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Main photo by Bryan Hansel,
www.bryanhansel.com; inset photos from top
by bryan hansel; best western superior
Inn & suites; wes bender
When the temperature drops, our friendly neighbor to the North—Thunder Bay, Canada—is the place to be for outdoor adventures. One of these is ice climbing, a thrilling sport involving climbers, ice, and mountaineering equipment.
“The ice climbing in Thunder Bay is fantastic. We have about two to three dozen routes ranging from WI2 to WI6 [varied grades of ice climbing], as well as a handful of mixed climbs, all within the city limits,” says Wes Bender of
the Alpine Club of Canada. “Some of the largest and hardest are accessible by city transit.”
Other ice climbing hotspots include Orient Bay and Kama Bay, less than two hours east of the city.
Another unique winter hobby in Thunder Bay is ice racing, a safe and inexpensive form of motor racing. Fans love watching the action from a lakeside “track.” Check out this winter’s race schedule at www.iceracingthunderbay.com.
The ice and snow in Thunder Bay creates the ideal playground for ice fishing, dog sledding, sleigh rides, snowmobiling, and alpine and Nordic skiing.
Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, just 25 minutes from downtown Thunder Bay, is one of the best-kept skiing secrets in the region. The scenery along the trails is stunning, and the terrain is loved by all levels of skiers, from beginner to advanced. The trails are adjacent to one of the largest and most visited waterfalls in Ontario—Kakabeka Falls—also called the “Niagara of the North.” Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, with picturesque trails and some of the best snow and grooming in the region, is also a popular spot for skiers. Even on a cold day you will find some of the most comfortable skiing conditions—no wind (the park is sheltered by huge stands of evergreen trees) and plenty of sunshine.
Rather stay indoors and learn about the area’s past? Visit a museum featuring the life of Native Americans, European explorers, or French voyageurs. Prefer to shop and dine while on vacation? Thunder Bay is filled with specialty shops and boutiques as well as diverse restaurants.
Want to try snowshoeing before investing in a pair of snowshoes? Curious about geocaching (“jee-oh-cash-ing”) but don’t know where to begin? Come to REI’s “Winter Trails Day” on Jan. 10, 2009 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Fort Snelling State Park’s picnic shelter to learn more about these exciting (and fast-growing) sports. There will be free snowshoeing demos for all age groups, geocaching mini classes, and complimentary hot cocoa available.
Snowshoeing is growing in popularity because it’s easy to learn, relatively inexpensive, a great way to exert during the long, cold days of winter (you can burn more than 600 calories per hour), and poses very little risk of injury. You can hike for pleasure, trek through pristine backcountry powder, or race competitively. All you need is snow.
Geocaching is akin to a modern-day treasure hunt. Instead of a worn map marked with an X, you use a GPS receiver, a set of coordinates and (optionally) clues, but instead of hunting for a buried chest, you’re looking for a cache of goodies hidden in an eco-friendly site above-ground (no digging required).
In addition to hosting various clinics and events, REI—with local stores in Bloomington, Roseville, and Maple Grove—offers a tremendous selection of quality outdoor gear and clothing for a variety of snow sports. They stand behind their products with a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, and design their own line of award-winning REI brand gear and clothing. REI is also unique in that it’s a member-owned co-op. While anyone may join or shop at REI, members pay a one-time $20 fee and receive a share in the company’s profits through an annual member refund based on their purchases.
The St. Croix is one of the last unspoiled rivers in the country within close proximity of a major metropolitan area, attracting visitors year-round. Not only do travelers visit the area for the scenic valley, but also for the historic character
of the valley’s communities and the charming St. Croix River Valley bed and breakfast inns dotting the riverside.
Spend a day shopping in a quaint river town, or get plenty of fresh air while cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, winter hiking, or ice fishing before returning to the quiet of a charming and historic inn, far away from the stresses of everyday life. You’ll find friendly innkeepers, uniquely decorated rooms, and options of river views, double whirlpools, and fireplaces. Your B&B experience is made complete with a fantastic breakfast each morning.
