In Westby, Norwegians take their love of tradition to extreme heights.
The high ridges and deep coulees south of La Crosse drew so many Norwegian immigrants in the 19th century that the area around Westby became known as "America's little Gudbrandsdal,'' after the valley in Norway.
The Norwegians had left their homes, but not their customs. Today, Norwegian flags fly from lampposts, and the visitors center is a stabbur, a top-heavy wood building used in Norway since the Middle Ages.
The first time I saw Rib Mountain it was nighttime, and I was driving toward Wausau from the north.
Looming over the Wisconsin town was a massive hulk lined with white lights, rising from the surrounding plain like a landing strip set on edge. It was a spectacular sight and still is, day or night.
This billion-year-old quartzite ridge, one of the oldest on Earth, was thought to be the highest point in Wisconsin until Timm's Hill, near Ogema, was surveyed at 12 feet higher.
When you live in the frozen north, you may as well embrace winter.
My idea of fun is to cross-country ski, but for that, Mother Nature needs to bring snow. But alpine skiing, which I also like, requires only some big snow guns.
After one wimpy winter, I bought alpine skis. They cost a lot, but I can actually use them, unlike my Nordic skis, all winter long.
When youre a beginning skier, its nice to catch a break.
Alpine ski areas want to foster lifelong skiers and snowboarders,
so most offer great deals to first-timers. Places are limited, so
reserve in advance.
At Trollhaugen in western Wisconsin, adults
who buy lift ticket and rental get a free beginner's lesson any time. And for $136, first-time skiers or snowboarders age 13 and over get three lessons in January, either Sundays or Tuesdays, plus rentals and lift tickets, plus a free lift ticket for the rest of the season.
Whenever I get out of the forest and onto the hills, I remember something: Downhill skiing is a blast.
One year, when snow was thin on the cross-country trails, I went to Lutsen Mountains on Minnesota's North Shore. Its longest run is two miles, and flying down its long, undulating hills, only to be carried back up in a chairlift, made slogging through the forest seemed like chump work.
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.
Thunder Bay is the Miss Congeniality of Canada blessed but not beautiful, endearing yet not alluring.
Craggy bluffs flank this working-class town of 120,000 on one side, and Lake Superior on the other. But the candy-striped smokestack of a paper mill is the first thing seen by those who arrive by air or U.S. highway.
Beyond is an unremarkable sprawl of commerce and industry. But Thunder Bay's homeliness is only skin-deep to those who know where to go: To the marina, where lovely sunsets frame the Sibley Peninsula with glowing bands of peach and slate-blue.
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. Patricks Day.
Michigans Upper Peninsula, with its towering stacks of snow, is a good place for skiers to be in the spring.
For alpine skiers, these are the best days of the year.
At least, they are at Lutsen Mountains on Minnesota's North Shore.
Started in 1948, the ski hill has the regions steepest vertical drop, the longest runs and the widest variety, plus a killer view of Lake Superior.
During three days at Giants Ridge one January, I kept wondering: Where are all the people?
The sun was shining, the snow was ideal, and most schoolchildren still were on winter break. The handsome Lodge at Giants Ridge was giving discounts on its already low midweek rates, and kids could ski free.
All that, and no lift lines.