnesota was made for cross-country skiing
Minnesota’s glacier-carved landscape is ideal for cross-country skiing. We asked Michael Meehlhause, executive director of the Minnesota Nordic Ski Association, about the best cross-country ski spots in the region. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, purist classical skier or skating machine, there’s a trail to suit your style.
Como Park Ski Center
• If you’ve never cross-country skied before, this park is a great place to start. Ski on lighted beginner trails and intermediate classical and skating trails, or ride the four tow ropes and ski or snowboard down the hills. Lessons and rentals are available. 1431 Lexington Pkwy. N., St. Paul, 651-266-6400, stpaul.gov
Elm Creek Park Reserve
• You’ve gotta love a metro park that makes its own snow! Rent equipment, take a lesson, and kick up your heels on five kilometers of lighted trails. Bonus: There’s a fun snow-tubing hill. 13080 Territorial Rd., Maple Grove, 763-694-2030, threeriversparks.org
Lake Minnewashta Regional Park
• Located about 20 miles west of Minneapolis, this lovely park offers groomed ski trails that wend along the lakeshore and through woodlands and prairie. Ski rentals are available. 6900 Hazeltine Blvd., Chanhassen, 952-361-1500, co.carver.mn.us
Off to the Races
• Minnesota is home to two big Nordic ski events. Locals will flock to the City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis Feb. 4–5. Farther north, the Vasaloppet takes place in Mora Feb. 10–12. It features a variety of events, including a 42K race and a relay race. Whether you ski or not, it’s worth checking out the fun. cityoflakesloppet.com, vasaloppet.us
Wirth Winter Recreation Area
• As if 759 pristine acres of hill and dale weren’t enough, Theodore Wirth Park is home to a very picturesque Swiss chalet for eating Toblerone and warming up after an afternoon of cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or sledding. 1301 Theodore Wirth Pkwy., Golden Valley, 763-522-4584, theodorewirth.org
Tip: Most state parks and trails require a MN Ski Pass ($6 per day or $20 for the season). dnr.state.mn.us
Get The Look:
Bjorn Doehlie jacket ($114.99) from Thrifty Outfitters, thriftyoutfitters.com
Want to feel all warm and fuzzy? Make time for a skate date.
The Depot Rink
•The historic train shed is now an indoor skating rink with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on downtown Minneapolis. $8 for adults, $7 skate rental, 225 3rd Ave. S., Mpls., 612-339-2253, depotrink.com
Wells Fargo WinterSkate at Rice Park
•A storybook outdoor skating experience in the heart of downtown St. Paul. $2 skate rental, Landmark Plaza between W. 5th St. & Market St., St. Paul, 651-228-1664, wellsfargowinterskate.com
"I get excited about playing some outdoor hockey." —Minnesota Wild assistant captain Matt Cullen, who goes to work at the Xcel Energy Center, but still builds a rink every winter in his own backyard.
Try this shoe on for size, and you'll find out why the sport is taking off.
Ask anyone who sells winter gear or works the parks: Snowshoes are stacking up. Try a pair on (yep, right over your boots!), and you’ll understand why. Snowshoeing doesn’t demand the coordination of cross-country skiing. And with the stable base and steady grip of a snowshoe, it’s much easier to walk through deep snow or on ice. Once you get the hang of it, go exploring places you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get to—deep into the woods, up icy peaks, or out on the middle of a frozen lake. “It’s incredibly easy to get into,” says Sam Usem, camping expert for Midwest Mountaineering. “People are much happier in the winter when they get out and enjoy a little bit of sunlight.”
Fort Snelling State Park
•These extensive trails in the heart of the cities where the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers converge offer access to wildlife, great views, and a peek back in time at the nearby historic Fort Snelling military base. 101 Snelling Lake Rd., St. Paul, 612-725-2724, dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks
Lebanon Hills Regional Park
•More than 2,000 acres of land with lakes spanning Apple Valley and Eagan. 860 Cliff Rd., Eagan, 651-554-6530,
Superior Hiking Trail
•This is a more challenging trek. With the leaves off the trees, enjoy unobstructed views of Lake Superior on this 286-mile footpath along the rocky ridgeline from Duluth to the Canadian border. 218-834-2700, shta.org
Get the Look:
Need a winter pick-me-up? Try going downhill.
