Embrace Your Winter Spirit

Posted on November 6th, 2019

5 minute read

While summer and fall are popular times of year to visit the Keweenaw, it’s the winter season that truly defines this magical place. Beginning in late October, successive layers of powdery snow begin to blanket the landscape. The result is a breathtaking winter wonderland where evergreen boughs become dusted with snowflakes, and previously churning waterfalls and streams slow to a standstill. While our days become shorter, this only accentuates the beauty of a clear night sky and increases the chance of seeing an inspiring display of the Northern Lights. With nearly 250 inches of reliable snowfall each year, let’s hear what the locals recommend for the ultimate winter Keweenaw experience. 

Locals Suggest

Skiing Mount Bohemia in the Keweenaw

A skier navigates the rocky terrain on a slope at Mount Bohemia

  • THE Downhill Destination. The Keweenaw’s probably best known for its amazing outdoor recreation scene and the incredible amount of powder that falls from the sky each winter. Nothing combines those two facets better than  Mount Bohemia, which is widely recognized as one of the top downhill skiing scenes in the U.S.  With a 900-vertical drop (tops in Michigan), 107 runs (yup, that’s right), and the only cat skiing operation east of the Rockies, it’s easy to see why skiing and snowboarding junkies from all over make the pilgrimage to Lac La Belle winter after winter.  This backcountry experience, featuring rugged rock outcroppings, drops, and ungroomed wooded trails, is well worth the drive north.   
  • Winter Festivals.  In the Keweenaw, we celebrate winter for its breathtaking beauty, enduring inspiration, and the joy that fresh coat of powder brings to outdoor enthusiasts. This is reflected in several amazingly unique festivals that take place in the chillier months.  Take Winter Carnival for example. This four-day festival in early February began in 1922 and features dozens of huge, elaborate snow statues, ice carvings, outdoor competitions (like snow-volleyball), comedy skits, queen coronations, sleigh rides, and lots more winter fun. Heikinpaiva, which takes place in January, celebrates the halfway point of winter. Lasting almost an entire month, this event’s roots are tied to the region’s Finnish heritage and is characterized by demonstrations of Finnish music, cuisine, artistry, and outdoor games and activities.  Dive in the icy Keweenaw Waterway during the Polar Bear Plunge, speed across the snow on a Finnish kicksled or carry your spouse in a feat of strength and speed during the annual race in Hancock to win eternal glory. 
Winter Carnival Snow Statutes in Houghton, MI

Some of the amazing snow statues on display during Winter Carnival. Photo Credit: Michigan Technological University

  • Make like a musher.  Have you ever dreamed of racing to glory in the Iditarod? Or, do you have a need to be surrounded by high-energy, four-legged, furry companions?  Either way, Otter River Sled Dog Training Center & Wilderness Adventures is here to make your dreams come true. Grab a friend and lead the pack as you traverse up to 10 miles of pristine Keweenaw wilderness as your dog team flies across the snow. Keweenaw Pro-Tip: Mark your calendars for the 11th running of the CopperDog 150 sled dog race:  February 28-March 1st, 2020.  Watch these furry, world-class athletes from across the globe compete in an exciting three-day, 150-mile race around the Keweenaw!
A child enjoys a sled dog ride in the Keweenaw

A child enjoys a sled dog ride in the Keweenaw at the Otter River Sled Dog Training Center

  • Grab your sled and ride.  With more than 200 miles of prime trails, it’s no wonder why the Keweenaw is a snowmobiler’s paradise.  Take the trail from Houghton all the way to Copper Harbor and be sure to grab a pasty (pronounced past-ee) for the long trip. You can do an informal pasty “trail” by visiting: Roy’s Pasties & Bakery and Suomi Restaurant in Houghton, Amy J’s Kitchen in Hancock, Connie’s Kitchen in Calumet, Toni’s Country Kitchen in Laurium, The Hut just north of Calumet, and The Mohawk Superette in Mohawk.  Need a ride?  Stop by Copper Country Rentals in Calumet to rent your sled.  
MTU hockey in Houghton

Huskies take on the University of Alaska in MacInnes Arena in Houghton, MI. Photo Credit: Michigan Technological University

  • Watch a Huskies hockey game.  Up in the Copper Country, we’re pretty proud of our hockey heritage (Houghton’s the birthplace of professional hockey after all).  And a visit to the Keweenaw can’t end without catching a hockey game at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena as the Huskies take on some serious competition.  You’ll leave a little hoarse after belting out various hockey chants led by the Michigan Tech pep band, but you won’t regret a fun-filled night that’ll surely end in a Husky victory!  The season begins in October and runs through March.  Check out the full schedule.  
  • Experience Black Creek Nature Sanctuary. The Keweenaw offers an amazing array of treks perfect for experiencing the sights and sounds of winter. The Black Creek Nature Sanctuary near Calumet is a less-frequented destination where visitors are treated to beautiful views of fantastical ice hills and “volcano vents” formed by ice buildup from Lake Superior. The 242-acre sanctuary features gently rolling trails, forested landscapes and a picturesque lagoon that feeds into Lake Superior during the warmer months. This secluded location is home to abundant local wildlife including beavers, spruce grouse, and the occasional wolf or black bear.  
  • Fat Tire Biking.  If you love biking, you’ve likely noticed a niche, but growing winter trend: fat-tire riding. This sport features fat-tires (4”-5”) normally set to 5-8 psi which helps riders float atop snowy surfaces.  The style is gaining traction across all surface types.  And in the Keweenaw, snow-biking allows you to experience your favorite trails in a completely new light. Popular places to ride include the Michigan Tech trails in Houghton and Swedetown in Calumet. Be sure to stay hydrated and dress in layers! 
Cross-country skier at Swedetown Trails in Calumet

A skier looks out upon the winter landscape at Swedetown Trails in Calumet, MI.

  • Cross Country Skiing.  While the Keweenaw’s downhill scene deservedly gets a lot of attention, its Nordic counterpart is one of the best ways to experience the Copper Country during wintertime. Cross-country skiing’s popularity with locals and visitors stems from the region’s numerous trail systems, fresh, powdery snow, and scenic landscapes.  For competitive skiers, the 40th annual Great Bear Chase Ski Marathon takes place in Calumet, MI, and Michigan Tech is preparing to host the 2020 US Cross Country Ski Championships January 3-8, 2020!
  • Transformative Productions. Not in the mood for an outdoor experience? We’ve got you covered. How about a bit of culture? Michigan Tech’s Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts offers visitors the opportunity to experience live performances by nationally and internationally acclaimed artists, thought leaders and performers. The largest performing arts venue in the U.P., the Rozsa specializes in connecting their audience with emotionally riveting and thought-provoking experiences in the form of ballet, theatre, music, film and lecture mediums. Keweenaw Pro-Tip:  Pair a Rozsa performance with a dinner for two or a pre-show cocktail at The Den or the Bonfire Steakhouse.  Conveniently located just minutes from the Rozsa in downtown Houghton, you can enjoy a fine-dining experience without missing a minute of the first act.  
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