Cross-country Skiing

  • Cross-country skiing 101

    If you haven't tried the sport, here's how to get started.

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  • Bayfield in winter

    In the vacation town of Bayfield, action shifts to the woods in winter. In summer, everyone gravitates to Lake Superior and its cruise launches, sailboats, ferries and kayaks. But when it snows, the locomotion is on inland trails. And it does snow. Gales over the big lake deliver plenty for skiers, snowmobilers and mushers.

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  • Winter in Washburn

    In summer, the Bayfield Peninsula, on the northern tip of Wisconsin, is a playground of sand, water and woods, beloved by tourists. In winter, the playground expands. Lake Superior freezes and people come to play, walking to the mainland ice caves near Cornucopia and skiing across Chequamegon Bay by candlelight.

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  • Itasca in winter

    In winter, only the most dedicated pilgrims make the trip to Itasca, Minnesota's most revered state park. It's easy to see the 300-year-old pines that escaped loggers. And it's easier to listen — to the sassy chatter of a squirrel, the prehistoric croak of a crow, the rat-a-tat of a woodpecker.

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  • Snow heaven on the Gunflint Trail

    While people in cities to the south are looking for crocuses, folks on northeast Minnesota's Gunflint Trail are enjoying some of the best skiing of the year. It's not that the Gunflint is so much colder. It's that there's so much snow it keeps itself refrigerated, like glaciers. "We have a really good base,'' says Heather Telchow of Golden Eagle Lodge. "Even after these warm days, the snow is like brand new. I grew up in Faribault, and I'm used to it disappearing in a few days. But we don't lose snow like that up here. We keep it forever.''

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  • For skiers, lighted trails

    Every year, candlelight ski and snowshoe treks get a little more popular. But snow, it turns out, isn't the important part. There wasn't enough for snowshoeing earlier this month at Horicon Marsh in southeast Wisconsin, but more than 2,000 people showed up anyway for a candlelight hike.

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  • Ski out the door

    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.

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  • Minocqua's white magic

    In northeast Wisconsin, winter can be almost shamelessly beautiful. Skiing the Escanaba Lake Trail near Minocqua one February, exchanging hellos with passing skiers, all of them smiling, I had the feeling I must be in a magazine shoot.

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  • A Giant advantage

    For cross-country skiers, Giants Ridge has it all: Plentiful snow. Scenery. Sixty kilometers of groomed trails. Best of all, it has chairlifts. Alpine skiers aren’t the only ones who think downhills are more fun than uphills. Nordic skiers also like to put gravity on their side, especially those who are trying to learn how to skate.

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  • Happy days at Maplelag

    It was an early January day in western Minnesota. A biting wind was blowing off the prairie, and the mercury was sinking faster than the Titanic. But it didn’t matter. I was at Maplelag, where the world is my iceberg . . . um, oyster. At Maplelag, no matter how inhospitable the outside world is, the lodge’s stained-glass windows turn the wan rays of winter into gleaming golds and apricots. The steam billowing from the giant hot tub creates a dome of warmth amid the tundra. Bottomless cookie jars and baskets of hot fry bread keep guests fat and happy.

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  • Ironwood the reliable

    In Ironwood, there’s one thing people can count on besides death and taxes. 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.

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  • Cross-country in Duluth

    One March, I went up to Duluth but woke up in Siberia. Twenty inches of snow had fallen overnight. A savage 70 mph wind was howling around the glass-walled lobby of the Willard Munger Inn. Swirling snow had turned the air white.

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  • Adventure in Eagle River

    It's rocky, useless land, forfeited to the government during the Depression, and hardly anyone lives there — Eagle River, pop. 1,400, is Vilas County's only city.

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  • Skiing in southeast Minnesota

    Sometimes, skiers have a hard time figuring out Mother Nature. It's supposed to snow across northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, but often, storms have veered to the south instead. It's odd, but what can you do? You have to go with the snow. One year, at the end of February, my friend Becky and I were just about to make the long drive to the snowy Upper Peninsula of Michigan when the southeast Minnesota town of Winona got blanketed with 30 inches.

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  • From yurt to B&B on the Gunflint Trail

    When it’s 30 below in the north woods, that's nothing like a cold day in Siberia. It’s more like a cold day in Mongolia. Temperatures were dangerously low over New Year's when we drove with friends to the Gunflint Trail, but we knew a wood fire would be waiting for us in a round, canvas-sided hut called a yurt, or ger in Mongolia.

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  • Skiing on Minnesota's North Shore

    On Minnesota's North Shore, it’s a happy day when snow is as abundant as scenery. Despite its miles of cross-country ski trails, the western shore of Lake Superior gets only modest amounts of lake-effect snow, because the storms that blow in from the east tend to dump it inland, where the land mass is colder. So if you want to ski, the trick is to head for the hills, ignoring the thinner snow along the highway.

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