Like the famous Zen koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” the question of “Why ski without mountains?” cannot be answered fully. Unless, of course, you spent childhood winters on the Hills (Buck, Hyland, and the long-gone Cedar). Only then can you truly understand that skiing is the purest form of winter joy, no matter what the vertical drop.
•So what if the term “alps” is a Matterhorn-size hyperbole? With 18 chairlifts that overlook the bucolic St. Croix River Valley, a gnarly terrain park, and new snowmaking and grooming equipment, Afton is where it’s at. 6600 Peller Ave. S., Hastings, 651-436-5245, aftonalps.com
•At just 310 vertical feet, Buck Hill is proof that attitude is more important than altitude. After all, where else in the Twin Cities can you carve up the same slope as Jean-Claude Killy, Alberto Tomba, Tommy Moe, Lindsey Vonn, Kristina Koznick, and other Olympians once did? 15400 Buck Hill Rd., Burnsville, 952-435-7174, buckhill.com
•The next time you hear a dude bragging about the Bugaboos in British Columbia, ask him if he’s skied on top of the Continental Divide. A short drive from the shores of Lake Bemidji, you can ski the divide on 16 runs, including a Bunyan-sized 2,000-foot run with a Babe-sized 230-foot drop, plus miles of scenic cross-country trails. 19276 Lake Julia Drive NW, Bemidji, 218-243-2231, bvskiarea.com
•Los Angeles has the Hollywood sign; we have the Hyland ski jump to remind us of what life in Minnesota is really all about. Beloved by young skiers and grommets (and the parents who drop them off on Saturday mornings and school holidays), Hyland Ski and Snowboard Area is the epicenter of suburban winter fun. 8800 Chalet Rd., Bloomington, 763-694-7800, hylandski.com
•Just one mile south of Mankato, “the Mount” is tucked into the bluffs of the Minnesota River Valley. With 19 runs, five quad and three double chairlifts, a terrain park, and plenty of lodging nearby, this small but comprehensive ski area is a great place to spend a winter weekend. 20461 State Hwy. 66, Mankato, 800-668-5286, mountkato.com
•For decades, Powder Ridge has been embracing skiers and snowboarders with central Minnesota–style warmth and service. Here, the snow is constantly being groomed and the homemade donuts are always fresh. And, if you’re wondering whether you can rent a helmet, bring a box lunch, or use a laptop in the chalet, the answer is yes, of course. 15015 93rd Ave., Kimball, 320-398-7200, powderridge.com
•Over the St. Croix River and through the Wisconsin woods is charming Trollhaugen (Hill of the Trolls). An easy hour’s drive from the Twin Cities, this family-friendly ski area features a rustic Norwegian-esque lodge, an appealing mix of easy, intermediate, and advanced runs, and one of the area’s best ski and snowboard shops. 2232 100th Ave., Dresser, Wisconsin, 800-826-7166, trollhaugen.com
•Nestled among five ridges with views of the Cannon River and Belle Creek valleys, Welch just may be our prettiest local ski area. And, with 140 acres of terrain and 60 trails served by five quads, one triple, and three double chairlifts, it’s also the most interesting for seasoned skiers and snowboarders. 26685 Co. 7 Blvd., Welch, 651-258-4567, welchvillage.com
•It’s not Crested Butte, but wending your way through Taylors Falls on the way to “Wild,” as regulars refer to it, is a delightful beginning to a day on the slopes. For adults who want to improve their technique both on and off the slopes, Wild offers race leagues, race camps, gate training, and fiercely competitive après-ski festivities. 37200 Wild Mountain Rd., Taylors Falls, 651-465-6365, wildmountain.com
"The fact that you can night ski in Minnesota is such a cool thing. There's no after-school skiing in Colorado." —Three-time Olympics slalom racer Kristina (Koznick) Landa, who went on from Buck Hill to win the world Cup six times. She and her husband, both Minnesota natives, live near Vail with their 1-year-old daughter.
