In a blizzard, nothing is better than holing up with an expert cook, a bottomless cookie jar, a steam room, a big hot tub and one of the best ski-trail groomers in the Midwest.
One January, the stars aligned in the heavens and I found myself in the best possible place to be during a blizzard: Maplelag.
This ski resort in northwest Minnesota is renowned for many things — all-you-can-eat meals, personable owners, hundreds of stained-glass windows and signs from defunct train depots — but it’s most famous for its ability to conjure a bit of snow into world-class ski tracks when the rest of Minnesota is bare.
The snow appeared on cue, just as Wisconsin faded into the Upper Peninsula. One minute there was a dusting, and the next a whole layer, white and inviting.
It seemed too perfect, as if there must be snowguns hidden behind the "Welcome to Michigan'' sign. But there was snow beyond that, too, right up to the doors of the three ski resorts that line U.S. 2 just inside the state line.
That's why they call this Big Snow Country. Winds from the west whip across Lake Superior, picking up warmth and moisture, and dump it as snow — more than 17 feet annually, on average — when they hit the cold inland air of the U.P.
In Ironwood, there’s one thing people can count on besides death and taxes.
Snow, and lots of it, is a sure thing in this former ore-mining town just over the Wisconsin-Michigan border. Blown in over Lake Superior, the snow starts falling as soon as days cool down in late autumn and keeps falling until spring sun turns the pink-tinted piles into slush.
Its sheer quantity often exasperates locals, but it exhilarates the cross-country skiers who converge on the town like sheep to salt, desperate to hear the crunch of newfallen snow and cast their eyes over a world of white.
Just up north, there’s a vast wilderness of lakes, virgin forest and wild rivers lined by waterfalls and rapids.
It isn’t like other north-woods forests — not as they are in this century, anyway. It’s a wilderness unto itself, and though it’s no farther than the state parks farther up Minnesota’s North Shore, it seems a world away.
It feels a world away, too.
On the western tip of the Upper Peninsula, snow comes as regularly as mail.
Gusts of wind make the deliveries, picking up moisture and warmth over Lake Superior and then dumping it as snow when they hit the cold inland air around Ironwood and Bessemer.
The two ski towns are little more than four hours from the Twin Cities, but they look more like the North Pole in comparison. Snow comes early, piles high and stays late, into April.
Ah, the smell of Coppertone in spring.
Leaning back on a chairlift, basking in sun bounced off acres of snow, I was getting quite a tan — on St. Patrick’s Day.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with its towering stacks of snow, is a good place for skiers to be in the spring.