April Morgan, 32, Hopkins
(2015 Great Lakes Fat Bike Series champion; she is sponsored by 45NRTH)
Day job: Trade execution manager, Cargill Inc.
I used to spend the winters inside on the treadmill or on the spin bike, counting down the days until spring. Now I look forward to the snow, the fresh winter air, and feeling the sun on my face all season long. Fat biking reminds me of the simple joy I had sledding as a kid, sometimes wiping out and coming up with a face full of snow. It’s impossible to ride a fat bike without smiling.
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My favorite winter riding spot is Elm Creek Park Reserve. It’s arguably the best-groomed trail in the country, and we’re so lucky to have this beautiful trail so close by. I also enjoy cruising along the Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail, sometimes stopping for a mid-ride refreshment at Excelsior Brewing Co. The best thing about a fat bike is that its big tires can take you just about anywhere. Not much beats a quiet morning ride after a fresh snowfall.
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I love the winter fat bike season and try to make it to as many Great Lakes Fat Bike series events as possible. What I love most about fat bike season is the festive post-race atmosphere. Each event has some type of finish line celebration, and there is always tons of energy. We all know we’re a tad crazy and that makes the sport a lot of fun. The Fat Bike Birkie (March 5) in Cable, Wis., is always the highlight of the year for me, drawing participants from all over the country. This year they are expecting over 1,000 racers, which is truly incredible.
Margot Branigan, 27, St. Paul
(Runner-up at the 2015 U.S. National Snowshoe Championships in her age group)
Day job: Research chemist, 3M Co.
I love snowshoe racing because it’s a simple way to stay active in the winter and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors in Minnesota and time spent with friends. Snowshoeing doesn’t require knowledge in technical gear or extensive preparation. All you need is a pair of shoes and snowshoes. Minnesota is a great place to snowshoe with the numerous local and state park systems that have trails in or near the cities. They offer a diverse range of scenery from the prairie grasslands to the coniferous forests, all within a short driving distance.
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I started snowshoeing last year to motivate myself to go outdoors more frequently during the winter. As a young kid, winter was my favorite season, but over the years I came to dread the cold weather. Snowshoeing makes every run feel like a new adventure, and the workout keeps you warm. My favorite part is that everything is covered in snow, so you have more freedom to explore the beauty of the snow-covered woods.
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During the week after work, I snowshoe on the golf courses in St. Paul for convenience. On the weekends, I enjoy exploring the local trails, such as Afton State Park, Theodore Wirth Park and Lebanon Hills. There are plenty of options for snowshoe races this winter in the Midwest. I will certainly attend Boulder Lake Snowshoe Stomp (Jan. 17) in Duluth. I enjoy that race because most of it is spent in the middle of the snowy woods, which is so incredibly beautiful this time of year. I also plan to race the City of Lakes snowshoe loppet at Theodore Wirth Park.
Kee Kong, 29, St. Paul
Day job: Sales, Joe’s Sporting Goods
There is something about catching a fish in a hole. I don’t know why that is, but there is. It also gives us something to do in the winter. Definitely keeps us entertained. Gets your blood pumping. My thing with ice fishing is, you’re out there, and it’s a fair game. Definitely don’t need a boat to get out there. The whole lake is open now, and so the spots that you couldn’t get to before, if you didn’t have a boat or even if you did, you can actually get out there.
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Seems like fish are a lot more concentrated, too, so it makes catching a lot more fun. With all the equipment out there, all the new gadgets they’ve got out, too, it’s endless now. It’s become quite competitive as to who has the best stuff. New electronics, fish sonars and electric augers, lithium augers. Makes it a lot easier for us. No more gas spilling in the car. (Augers) are light, down to about 20 pounds, so they are pretty light to maneuver around.
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Our metro lakes around here still have plenty of hidden jewels. Everybody thinks the metro has no more fish. Even if you had a boat and couldn’t get on these smaller puddles due to access or whatever the case may be, you can get on it ice fishing now. I can literally walk it now. You put in a little effort and you can still find some really, really big fish in the metro.