No skills required. Just hop on and go.
Even if balance really isn't your thing, you should still barrel down a big snowy hill at least once this winter. The easy, fun way is snow tubing. Many area ski spots, from Theodore Wirth Park to Trollhaugen, offer separate hills for tubing. Expect to pay about $15 for a two-hour session.
"My favorite winter hobby is ice fishing. It's a great way to enjoy the outdoors during the winter months that give us a very limited amount of daylight." —Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman (and Florida native) Steve Hutchinson
Winter Weekend Trips
Getting away to a scenic resort is sure to chase the blahs away, whether you ski or not.
•The mecca of cross-country ski destinations, Cable, Wisconsin, is home to the Birkebeiner, the largest cross-country ski marathon in North America. Expect to find plenty of ski gurus the week of Feb. 23 when the festivities kick off. birkie.com
•Every year, alpine and downhill ski leagues from all over the state convene at Giants Ridge for their championship races because of the comfortable lodge, well-groomed runs, gorgeous trails, and easy access to the Alpine Bar and Lounge in downtown Biwabik. 6325 Wynne Creek Drive, Biwabik, 218-865-3000, giantsridge.com
•Even before 1976 Olympic bronze medalist Cindy Nelson put Lutsen, her family’s ski resort, on the map, it’s been a favorite of generations of Midwestern families. Long after the snow has melted down south, skiers and boarders eagerly trek up north for warm, sunny spring skiing and stomping to live music at Papa Charlie’s. Ski Hill Rd., Lutsen, 218-663-7281, lutsen.com
•For cross-country skiers, nirvana can be found at Maplelag. Situated on Little Sugarbush Lake, this resort/conference center offers more than 64 kilometers of classical and skating trails, comfortable accommodations, and a never-ending supply of home-baked cookies. 30501 Maplelag Rd., Callaway, 800-654-7711, maplelag.com
•As much as we love Scandihoovian-style ski resorts, we also love the brash urban vibe of Spirit Mountain. Perched on the edge of Duluth, Spirit attracts a colorful, high-energy crowd of skiers, racers, and snowboarders who love catching big lake air in the Midwest’s largest terrain park. 9500 Spirit Mountain Place, Duluth, 218-628-2891, spiritmt.com
Light a fire in your belly this winter with hot food and fill your flask with liquid heat.
We are lucky, yes lucky, to live in an environment that encourages us to pack on the layers for warmth. And by layers we mean lasagna, braised meats, good barbecue, and hot toddies. This is survival, people, and we Northerners know how to do it with style.
•Pack a little heat for the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships Jan. 20–22 on Lake Nokomis. Stop off at nearby Fat Lorenzo’s and net yourself one foil-wrapped Oh Mio Dio hot hoagie. Jammed with beef, giardiniera, Peppadew peppers, and pepperjack cheese, it will warm you from the inside out. 5600 Cedar Ave., Mpls., 612-822-2040, fatlorenzos.com
May Day Cafe
•After you’ve crashed your Star Wars–themed sled at the annual Art Sled Rally in Powderhorn Park, warm up at the May Day Cafe with a freshly baked cinnamon roll and a hot cuppa joe. 3440 Bloomington Ave., Mpls., 612-729-5627; artsledrally.com
•There’s no feed like a post-tubing feed. After screaming down the groomed hills of Maple Grove’s Elm Creek Disc Golf Course, take your rosy cheeks and down-puffed kiddos for a feed where they’re in control. Mongo’s Grill offers all-you-can-eat Mongolian stir-fry, which kids can customize with whatever meat/veg/sauce option they want in a bowl over rice or noodles, or even in a wrap. 11628 Fountains Drive N., Maple Grove, 763-493-2695, mongosgrill.com
