At Naniboujou Lodge, northeast of Grand Marais, Minn., conditions were perfect. The rare confluence of calm waters and super chilly temperatures had turned the usually restless Lake Superior into a sheet of thick ice in mid-February. High winds had done their part, shearing off snow. The result: an unusual opportunity on Minnesota's North Shore to ice skate on the greatest of the Great Lakes.
In Duluth, a group of outdoor adventurers have shoveled snow off of thick Superior ice to create what's been dubbed the People's Free Ice Rink, a slick labyrinth of pathways curving around snow islands near the city's Leif Erikson Park.
If you've dreamed of skating on Lake Superior or gazing at rocks below while standing on the clear frozen lake, this may be your year.
"We've had significant cold and calm, so as recently as a day ago, the lake is almost completely frozen. Then of course, you throw in the clarity of our water. It's just beautiful," said Linda Jurek, executive director of Visit Cook County.
Despite a blizzard that blew through last weekend, the harbor in Grand Marais stayed intact, she said. It makes a great ice skating rink — though on this dramatic lake, conditions can change quickly.
Jurek's organization warns people to venture onto the lake with care. Below the ice, waters continue to churn and can make the ice unstable. For safety, ice should be at least 4 inches thick, and adventurers should bring rope, ice picks and friends. Don't head onto the lake alone.
The cold has also made for spectacular ice walls, where sheets of ice driven to shore by wind have created shimmering blue natural ice sculptures.
Sound effects add to the experience. "When Lake Superior talks, you get those loud pops, the sound of the ice cracking," Jurek said. "This is a pretty special year," she said, throwing in this stat for proof: Nearly 100 inches of snow has fallen on the Gunflint Trail.
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