Snow can be dodgy with winter on the doorstep, but there are plenty of outdoor hikes, bike trails and birding activities to get you outdoors as lakes ice up and groomers prepare ski trails. By the time the new year rolls around, be ready for the season’s biggest events with howling sled dogs, the thwack of hockey pucks, skate blades skittering across lakes and the schuss of skiers.



Frozen Frolic Fat Bike Race (ongoing)

A series of rides put together by local bike shops and the Three Rivers Parks District is back. The first race — a trial format racing a 10- to 14-mile single-track loop — is Saturday at Elm Creek Park Reserve. Wednesday night races also are part of the series. There are divisions for men, women and riders 17 and younger. The rides alternate between Elm Creek, Murphy-Hanrehan and Lake Rebecca Park Reserves. Helmets required. Preregistration ends at 5 p.m. Friday for Saturday’s race and midnight on race day for the others. Cost is $20 the day of the race or $50 for all four. Saturday’s race is at 10 a.m.; all others begin at 5:30 p.m. Call 763-559-6700. Complete details and schedule of races are online. Maple Grove Cycling and Michael’s Cycles are sponsors. (

Join the Christmas Bird Count (Beginning Dec. 14)

Bird enthusiasts spread across the state will be grabbing binoculars, notebooks and birding guides throughout the month for the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count. The 100-year tradition stretches back to 1905 and keeps tabs on local species with the help of volunteers who stretch from the metro area to southern bluff country and up to East Grand Forks and Grand Marais. Check the website of the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union for details on locations, additional dates and how to help. (

Skate night, date night (ongoing)

Bring your own skates or rent a pair for $4 for a lunch hour or evening spin around Wells Fargo WinterSkate. The artificially cooled rink with historic Landmark Center as the backdrop opens from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 7. New this year will be professional skating lessons on Dec. 12 and 19 and Jan. 9, 16 and 23 (11 a.m. to noon). It’s a good way to get psyched for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan.14-22 in Kansas City, Mo. (

Snowshoe at the refuge (Dec. 30)

Bring the children to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington near the Mall of America to try snowshoeing for free. It’s part of Winter Wonderland Family Fun Day, which also includes activities across age groups. Upcoming winter workshops also include learning about birds, a winter photography lecture and photo hike, a Planet Earth film festival and more chances to snowshoe on guided walks. (

Try a fat bike (Dec. 29)

Burn off holiday sweets and learn about snow-worthy fat bikes with beginner tips and equipment to try out from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at the New Prague Golf Course. Another introduction session runs from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Jan. 7 at Cleary Lake Regional Park. (

New Year’s revelry (Dec. 31)

Celebrate New Year’s Eve with ski runs, terrain parks and tubing amplified with live music at the lodges and fireworks above Afton Alps ( and Buck Hill ( Another option: Commemorate the last event of a yearlong Minnesota parks and trail system’s 125th anniversary with a candlelit walk through Fort Snelling State Park. (

Also in December

• Full moon walks at state and regional parks, statewide

Itasca State Park winter bird count, Dec. 18, Park Rapids

• Snowshoeing for beginners, state parks



DIY winter fun and warmth (ongoing)

Learn to craft your own winter heirlooms with upcoming classes at North House Folk School in Grand Marais. January and February classes include making birch skis, traditional Finnish ski poles and wooden toboggans for winter travel. (

Starting 2017 by foot (Jan. 1)

Welcome the New Year with a guided First Day Hike (or snowshoe) at nine state parks, including Frontenac, Minneopa and Jay Cooke. (

Climb supersized icicles (Jan. 6-8)

The city of Sandstone kicks off the ice-climbing season at Robinson Park with its annual ice festival. Learn the basics of ice climbing. Advanced and intermediate climbers can hone their techniques on the “farmed” ice that flows across the former sandstone quarry cliffs. (

Score with pond hockey (Jan. 26-29)

The U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis pays homage to Minnesota’s pre-arena hockey heritage. The tournament drew more than 70 teams last year. You can participate without lacing up — volunteers needed. (

Volunteer for dog-sled races (Jan. 29)

Soak in the howling excitement of huskies hyped up and ready to run almost 400 rugged miles for the 32nd John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon that begins in Duluth and follows the North Shore. Hands-on volunteers are always welcome. (

 Also in January

Rennet Festival, Nordic ski races, fat bike race, Bloomington, Jan. 20-21

Securian winter road races, Jan. 28, St. Paul



Into the boundaries (Feb. 2-5)

Travel by ski, snowshoe or dogsled across Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness’ frozen lakes for four days of winter exploring with Wilderness Inquiry. The trip includes indoor lodging and is adaptable to all abilities. A second trip is planned Feb. 23-26. (

Loppet lands at lakes (Feb. 3-5)

Be ready to blend speedskating, fireworks, food trucks, a marathon, snow sculpture contest, skijoring, fat tire racing and more at City of Lakes Loppet, an urban ski festival in Minneapolis. Much of the action takes place at Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles, which glow with trails of luminaria starting at 6 p.m. Saturday (shown above). Look for bonus attractions, too, like the post-luminaria party that includes a free Surly for registered participants. (

Hit the Big Lake (Feb. 18)

Join an estimated 4,000 skiers participating in Book Across the Bay, a candlelit 10K-route lit by 1,000 candles and traversing Chequamegon Bay from the western edge of Ashland, Wis., to Washburn. (

Cheer on Birkie ski stars (Feb. 23-26)

Pack your cowbells and head to northern Wisconsin to cheer on Nordic skiing’s elite athletes from across the globe who converge for the American Birkebeiner race stretching more than 50 kilometers from Cable to Hayward. Events kick off on Thursday and Friday with elite ski sprints, children’s races and more. (

Also in February

Red Bull Crashed Ice, Feb. 3-4, St. Paul

Valentine’s Day TC 5K, Feb. 5, Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis

Vasaloppet Nordic races, Feb. 11-12, Mora


Lisa Meyers McClintick is a St. Cloud-based writer. She writes guidebooks and travel features for national publications. Find more information at