•There is no better staycation than a tiki-drenched evening at Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge in Northeast Minneapolis. The “poor man’s paradise” is dripping with waterfalls, wicker, and the crispy dry-rubbed chicken wings of your dreams. Plus, you can drink from Buddha belly mugs! 1900 NE Marshall St., Mpls., 612-788-9069, psychosuzis.com
Saint Paul Farmers’ Market
•Beef and cheese have no season! The Saint Paul Farmers’ Market runs all winter long. Only on Saturdays from 9 am to 1 pm, the market has stalwart vendors offering baked goods, meats, eggs, and other non-produce treats in a relaxed atmosphere. Snack on a bagel sandwich from Golden’s Deli while you shop. 290 E. 5th St., St. Paul, stpaulfarmersmarket.com
Tonka Grill & BBQ
•The best winter gatherings on Lake Minnetonka happen in the ice-fishing houses. You bring beer, the next guy brings a little hooch, and then someone shows up on a sled with beef ribs and pulled pork from Tonka Grill. Now it’s a party. 4016 Shoreline Drive, Spring Park, 952-471-7447, tonkagrillandbbqmn.com
•Puck hunters! Get ready for the St. Paul Pioneer Press treasure hunt and the Winter Carnival with the Cooler Crew at the 14th Annual Pre-Dig Gig. Swap medallion hunt stories, divulge flask recipes, and nosh on old-school Italian from Yarusso-Bros. to fortify your finely tuned digger’s body. 635 Payne Ave., St. Paul, 651-776-4848, yarussos.com; coolercrew.com
Godiva Chocolate Raspberry Infused Vodka
•Add to hot chocolate for a sweet bump.
Bacardi OakHeart Spiced Rum
•Smooth, smoky, and oaky. Enjoy this straight or add a splash to mulled wine.
Patrón XO Café Coffee Liqueur
•Add to coffee, along with Irish Cream, and garnish with a butterscotch candy.
Revel Stoke Spiced Whisky
•Packed with vanilla and cinnamon flavor, it’s best sipped straight or with a little ginger ale.
Menorval Calvados Prestige Brandy
•The best friend apple cider ever had.
Slope Style & Winter Gear
Thea Zerbe and Tim Rocklage are instructors at Buck Hill. Zerbe, a senior at Edina High School, started skiing at age 3 and made the race team at age 10. She retired from racing this year to focus on college applications. Rocklage, a recent University of St. Thomas grad, has skied and snowboarded recreationally for years. Says Rocklage, “You are free to go as fast or as slow as you’d like, and you can utilize the terrain to express your creativity.”
On Tim: • Neo Spirit Salopette Snow Pants ($360), by Phenix, from Sun & Ski Clothing Outfitters • Orca Jacket ($450), by Phenix, from Sun & Ski Clothing Outfitters • Army Leather Heli Gloves ($115), by Hestra, from Sun & Ski Clothing Outfitters • Supreme Half Zip long-sleeve shirt ($93), by Cross, from Gear West Adrenaline • Hawk 80 Boots ($299), by Atomic, from Hoigaard’s • Blizzard Magnum 7.6 Skis ($699.99), by Intelligent Equipment, from Gear West Adrenaline
On Thea: • Raccoon Fur Hat ($129), by Bogner, from Sun & Ski Clothing Outfitters • Goggles ($164.95), by Smith Sport Optics, from The House Boardshop • Jacket ($1,099), by Bogner, from Sun & Ski Clothing Outfitters • Bodyfit 260 Tech Top long-sleeve shirt ($110), by icebreaker, from Midwest Mountaineering • Snow pants ($580), by Bogner, from Sun & Ski Clothing Outfitters • Viva Phoenix Boots ($249.99), by Tecnica, from Hoigaard’s • Ski poles ($39.95), by Chicstyle, from Hoigaard’s
Katherine Gerdes and David Schatschneider are snowboard instructors at Afton Alps. You may recognize Gerdes from Project Runway—she was the first Minnesota designer on the show, back in 2006. Now she’s the pastry and sous chef at Hell’s Kitchen. Schatschneider works at Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op. Both count the seconds until they can get back on a board. Says Schatschneider, “Flying down a hill as fast as you can is like meditation.”
