About 14 million people go downhill skiing each winter and 8 million hurtle down mountains on a snowboard. That’s out of a total Unites States population of over 330 million.
If you’re among the great majority of non-skiers, you don’t have to wait for the snow to melt and for the sun to warm the air in order to enjoy outdoor activities. There’s an inviting choice of pursuits throughout the country that can bring you into close contact with Mother Nature.
Some require a bit of strenuous effort while others are much more relaxing. They include both those which are easily anticipated along with a few surprises. You may be able to participate near where you live or where you travel further away.
People who opt to ride a motorized vehicle may find plenty of places to snowmobile. Neophytes usually stick to groomed trails and often make their first runs with a guide.
Maine has over 14,000 miles of spectacular trails, some of which connect with routes in New Hampshire and Canada. Popular snowmobiling destinations further west include Eagle River, Wisconsin and Priest Lake in Idaho.
During Winter, If You Can Walk, You Can Snowshoe
A much quieter venture through the woods awaits snowshoers who, because of their noiseless movement, are more likely to see animals. Snowshoes have been in use for some 6,000 years including by North American Natives. A familiar saying is that if you can walk, you can snowshoe.
Many ski resorts rent snowshoes and offer lessons and sometimes guided tours. Among the leading snowshoeing destinations is the Black Hills National Forest which straddles the South Dakota-Wyoming border, and has nearly 60 miles of marked trails.
Another self-propelled alternative is colorfully named fat tire biking. This involves bicycles built with sturdy frames and wide tires that provide good traction on snow and ice.
The Grand Targhee Resort in Wyoming was one of the first to embrace this outdoor activity and welcome riders to its groomed trails. Cuyuna Lakes State Recreation Area in Minnesota is developing into one of the most active fat bike destinations in the country.
Mushing Through the Snow
Mushing rather than pedaling is the transportation mode for outdoor enthusiasts who go dog sledding. Like snowshoeing, dog sledding was invented thousands of years ago, most likely by the Inuit people in present-day Canada. As recently as the 1960s, this form of transportation was used by the U.S. Postal Service to deliver mail in some areas of Alaska.
Among places where dog sled tours are available is the Boundary Waters in Ely, Minnesota and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Basecamp at Bigfork, Montana offers a hands-on approach, allowing participants to harness and care for their team of sled dogs before driving them on a run.
Horses provide the power for people seeking to dash through the snow in a sleigh. Passengers snuggled under a warm blanket may relax and take in the scenery as a steed does the hard work.
Journeys through the National Elk Refuge offer unbeatable views of the Wyoming landscape and the animals for which it’s named. Sightings of eagles, wolves and swans also are possible.
The family-owned 2 Below Zero outfitter in Colorado combines a ride beneath snow-capped mountains with a three-course dinner in a cozy cabin and a country music jam. It’s centrally located to serve several resort communities.
Ice is for Skating, Climbing and Fishing
Not surprisingly, the winter also provides opportunities to enjoy activities related to the presence of ice. Skaters head for frozen ponds, lakes, and artificial rinks to cut their figure 8’s.
New York City is home to what may be the most famous ice-skating rink in the world at Rockefeller Center. The urban backdrop of Manhattan’s sparkling lights adds to the magic of the setting.
Skyscrapers also set the scene for the 100,000-plus skaters who glide over the ice at Millennium Park in the heart of downtown Chicago. A “skating ribbon” curves through whimsical play spaces at neighboring Maggie Daily Park. Some who seek to get out of the cold head for the indoor Alpine ice rink at the Navy Pier, which offers skating thrills without the chill.
Scaling replaces skating for hardy folks who are fans of ice climbing. They ascend frozen waterfalls, cliffs covered by ice and other frigid vertical surfaces.
Smuggler’s Notch State Park in Vermont is known as an ice climber’s paradise. Favorite upward routes include those named Grand Illusion, Blue Ice Bulge and Workout Wall.
Much less strenuous is sitting with a fishing pole in your hand. Drill a hole in lake ice with a power auger, bait a hook and wait hopefully for a seafood dinner to show up.
Brainerd, Minnesota has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best winter fishing destinations in the country. More than 460 lakes within 25 miles attract angling enthusiasts from near and far.
Lake Habeeb in Maryland’s Rocky Gap State Park is said to have the bluest water in the state. Ice fishing produces both smallmouth and largemouth bass, some weighing over 10 pounds.
If You Go
At this time of caution due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s best to check ahead to see if a destination you might like to visit has made changes to its schedule or available activities