A reluctant winter lover’s guide to having fun outdoors in the city
Since our snow pack seems large enough to last until July, it makes sense to find a way to enjoy the white stuff. Admittedly, I don’t have the best track record for embracing winter. My instinct is to hibernate in my condo with a stack of books until spring. But, that’s not the spirit of a true Minnesotan and I’ve pledged to get outside and enjoy some activities, starting with cross-country skiing. Here’s a guide to enjoying some of the more popular outdoor activities in the Minneapolis.
Skating on one of the city’s 23 ice rinks is another fun way to spend a winter afternoon. All rinks have warming rooms and all have free skates to rent (Nokomis is the only exception). For ice conditions and information about which rinks are open, call the rink hotline at 313-7708.
Ice fishing is the quintessential Minnesota winter experience. And you don’t have to drive out of the city to do it. Anglers can use gas-powered augers to drill holes in the ice up to 10 inches in diameter on the city’s lakes. Portable fish houses can be used during the day, but anglers must have a license from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. For fishing licensing information, call 651-296-6157 or go to dnr.state.mn.us.
Snowshoeing is another great activity for people of all ages. For more information about upcoming naturalist-led snowshoeing events, call 313-7725.
There’s an upcoming snowshoeing event at Wirth Park on Jan. 16, 1–2:30 p.m. Participants will get a chance to watch for wildlife. It’s $10 (snowshoes provide). Meet at the Wirth Beach parking lot on Glenwood Avenue, east of Theodore Wirth Parkway. Register online at minneapolisparks.org or call 612-313-7725.
There are many places you can buy a nice set of cross-country skis, but if you want to shop at a locally owned retailer, Midwest Mountaineering, 309 Cedar Ave. S., is a great option. If you purchase a basic ski package, you get a free entry into the Luminary Loppet on Feb. 8.
If you want to get up to speed on where to ski in the city, ask for Iman Mefleh at the outdoor store. She’s a virtual encyclopedia of information about cross-country skiing in Minneapolis.
She skis in Theodore Wirth nearly every day in the winter. Besides her part-time work at Midwest Mountaineering, she teaches English as a Second Language at Anwatin Middle School in Bryn Mawr.
“I’ve been skiing in Minneapolis since I was a baby, my parents would take us out to Theodore Wirth,” she said. “I continued to love it, and my senior year, I joined the Minneapolis South High ski team.”
Mefleh says she thinks the ski trails in Theodore Wirth are something of a hidden gem and underappreciated.
“I love the quiet of skiing. You hear the trees, the owls, the swish of skis, your breath. It’s so beautiful,” she said. “People who don’t love winter have probably never had a good experience out in it. Everyone think it’s too dark and cold, but if you ski, you get warm — hot and sweat actually. As for the dark, I never need a headlamp because the winter night is so bright from the snow (and city lights).”
Theodore Wirth Park features 25 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails that accommodate both classic skiers and skate skiers. There is a 7-kilometer Hap & Judy Trail in the park that has 2.5-kilometers of lighted trails for evening skiing. There are also groomed ski trails at Hiawatha and Columbia Golf Clubs. You must purchase a pass to ski on the trails. It’s $8 for a daily pass and $45 for a season pass. You can get the passes at the Theodore Wirth Chalet, 1301 Wirth Parkway. There are ski lessons offered every weekend, too. For more details, go to theodorewirth.org. Equipment can be rented for people who don’t have their own skis.
Another great resource for information about cross-country skiing is skinnyski.com — a website with tons of information about local ski trails and places to ski all over the Midwest. There’s also information on races and other skiing events.
Cross-country skiing lovers should also take note of the upcoming City of Lakes Loppet planned for Feb. 5–6. It’s a massive festival celebrating cross-country skiing. Highlights include the Luminary Loppet & Tent Party, a gorgeous nighttime ski around Lake of the Isles; the Penn Ice-Cycle Loppet, a bike race on a short track of ice; the Hoiggard’s Classic, a 25k race starting in Theodore Wirth and ending in Uptown; the City of Lakes Freestyle Loppet, a 33k urban race; and the 14k Skijoring Loppet, a race featuring one-dog skijor teams. For more details on the City of Lakes Loppet, visit cityoflakesloppet.com.
Sledding, snow tubing
The steepest sledding hill in the city is at Columbia Park in Northeast. Admission is free and snow tubes can be rented at Columbia Golf Clubhouse.
Another sledding hotspot is Sunset Hill, which is a half mile north of Theodore Wirth Parkway and 26th Avenue. Admission is free, but you must have your own sled, toboggan or snow tube.
The Wirth Winter Recreation Area is another fun place for snow tubing. For youth 17 and younger, the tow ticket and tube rental is $8. The fee for adults is $12. Through Feb. 23, youth 17 and under can go snow tubing for free during Wirth’s Wild Winter Wednesdays. It’s 4–8:45 p.m. Tubes are available on a first come, first served basis.
For more information on winter activities in the city’s parks, visit minneapolisparks.org.