Ski hill snow machines pump out supplemental flurries. Lakes sparkle with the first translucent layers of ice. Overnight frosts transform wetlands, ditches and parks into a glittery landscape. Yep, despite the recent warmth, it’s time to dig out the base layers and good socks, see if boots still fit and replace the children’s mittens when all you can find are ones for the left hand. Dust off sleds, sharpen skates and skis, check the air in car and fat bike tires, splurge on a few hand-warming packets, and get ready for the best of winter recreation. Events from snowshoe hikes to romantic skating to bird counts help you ease into the season, which hits its stride in January and February with a lineup of world-class winter events.
Climb supersized icicles (Dec. 18-20)
The city of Sandstone kicks off the ice-climbing season at Robinson Park with its annual Ice Festival. Newcomers can learn the basics of ice climbing while advanced and intermediate climbers can hone their techniques during three-hour clinics on the “farmed” ice that flows across the former sandstone quarry cliffs. Other events include a look at new gear, a Saturday evening presentation by climber Eric Landmann, informational sessions on winter camping, and a chili cook-off to warm up after a cold day on ice. (sandstoneicefest.com)
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 the historic Landmark Center as the backdrop is open all week, through Feb. 7. Find hours at visitsaintpaul.com. New this year are professional skating lessons this Saturday and Dec. 19, and Jan. 9, 16 and 23. It’s a good way to get psyched for the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 15-24. Winners in the men’s, ladies, pairs and ice-dancing events advance to the world championships and eventually may win a spot on the Winter Olympics podium. (2016uschampionships.com).
Snowshoe at the refuge (DEC. 29)
Bring the children to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge near the Mall of America to try snowshoeing for free. It’s part of Winter Wonderland Family Fun Day with another snowshoe hike Dec. 30. Upcoming workshops also include learning about birds, a winter photography lecture and photo hike and a “Planet Earth” film festival. (fws.gov/refuge/Minnesota_Valley)
Join the Christmas bird count (DEC. 19)
Bird enthusiasts across the state will grab binoculars, notebooks and birding guides throughout the month for the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count. The tradition goes 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 Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s web page for details on locations, additional dates and signing up to help. (moumn.org/CBC)
See New Year’s fireworks (DEC. 31)
Burnsville’s Buck Hill stays open until midnight on New Year’s Eve so boarders, skiers and tubers can speed downhill and also enjoy live music from Rhythm Junkies in the lodge, magician Kevin Hall (seen on “America’s Got Talent”), a giant air bag for flips and jumps, and more fun. Midnight fireworks cap it all. (952-435-7174; buckhill.com)
See New Year’s fireworks (DEC. 31, ONGOING)
Grab skis, snowshoes or hiking boots to enjoy the natural illumination from January’s Wolf Moon or February’s Suckerfish Moon on guided full-moon walks or watch for close to three dozen candlelit trail events on Saturdays at state parks across Minnesota in January and February. Start with a New Year’s Eve candlelit walk at Fort Snelling State Park. Close to 2,000 attend, keeping warm with bonfires and toasting marshmallows (dnr.state.mn.us).
DIY winter fun AND warmth
Learn to craft your own winter heirlooms with upcoming classes at North House Folk School in Grand Marais. Classes include making birch skis, traditional Finnish ski poles and wooden toboggans for winter travel, sewing an anorak, (a traditional Arctic outer garment) and hide and canvas mukluks. For the person who really plans ahead, you can build your own casket, too. (888-387-9762; northhouse.org)
Score with pond hockey
Hockey sticks thwack and skate blades carve across ice on Lake Nokomis on Jan. 14-17 for the annual U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. The event, which pays homage to Minnesota’s pre-arena hockey heritage, had more than 70 teams last year (uspondhockey.com). Follow that with the North American Pond Hockey Championship tournament Jan. 21-24 on Lake Minnetonka. (pondhockeylakeminnetonka.com)
Winter recreation sampler (JAN. 23)
Lake Maria State Park near Monticello brings together a little of everything at Winter Fun Day. It’s a chance to try fat tire biking, winter golf, snowshoeing, and to learn about winter camping. Bring your own skates and Nordic skis. (763-878-2325; dnr.state.mn.us)
Volunteer for dog-sled races (JAN. 31)
Soak in the howling excitement of huskies hyped up and ready to run almost 400 miles for the 32nd John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. It starts in Duluth and follows the North Shore. Volunteers are always welcome at the longest sled dog race in the Lower 48 states (218-722-7631; beargrease.com). Volunteers also are sought for the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race on Feb. 6-7 in Bayfield, Wis. (715-779-3335; bayfield.org)
Build a quinzhee camp (FEB. 6)
Experienced campers will share their skills at a Winter Camping 101 workshop at Tettegouche State Park on the North Shore. They’ll build a traditional quinzhee — an insulated snow cave. Interested participants can spend the night. Call 218-353-8809 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. (dnr.state.mn.us)
Loppet lands at lakes (Feb. 5-7)
Be ready to blend speedskating, Friday night fireworks, a marathon, snow sculpture contest, skijoring and fat tire racing at City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival. Much of the action takes place at Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. (612-604-5330; loppet.org)
Cheer on Birkie skiers (Feb. 18-20)
Pack your cowbells and head to northern Wisconsin to cheer on skiers from across the globe at the American Birkebeiner. Events kick off on Thursday and Friday with elite sprints, skijoring and kids races. (715-634-5025; birkie.com)
Catch Crashed Ice (Feb. 26-27)
If you haven’t yet caught the spectacle of Crashed Ice, a downhill skating-meets-motocross kind of event, it returns to downtown St. Paul for the fifth consecutive year. More than 100,000 people attended last year’s event. (redbullcrashedice.com)
Lisa Meyers McClintick is a St. Cloud-based writer.