Guests staying at the new Westin Edina Galleria can shop during the most frigid days of winter and leave their coats behind—the hotel is connected to Galleria by a below-street level, climate-controlled walkway. Regarded as a shopper’s nirvana with everything from national favorites to local boutiques (think Tiffany & Co., Coach, Cole Haan, dugo, Ampersand and Len Druskin), Galleria also offers a variety of restaurants for dinner or drinks.
After a full day of shopping and dining, indulge in the services of Rocco Altobelli’s day spa, or relax in your room on a plush Heavenly® Bed featuring a custom-designed pillow top mattress and down blanket. Guest rooms also include a well-appointed bath that includes a fully customizable shower experience and a separate soaking tub. Six large luxury suites include a wet bar, living room, table for six, half bath, and separate sleeping area with a full, private bathroom.
Guests also enjoy 24-hour room service, a 24-hour, state-of-the-art workout room, and a large indoor pool and whirlpool. The state’s first suburban McCormick and Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant is conveniently located adjacent to the lobby. And as if this weren’t enough, the hotel welcomes pets, even offering a Heavenly Dog Bed®.
Lutsen Resort’s classic Scandinavian ambiance creates the perfect setting for a quick winter getaway. Located on Lake Superior, the historic lodge is warm and cozy, with a welcoming fire-lit lobby, beautiful hand-hewn timbers, and lakeside dining room and pub featuring hearty cold-weather dishes and drinks.
Guests can try out free snowshoe or cross-country ski equipment, courtesy of the resort, and even have the option of complimentary ski and snowshoe instruction.
Whether novices or professionals, Lutsen Resort is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. The resort is across the street from downhill skiing and snowboarding at Lutsen Mountains (a free door-to-door shuttle service is available to Lutsen Resort guests), a snowmobile trail connects the resort to the Cook County and North Shore State Trails, and there are a variety of groomed cross-country ski trails nearby. After an active day outdoors, the new WatersMeet massage and wellness center is a popular spot to soothe sore muscles.
The resort caters to brides and grooms, too, no matter the season.
“We do some pretty fun weddings here in the winter,” explains owner Nancy Burns. “Many couples even choose to have their weddings outside, snow or not! Then, of course, they come into the lodge and enjoy the cozy ambience and the warm, Scandinavian-designed lakeside dining room for dinner.”
Lutsen Resort offers lodging for every taste and budget, from log cabins with fire-burning stoves to luxury condos with Jacuzzis and fireplaces.
Winters on Lake Pepin are much quieter than other seasons, making for a peaceful, relaxing stay at the River Road Inn, located just upriver from the charming village of Stockholm, Wisconsin.
“The Inn is just minutes from fine dining, art galleries, and the National Eagle Center,” says innkeeper Kathleen Burk.
Adventure-seekers can try wind sailing on Lake Pepin, snowshoeing in the Maiden Rock Bluff Natural Area, or downhill skiing at Coffee Mill Ski Area in nearby Wabasha. Gourmet cooking classes and wine tastings are offered twice a month throughout the winter at the Palate, a gourmet kitchen store in town.
The luxurious Carriage House at the spa-like Inn offers panoramic views of Lake Pepin and the glorious bluffs, a spa shower with invigorating body jets, a king-size bed, vaulted ceilings, a fireplace, and in the Stockholm Suite—an oversized vintage tub.
“You can cocoon in your cozy suite and watch beautiful sunsets over Lake Pepin,” Burk says. “Staying here is all about comfort, relaxation, pampering, and romance.”
Visitors staying at the Best Western Superior Inn & Suites in Grand Marais can easily explore a variety of key attractions and recreational sites on the North Shore, including the Gunflint Trail, Lutsen Mountains, and Superior National Forest. Winter guests also have direct access from the inn to the North Shore Corridor snowmobile trail system. (Trail maps and brochures are available at the front desk.)
Other amenities unique to this Lake Superior hotel include a giant indoor whirlpool, guest laundry, winter plug-ins, and ample lighting for snowmobile and trailer parking. Enjoy a full complimentary breakfast in the cozy, fireside lobby each morning. The hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of many unique village restaurants, shops, and galleries, and within two blocks of the North House Folk School.