Minnesota may be dubbed the “˜Land of 10,000 Lakes’, but when temperatures drop and waters freeze, the state transforms into a thrill-seeker’s winter wonderland. A frozen metropolis with plenty of adventure opportunities, Minnesota is one of America’s greatest winter sports destinations, especially given its lengthy winters. Fly into Minneapolis and discover the snow-covered delights of the Twin Cities, before exploring the wider state, where beautiful landscapes and action-packed activities await. From cross-country skiing and ice climbing, to dog sledding and ice fishing, the wastes of Minnesota are perfect for adrenaline-fuelled adventures. Whether you want to dust off your skis or try a new sport – skijoring and snow kiting are two particularly intriguing new fads – these are the best winter sports in Minnesota.
Taking a leaf out of its Canadian neighbour’s book, Minnesota has become a hub for Alaskan-style dog sledding. If you’re an animal lover, the only way to traverse the state’s snowy parks is on a sled pulled by huskies. Ely is one of the best sledding locations and day trips are offered by a number of companies, such as Chilly Dog Sled Trips and White Wolf Dog Sled Trips. Make a holiday out of the experience by booking the world’s only dedicated dog sled package at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, and enjoy action-packed days with your canine friends before settling down for the night in a deluxe lakeshore lodge.
Similar to dog sledding but arguably more adventurous, skijoring involves being dragged across the snow by dogs while wearing skis. The sensation is like that of water skiing, except you’re pulled from your waist by bungee lines rather than by holding a bar. Unlike traditional skiing, there are usually no poles to provide balance so it’s quite a challenge, and as your fate lies in the hands of your furry companions being confident with animals is a bonus. Adding fire to the fashionable sport, Itasca State Park has built a 3.5km dedicated skijoring trail. Just remember to yell “˜trail’ when passing another skijorer to avoid a surprise collision.
Pond hockey is one of the most popular winter sports in Minnesota. A picturesque take on traditional ice hockey, this sport is practiced as nature intended – on frozen lakes. Besides location, there are a few key differences between the sports. Firstly, pond hockey rinks are smaller than in ice hockey. There are also no solid barriers to contact flying pucks and there’s often no particular goalie, so it can get a little crazy. Minnesota is a centre for the sport and every January the state hosts the US Pond Hockey Championships at Lake Nokomis. Amateurs can practice on public lakes such as Lake Minnetonka, Lake Bemidji, Pelican Lake and Green Lake.
Ice fishing is just like regular fishing, except in freezing temperatures. Each winter from early December through to March, hoards of fishing fanatics pitch up at Minnesota’s many lakes laden with beers, barbecues, and pick-axes to hack a hole in the ice and wait patiently for their prey to bite. Depending on how clear the ice is, you may not be able to see the catch you’re reeling in until it breaches the surface, which only adds to the thrill. Popular spots include Lake Mille Lacs, Thompon Lake, Beaver Lake and Wolfe Lake. Note that a fishing license must be purchased.
Minnesota is home to 14 snow-covered hills that attract thousands of ski and snowboarding enthusiasts every year. While mountain elevation doesn’t compare to Europe, having a multitude of vastly different ski resorts within a short drive makes it an action-packed stateside alternative. At 1,700 feet, the highest summit is Lutsen Mountain – which is also the largest ski resort in Mid America – with 90 runs over four peaks covering an area of more than 1,000 acres. Another hotspot is Giants Ridge ski resort, which features a mix of downhill runs, cross country trails and a snowboarding park.
With a staggering 22,000 miles of dedicated trails across the state, snowmobiling is one of Minnesota’s best-loved adrenaline sports. Its popularity is, in part, down to the beauty of the region. Trails run through sparking white snowy parks and thick evergreen forests, passing vast frozen lakes and cosy nature lodges where enthusiasts can warm up and exchange stories. Rocketing down trails on a motorised sled also makes for a thrilling rush, whether you feel the need for speed or not.
When the lakes freeze over, so do the waterfalls. Columns of water frozen in motion as they cascade over cliff edges is a beautiful sight to behold and provides an even more exciting climbing opportunity. Two hours north of Minneapolis in Sandstone’s Robinson Park, adventurous climbers can find a wide array of “˜icefalls’ to commandeer. The park also hosts the Sandstone Ice festival, where beginners can sign up for clinics and pros can rent equipment and tackle the ice wall head on.
One of the latest fads to appear in the long list of winter sports in Minnesota is snowkiting. The sport is, essentially, kite surfing on snow instead of water. Strong winds are essential as snowkiters need to harness the power of the wind to propel themselves across the surface or into the sky – if the wind is right, snowkiters can travel hundreds of feet. Snowkiting can be practiced on any wide plain of snow or frozen lake. If you’re not sure where to start, Dynamik Kiteboarding offers lessons on Lake Minnetonka, White Bear Lake, Lake Waconia and Lake Calhoun.
If you’re a keen cyclist, don’t worry – just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean your season is over. Minnesotan bike enthusiasts have found a clever way to adapt to changing seasons by swapping thin road tires to extra-large low-pressure tires that can be used on snow. Due to the width of the tires, the sport has become known as “˜fat biking’ and a number of state parks have created special fat bike trails. In the north, Cuyana County State Recreation Area has 20 miles of premier groomed fat bike dedicated trails, while in the south, Douglas State Park has 13 miles of non-motorised trails that are perfect for the sport.
If you’re staying in Minneapolis, a trip isn’t complete without visiting the city’s famous ice rink, The Depot. Open until early March, the rink is a great family-friendly day out and offers free-skate and instructed lesson options. Once you’ve perfected your skills, there are many frozen lakes across the state where you can take skating to the next level.
Header image: Tubing at Theodore Wirth Park © Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
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Have you tried any of these winter sports in Minnesota? Which was your favourite? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Rachel Ingram