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Explore Michigan: Winter Fun in the Mitten

Ski and sled tracks at Huron Hills Golf Course

Ski and sled tracks at Huron Hills Golf Course

The days are short and the weather is cold and snowy. Don't fret though, because you live in Michigan, where there's enjoyment to be had in all seasons. Winter is one of my personal favorites because there are so many activities that you can only do when the weather is cold and there's snow on the ground. Lucky for you, Ann Arbor is one of the best places to take advantage of the season. If you're up for a day or weekend trip, the west side of the state and upper Michigan are some of the snowiest places in the U.S., thanks to the plentiful lake-effect snow dumped on us by the Great Lakes every year. In this post, I share my favorite winter activities, and how and where you can enjoy them. Whether you're a beginner looking to try something for the first time or a veteran looking for nearby places to enjoy your favorite activities, I hope that you find this post useful. By the time you're done reading, you'll no longer find yourself dreading winter, but eagerly anticipating the next snow!

Jeff skiing with his cattle dog

Skiing with my cattle dog (as he attacks my skis).

Cross-country skiing

Do you enjoy running in the warmer months, but are not a big fan of running in the snow? Well then strap on some skis and go cross-country skiing. Cross-country skiing is perhaps my favorite winter activity. You can often find me skiing with my cattle dog in the winter months before work. I've even skied the roughly two miles from my apartment to campus a couple of times (and got some funny looks walking through the buildings with my skis in hand). It's the perfect balance of exercise and enjoying nature, and it is ideal for Michigan's hilly terrain. My favorite place to ski in Ann Arbor is at the Huron Hills Golf Course. There aren't any groomed trails so you need to bring your own pair of skis, but the mix of hills and woods make for a great adventure. If you are willing to venture out of the area, you can go to Stinchfield Woods (about a 30-minute drive). This is also a non-groomed trail; they have something called the rollercoaster hill which is a must-do for all skiers. If you haven't skied before and/or don't have your own pair of skis, check out the nearby Hudson Mills or Huron Meadows Metroparks. Both offer groomed ski trails and holiday and weekend equipment rentals.

Jeff's skis and poles lying in the snow

My skis and poles at the end of my morning commute to campus (in front of the Space Research Building).

Ice skating

There's nothing better than clearing the snow off a pond in the winter and going for a skate. I grew up playing pond hockey with family and friends; for me, it doesn't really feel like winter until I'm skating outdoors and breathing in the cold air. In Ann Arbor, you can skate outdoors at Buhr Park. The outdoor ice arena is covered, so you're not completely exposed to the elements! The arena offers public skating, drop-in hockey, and skate rentals. There is also public skating at Yost Arena every day in the fall and winter, and various organizations plan skate nights for graduate students during the colder months (keep an eye out for these events in your inbox). Skates are available for rent at the arena. If you've never been to Yost, it's a great way to experience the rink where the Wolverines play. Check out the Yost website for more details.

Jeff playing ice hockey outdoors

Playing pond hockey at my family's cabin.

Sledding

Skiing and skating can sometimes feel a bit daunting (and can be a lot of work!). If you're like me, one of the best winter activities is sledding. The best part about sledding is that it requires absolutely no experience; just grab a sled and go find a snow-covered hill. I've gone sledding at Huron Hills Golf Course in the past. The hilly terrain that's great for skiing is also ideal for sledding. However, you can sled pretty much anywhere that's open to the public, so feel free to find your own spot.

Cross-country skiing, ice skating, and sledding are only a few of the almost endless possibilities for getting outside this winter. If you're looking for other fun activities, you can also try snow shoeing, dog sledding (in the Upper Peninsula), curling (check out the Detroit Curling Club), snowmobiling, and ice fishing. A note of caution: if the activity involves going out on a frozen lake, make sure it's frozen solid before you do so.

Jeff curling at the Detroit Curling Club

Curling at the Detroit Curling Club.

I know that the short, cold, snowy winter days seem dreary, but I encourage you to go outside as much as possible in the winter by engaging in some of these activities. For me, getting outside is the difference between feeling sluggish and miserable, and enjoying the beauty of another great season in Michigan.


The views expressed in this post are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Rackham Graduate School or the University of Michigan.