Kendra Stritch, 33, Stillwater
(First American gold medalist at International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation Ice Climbing World Cup, Bozeman, Mont., in 2014)
Day job: Strategic project manager, Infinite Graphics Inc.
Because the ice isn’t there all the time, climbing frozen waterfalls, like Gooseberry Falls, offers a unique perspective. Ice is an ephemeral medium — you have to get out and enjoy it when conditions are good. It’s continually melting and freezing, so every day the ice can be visibly different. The ice changes daily, and that’s what is exciting about it — it’s never the same.
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In Minnesota, we have a lot of ice climbing in the Twin Cities, making it really easy to climb after work for a couple hours. The majority of our climbing is simple to access from the top, so it’s great for beginners, too. Most other places in the world, beginners need to have an experienced leader to set up the ropes. But here in Minnesota, if you know how to set top anchors, you can ice climb without a more experienced lead climber.
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Because we have such easy access to the ice here in Minnesota, ice climbing is pretty low-commitment. You can go for short periods of time, and your car — or probably a building — is never far away if you get cold or the weather changes. We have quite a few options here. The Sandstone Ice Park in Sandstone, Minn., is awesome, and the Duluth Ice Fest (Feb. 26-28) in February is a new ice festival this year. There are frozen waterfalls we climb in Duluth and Winona, and we even have quite a few places to go around the Twin Cities because of the rivers and bluffs.
John Fylpaa, 63, Bemidji
Day job: Park naturalist, Lake Bemidji State Park
Winter to me means skiing both downhill as a ski patroller and cross-country for recreational fun. Because daytime is short, there are more nighttime hours to enjoy outdoors. It may seem risky to ski in the dark, but there are a few ways that I found and really enjoy and they aren’t risky at all. Popular statewide are candlelight night ski outings. Whether it is hosted at a state park or county park, following the warm light of candles along a well-groomed trail offers an extraordinary social experience. The contrast of warm and cold light is captivating.
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A more adventurous night exploration is to use the moonlight to guide your way. I’ve encountered a northern saw-whet owl hunting a flying squirrel, a fox searching for voles, and frequently heard the call of barred or great horned owls on these trips. The full moon casts a magical stark, cold shadow on the snow.
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When the ice is safe and snow-covered, I use a headlamp as a guide. My goal is to enjoy the moans and groans of the lake ice as it changes with the contraction of cold or expansion of warming weather. I check a favorite website, spaceweather.com, if there is a clear sky to see what the chances are of northern lights.
Mark Thone, 51, Shakopee, Three Rivers Parks District Nordic ski instructor
Day job: Artist
While I enjoy every season in Minnesota, it is winter and Nordic skiing that my life revolves around. I love to cross-country ski, teach and race. I find winter to be enjoyable and at times too short! Yes, some of you might think I need therapy, but I actually lose weight in the winter. Nordic skiing is so fun and such a great workout. If you haven’t tried the sport, or haven’t skied for a while, get out and try it. The equipment is lighter, the boots warmer, and the clothing plenty warm without being bulky.
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A must-do for skiers is to try night skiing under the lights at one of the many ski areas. I love to ski at Cleary Park in Prior Lake with the deer roaming across the trails and the coyotes howling.
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There are events most every weekend. My pick for the top three must-do events (in chronological order) are the new Three Rivers Rennet, City of Lakes Loppet and Mora Vassaloppet. Each event is unique, and all the races offer different distances and tours. The Rennet is going to be a great race. The entire ski trail system at the Hyland Park Reserve in Bloomington is devoted it. The long course will even continue over to the downhill area, and some of the trails will be skied the opposite way from the normal day-to-day direction. The City of Lakes Loppet has so much going on that it’s hard to specify it as just a ski race. There also are bike racing; speedskating; dogsledding; snow sculpturing; skijoring; Kubb, a traditional Nordic game and more. The Mora Vassloppet is one of my favorite races because of the people. Volunteers don’t get friendlier, and because the race is fashioned after the famous Swedish Vassaloppet, each food stop has blueberry soup!