I entered the woods at dawn. The last stars winked out in the brightening blue, which was framed by a latticework of naked branches.

The January cold was such that my cross-country skis didn't so much slide as scratch across the snow-covered trail at Maplelag Resort in northwestern Minnesota. When I stopped moving, pure silence ensued. My breath rose in a cloud of steam, then dissipated as shimmering ice crystals.

Every sound stood out in sharp relief. I heard a rustling of feathers, then saw its source: a puffed-up whiskey jack had landed on a maple branch. A tree popped in the distance, its sap groaning in the vise made by subzero air. A perfect winter morning: bitter cold amended by profound beauty.

For the initiated, the wonders of Minnesota's winters need no introduction. For those who can't fathom putting wonder and winter in the same sentence, I extend my sympathy -- and an invitation. Inside today's Travel, you'll find five good reasons to give the season another chance.

Some of Minnesota's most unique and world-class travel experiences exist only in winter, and with December's timely cold snap and a blanket of fresh snow, the season is off to a good start. The best dog-mushing in the Lower 48 is here. Some of the prettiest cross-country ski trails in the country beckon, and so do some of the coziest firesides, for those who prefer to see it all from the warm side of a window.