Halfway up the hill, the November wind pushing against me, I’m ready to surrender. Pausing to catch my breath, I sneak a glance behind me. The view makes my already pounding heart race: stretched out below my perch on a ski hill at Giants Ridge is a panorama of gleaming birch trees and proud pines, undulating hills and sparkling lakes. If I hadn’t already known the history of this land—the centuries of mining that have carved up the Mesabi Iron Range—I would have thought this a rare slice of untouched nature. Turning to continue my upward trek, I imagine how stunning everything here would be topped with freshly fallen snow. Because as beautiful as it is now, the real magic happens in winter.
Giants Ridge is Minnesota’s Vail. Located just north of Biwabik, the resort caters to winter aficionados of all breeds: to downhill skiers and snowboarders, with 35 runs and two terrain parks; to Nordic skiers and snowshoers, with more than 60 kilometers of trails; and to everyone in between, with a tubing park. Myself an unapologetic wimp when it comes to the cold, I was delighted to also discover an indoor oasis: La Ridge, the lodge’s posh, full-service Aveda spa.
Around Giants Ridge are towns as full of character as the hills are rich with iron. In Gilbert, I join the crowd at Koshar’s Sausage Kitchen. The tiny family-owned meat shop is busier than I’d anticipated, but after sampling the Polish sausage jerky, I understand why. My next stop is Eveleth, heralded by Iron Rangers as the birthplace of hockey and home to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. There, I check out Herb Brooks’s letter jackets, a poster signed by the 1980 Olympics “miracle” team, and other priceless artifacts. Dinnertime finds me back in Biwabik at Vi’s Pizza. After ordering, I pass the time chatting with customers at the bar. One couple has driven all the way from Duluth. “Is it really that good?” I wonder. Half an hour later, I get my answer: definitely.
The sun begins to dip below the horizon as I drive back to the lodge, and within minutes the birch and pines have transformed into silhouettes against the pinkish orange sky. As I take in the endless view of trees, hills, lake, and stars, my mind once again races ahead, and I think about just how brilliant this view will be when wrapped in a sparkling coat of snow.
MNMO’s guide to Biwabik
WHERE TO STAY
Rent one of the suites or lakeside villas at Giants Ridge, where you can ski out your door, then relax in the Jacuzzi tub after a full day of outdoor adventures. From $99 (lodge) and $112 (villa); package rate, see website for details; giantsridge.com; 6373 Wynne Creek Dr., Biwabik.
WHAT TO EAT
Stock your fridge with healthy, organic groceries from Natural Harvest Coop (505 N. Third St., Virginia; naturalharvestcoop.com). Order a thick-crust pizza at Vi’s Pizza for a crispy, chewy treat (111 Main St. N.). Get some Polish sausage jerky at Koshar’s Sausage Kitchen to snack on while skiing and sightseeing (101 Broadway St. S., Gilbert, 218-741-8827).
WHAT TO DO
Trade your skis for snowshoes for an afternoon, or check out Giants Ridge’s new tubing park. Buff up on your hockey IQ at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Museum (801 Hat Trick Ave., Eveleth; ushockeyhall.com; open Fri.-Sun.). Round out the day with a massage at La Ridge spa, then cozy up by the fireplace for some much deserved, hard-earned R&R.