On Katherine: • Jacket in Risque Flowers ($159.95), by Burton, from Summit Boardshop • Better Sweater Jacket in Lemon/Lime ($129), by Patagonia, from Patagonia • Indulgence Pants in Twilight ($139.95), by Burton, from Hoigaard’s • Mittens in Risque Flowers ($39.95), by Burton, from The House Boardshop • Vapen Boots ($199.95), by Nike, from The House Boardshop
On David: • Pants ($170), by Holden Outerwear, from The House Boardshop • Superfine long-sleeve Tech T Lite shirt ($70), by icebreaker, from Midwest Mountaineering • Shirt in Mojito Hawthorne Plaid ($89.95), by Special Blend, Summit Boardshop • X Starter Jacket in Astro Turf ($199.95), by Burton, from Summit Boardshop • 86 FT Joe Sexton Boots ($159.99), by thirtytwo, from Summit Boardshop • RED Trace Helmet ($54.95), by Burton, from Hoigaard’s • Platoon Goggles ($144.99), by Spy, from Hoigaard’s
Get It Here:
Gear West Adrenaline: 2435 Wayzata Blvd. W., Long Lake, 952-473-0377, gearwest.com
Hoigaard’s: 5425 Excelsior Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-929-1351, hoigaards.com
Midwest Mountaineering: 309 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-339-3433, midwestmtn.com
Patagonia: 1648 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-698-1703, patagonia.com
The House Boardshop: 200 S. Owasso Blvd. E., St. Paul, 866-243-6932, the-house.com
Must-Have Winter Gear
From running errands to camping in the snow, winter requires gear. Here are some of our must-haves—and a couple we just plain want.
• Camp: Avoid the crowds and the mosquitoes while you enjoy the great outdoors. This sleeping bag will keep you toasty warm in extreme cold. CWM Membrain bag ($718.95), by Marmot
• Chop: When camping or trekking in the cold, you’ve gotta have an ax. And it looks cool. Small Forest Axe ($118.95), by Gränsfors Bruks
• Drink: No matter what your pursuit, it should include hot coffee. Two Cup Vacuum Thermos ($27.95), by Stanley
• Wear: Keep warm without the poof. Jackets keep getting lighter, thanks to technology such as Columbia’s Omni-Heat thermal reflective liner. It’s so thin, you won’t believe it’s 700 fill down. Reach the Peak women’s jacket ($180), by Columbia
• Dig: Like Dad always said, “Be prepared.” This compact shovel is perfect to keep in the car or pack on hikes. Snow shovel ($44.95), by Black Diamond
• Stomp: Running out to grab the mail, or in the chalet after skiing, the ultimate in practical winter boots is also a timeless fashion statement. ($129.95), by Sorel
• Grip: Extra traction helps, whether you’re in parking lots or walking across lakes. These proven grips stretch on to any boot. ($29.95), by Yaktrax
Winter Adventures with Garrison Keillor
“I grew up along the Mississippi and when the ice froze, whether it was smooth or rough, we took a toboggan and made a mast with a painter’s drop cloth half wound around it for a sail and flopped on the toboggan and hoisted the mast and let out some sail and if there was any wind, we took off at high speed. It was fairly terrifying, or exhilarating, or both, and so was the steep drop of a sledding hill that shot you halfway across the river. We could while away a whole winter afternoon doing that, and then I was 13 and too old for it. I didn’t have so much fun again until 1987 when I went up north and drove a snowmobile for the first time. Raced through birch woods and fell in with a drinking crowd and stood outdoors in -30 [degree] weather drinking cognac and singing bawdy songs and I followed the others to a sauna where a dozen of us sat naked in a small hut with hot rocks. All that flesh wedged in tight, men and women, slippery with sweat, and then someone yelled, and we tumbled out into the snow in the moonlight, and went back in. A sensual but asexual experience. And afterward a sleeping bag on a motel room floor and a deep, deep sleep.”