Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing began as necessities for winter survival. Today in Minnesota, they're mostly tried-and-true ways to enjoy winter. Or, you could just call them the starter drug to newer adrenaline-pumping activities, such as ice-climbing on frozen waterfalls, riding fat-tire bikes and exploring backcountry trails on Hok skis by Altai. These hybrids are wider than XC skis and longer than snowshoes, with skins on the bottom that catch in snow on the climb up but smooth out for gliding on the way down (think seal skins, though these are synthetic). Given Minnesotans' penchant for finding new ways to enjoy winter, I was not surprised to learn that an outdoor store in Grand Marais, Minn., is the Midwest's top-selling retailer.
Getting deep into winter woods doesn't always require muscling there, though. Watching trees go by aboard a horse-drawn sleigh or cozying up to the fireplace at a resort on the Gunflint Trail or along the North Shore works well, too. Here are some of the top places to get into the snowy woods in the Arrowhead.
Boundary Country Trekking: Ted and Barbara Young offer a variety of activities, from lodge-to-lodge and yurt-to-yurt skiing in the winter to canoe trips in the summer. They also are hosts at the Poplar Creek Guesthouse Bed and Breakfast, surrounded by nature (www.boundarycountry.com; 1-800-322-8327).
Patten Family Homestead Sleigh Rides: Sleighs drawn by winter-ready Belgian horses glide through a lantern-lit landscape of tall pines and frozen lakes. After the ride, Mark and Nancy Patten serve hot chocolate and conversation in their log cabin home (www.okontoe.com; 1-218-388-9423).
Positive Energy Outdoors: This company north of Duluth offers ice climbing classes at Tettegouche State Park and other North Shore locations (www.outdooredventures.org; 1-218-391-0147).
Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply: This is the place in Grand Marais to buy or rent Hok skis from Altai. It also supplies skijoring kits for skiing with the help of your dog, Nordic skates designed for the uneven surfaces of frozen lakes, fat tire bikes and other winter stuff. The staff will also arrange dog sledding tours (www.stoneharborws.com; 1-218-387-3136).
More info: For more information on where to stay and what to do, check with the Cook County Visitors Bureau (www.visitcookcounty.com; 1-218-387-2524), the Grand Marais Area Visitors Association (grandmarais.com) and the Gunflint Trail Association (www.gunflint-trail.com; 1-800-338-6932).Kerri Westenberg