Minnesotans are prepared to show the world how to have fun no matter what the temperature this winter.
With the national spotlight of the Super Bowl, and the Great Northern Festival stitching together the metro area’s signature outdoor events Jan. 24-Feb. 4, expect an extra boost of enthusiasm and attendance at parks, lakes and other gathering places.
Red Bull’s Crashed Ice race on skates arrives first, stoking adrenaline Jan. 19-20 with its jumps, steep curves and inevitable wipeouts in the heart of St. Paul. It’s followed by Great Northern anchors: the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships at Lake Nokomis (Jan. 25-28); St. Paul’s Winter Carnival (beginning Jan. 25); and the Loppet in Minneapolis, an urban cross-country ski festival that also incorporates snowshoe, dogsled, skijoring and fat-tire bike races (Jan. 27-Feb. 4.)
Throw in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon (the longest one south of Canada), Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza (world’s largest charitable ice-fishing contest) and the American Birkebeiner (North America’s largest Nordic ski marathon) across the border in Wisconsin. What we have is the epicenter for cold-sport worshippers.
It won’t hurt that the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Feb. 8-25, will keep the inspiration going with everything from ski-jump acrobatics to the precision of curling. If the latter sparks an interest, Team USA’s list of curling competitions (teamusa.org) prove Minnesota and Wisconsin rule for indoor ice sports, too.
Here’s a sampler for outdoor fun in the next few months:
Light up the season (Saturday)
Learn how to add a glow to a winter’s night with Ice Luminaries 101 from 10 to 11 a.m. at Fort Snelling State Park in St. Paul. These are the same ice sculptures used for the park’s New Year’s Eve Candlelight Walk. Close to three dozen state parks throughout Minnesota offer candlelight hikes (boot or snowshoe) or skiing throughout the winter. Another option: Check out full-moon hikes near the beginning of each month. (dnr.state.mn.us)
Mark the new year on the slopes (Dec. 31)
Afton Alps, which has three new runs among its 48 trails and four terrain parks near Hastings, hosts a family-friendly event. There will be live music, fireworks at 9 p.m., and lifts open until midnight. (aftonalps.com) Buck Hill in Burnsville also shoots off fireworks on New Year’s Eve. (buckhill.com)
Gather ’round the fire (Dec. 31)
Families can go sledding and then make s’mores at a bonfire from 12:30 to 4 p.m. at Richardson Nature Center at Hyland Lake Park Reserve through the Three Rivers Park District (threeriversparks.org). The nature center offers a variety of free family programs from 3 to 4 p.m. most Sundays throughout the winter.
Start 2018 with a hike (Jan. 1)
Start the New Year with fresh air and exercise. More than a dozen state parks host First Day Hikes. New this year is an option to head underground for a balmy 50 degrees at Forestville Mystery Cave State Park in Preston, Minn., for a rare wintertime tour. Look for hike and tour details at dnr.state.mn.us.
See ice climbers do their thing — and try it (Jan. 5-7)
Climbers of all skill levels converge once a year at Sandstone Ice Fest for a full weekend of educational clinics 90 miles north of the Twin Cities. The event also includes demos of new gear, skipulks, skijoring and winter camping; equipment swaps and sales; a chili cookoff; and a chance to get onto the iced-covered Robinson Quarry cliff. (sandstoneicefest.com)
Devoted to snow (Jan. 19-20)
Skiers can register for a range of contests, from 2- kilometer skijoring to a 26K freestyle or classic race at Hyland Lake Park Preserve’s Ski Rennet. Fatbikers can race, too. The event includes food vendors, winter sport demos, live music, and 5K of man-made snow if needed. (threeriversparks.org/skirennet)
Fish, fly kites, get running (Multiple events, Jan. 27)
• One of the state’s biggest spectacles — 20,000 holes drilled into Hole in the Day Bay on Gull Lake — can be seen about 10 miles north of Brainerd during the Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza. More than 800 fish were caught at the event in 2017. The top catch, a 5.5-pound northern pike, nabbed a new truck as the prize. (icefishing.org)
• For a colorful, free outing, head to the Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival from noon to 4 at Lake Harriet Park. It’s also a chance to try out snowshoeing, ice fishing, roast marshmallows, ride in a horse-drawn wagon and check out the Art Shanty Projects. (minneapolisparks.org)
• Layer up for the St. Paul Winter Carnival’s Securian Winter Run through downtown. Races range from a 5K to a half-marathon for teens and adults, while children 10 and younger can run in the new (and weatherproof) Skyway Scamper. (wintercarnival.com)
Head north for sled dogs (Jan. 28-31)
More than 500 volunteers stretched between Duluth and Grand Portage support more than 60 sled-dog teams that race in the Beargrease sled dog race. Some teams log 400 miles as they travel up the North Shore and back again, commemorating how the mail was delivered until the first road was built in the 1890s. (beargrease.com)
Soaring on skis (Jan. 30)
Watch elite daredevils plunge down the ski jump in Bloomington and launch skyward during the International Ski Jumping Competition. (facebook.com/mnskiclub)
Ski and cycle in Mora (Feb. 10-11)
Racers strap on their skinny skis for Mora’s Vasaloppet USA with two courses (and snow-making machines if needed) that let them compete in distances up to 58K the first day. Races on Feb. 11 include a mini-loppet for children, fatbike race and skijoring. (vasaloppet.us)
Drawn to birds (Feb. 16-18)
Field trips throughout the Sax-Zim Bog Birding Festival guide folks through the “Arctic Riviera” in search of redpolls, snow buntings, great gray owls and crossbills in this bog west of Duluth. Other trips include fanning out near Duluth and the North Shore. (saxzimbirdingfestival.com)
A fish with a festival (Feb. 22-25)
The annual International Eelpout Festival is a celebration on Leech Lake of the homely fish nicknamed “freshwater cod.” (eelpoutfestival.com)
Skiing epicenter (Feb. 22-25)
The American Birkebeiner Weekend is back, coming off a year in which warm weather canceled the prestigous event. The marathon 50K and 55K races out of Cable, Wis., roll toward the finish of cheers and cowbells in downtown Hayward. (birkie.com)
Lisa Meyers McClintick (lisamcclintick.com) is a St. Cloud-based writer.