WINTER IS FUN ...for those who embrace it
There are two basic types of people who stick around for a Minnesota
winter - those who hunker, and those who embrace.
When the snow is three feet deep outside the front door and the wind is
doing its best to burrow through three layers of fleece, the former crowd is huddled in front of a fireplace or buried under a pile of blankets. They are hunkering.
But the latter crowd embraces that snow and wind. These are people who
might take off for the Canadian border with nothing but a pair of skis and a few dogs to pull them, or who might head for the backyard to spend a winter's night in a tent with their young daughters. They fling themselves into winter. Here's how a few of them do it.
Like skiing, with dogs
When Jim Blouch of Ely wants to spend a few quality winter hours with his
golden retriever, Maggie, he simply breaks out the skis.
The retriever weighs about 50 pounds. Blouch tops out around 200. But "Magpie," as Blouch calls her, has little trouble pulling him along the smooth surface of Farm Lake for an hour or two of skijoring.
"You don't need a sled dog to go skijoring," says Blouch, who co-owns Moose Track Adventures Resort along the Kawishiwi Trail. "You can go out with a poodle."
If your dog - be it a husky, a standard poodle, or anything in between - has the right attitude, and you have "halfway decent" cross-country skiing skills, Blouch says, you can have fun skijoring.
"It's just like cross-country skiing, except you're being assisted by the dogs," Blouch says. "You can go twice as far on the same amount of energy."
A good skijoring dog should want to pull you, Blouch says, but it also needs to know when not to pull - like when a skier has stumbled and is sprawling flat on their face in the snow.
A skijoring harness, tug line and belt can be had for about $50, and any kind of cross-country skis will work. While dogs are prohibited on many groomed ski trails, some, like the Trezona Trail in Ely, welcome pets. Skijoring also works well on frozen lakes and even in backcountry areas,
provided the skier first breaks a trail.
Though Blouch eventually grew too busy to keep the kennel of dogs he once had for skijoring lessons, he still looks forward to frequent winter trips with Maggie. And he can look back on some magical skijoring trips from earlier years.
"Using two dogs is really fun," Blouch says. "The most I ever used was five. We attached them to a dogsled tug line, and I skijored on lakes all the way to the Canadian border. We had lunch, and came back. It was about 30 miles - and I'm not sure I skied at all."
Think like a Thermos
Most winter camping newbies have the same reservation, says Mike Odberg of Superior.
"The first assumption is that you'll be cold all the time," Odberg says. "That's not the case, if you're well-prepared."
Just ask Odberg's 9-year-old daughter and veteran winter camper, Bryn, what she thinks of winter camping, and she has a quick answer:
"It's fun," she says.
Bryn and her dad already have made a pact for this winter - when the thermometer looks like it's going to bottom out for the year, they are going camping in the backyard.
Dress properly and bring the right gear, and the cold shouldn't be a problem, Odberg says. As outdoor recreation coordinator at the College of St. Scholastica, Odberg has introduced many students to winter camping - and learned to love it. "Most students are surprised at how much they enjoy" the trips, Odberg says.
"There's a sense of solitude, a wilderness feel to it," he says. "That's hard to come by in the summer anymore."
But no matter how beautiful the snow-draped wilderness may be, campers won't enjoy it if they don't stay warm and dry. Feet should be protected with moisture-wicking, thin nylon socks and then topped with warm wool socks. Several thin layers are better than a few bulky ones for keeping in heat, Odberg says. Likewise, two sleeping bags, one tucked inside the other, are better than one for a comfortable night's sleep. Think of clothing and sleeping bags as Thermoses that trap body heat, Odberg says.
"It's really cold when you're outside," Bryn says. "But when you're
in your sleeping bag, with a warm water bottle and all your clothes
on, it's really warm."
And campers generate plenty of body heat, because winter camping is hard work. From chopping a hole through a frozen lake to draw some water, to excavating firewood out of a snow bank to setting up a big wall tent, every camp chore becomes a little more difficult in the winter.
Odberg says he has camped out when the temperature is -23 degrees along the North Shore and in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Cushy camping on skis
At first, Ted and Barbara Young didn't refer to the round, canvaswalled,
cozy-but-temporary shelters as "yurts."
"We called them huts," says Ted Young, co-owner of Boundary Country Trekking in Grand Marais. "Nobody knew what a yurt was." It was 1983, and the Youngs were looking for a way to make the Banadad ski trail more accessible to a new wave of cross-country skiers. The Banadad, part of a network of old logging roads, is a remote, single-track trail that snakes for 30 kilometers along the eastern edge of the Boundary Waters.
"It was so long that very few people were skiing it," Young says. He secured permission from the U.S. Forest Service to set up a temporary shelter near the trail's midpoint - and the Youngs put together their first yurt.
Yurts had long been used by nomadic cultures in central Asia. The traditional circular wooden frames draped with felt covers were warm and could be easily moved. The Youngs' first yurt came as a kit - a 50-foot stretch of canvas that Barbara Young had to sew together.
And soon skiers started coming to the yurt. Today, the Youngs own three yurts along the Banadad; two at the middle of the trail and one near the end. The newer yurts are built of an insulated poly-vinyl material that's durable and warm, Young says.
Today, skiers come from all over the Midwest to travel the Banadad and sleep in comfort along the trail. All the yurts have gas lights and stoves, two have full kitchens and one has a separate sauna. The Youngs call it "cushy camping."
Many guests talk about how beautiful the trip was, how quiet the woods were, how they heard wolves at night, Young says. It's enough - or simple enough - to keep people returning. "We have guests that have been coming back for almost 25 years," Young says.
Want to get started? Here are some resources for more information on winter camping, skijoring, and yurt-to-yurt travel in the Boundary Waters.
Winter camping: visit www.backpacking.net/wintertips.html
for a slew of tips, tricks and ways to stay toasty while you're
sleeping in the snow.
Skijoring: browse the Midwest Skijorers Club website at
www.skijor.org. The Twin Cities based club offers training
events, information on area trails and skijoring equipment
Yurts: If you're yearning for a yurt visit, contact Boundary
Country Trekking at (800) 322-8327 or online to
www.boundarycountry.com to learn more about their yurts and
the Banadad ski trail.