– By Sarah Aman, Desginer
Snowcation: [snoh-kay-shuh-n] noun
- A period of suspension of work, study, or other activity to visit someplace snowy.
As designers of amazing destinations, it’s only logical that we seek inspiration by visiting amazing destinations ourselves. These trips are not only fun vacations – they are also tools in our arsenal of personal experience that help enrich future projects. When looking for inspiring travel locales in the dead of a Missouri winter, many of my colleagues look to the south, hoping to find sunshine, white sandy beaches, or just anywhere above 30 degrees. But me? I look to the opposite direction: north, toward frozen lakes, snowy forests, and chilly temperatures.
It’s not unusual for me to seek out wintry locales this time of year. A born-and-bred Michigander, I grew up loving the magical, marshmallow world created by lake-effect snow. While my friends went to sunnier climes for their vacations, I stayed in a lighthouse bed ‘n’ breakfast on a frozen Lake Superior, or hiked Wisconsin ice caves, or cross-country skied through deep drifts in Yellowstone.
I utilized the PGAV Go! program to fund my most recent snow-cation to Munising, Michigan, a small town on the shores of Lake Superior that receives over 200 inches of snowfall each year. As the western gateway to the beautiful Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising is a popular summer destination, but in winter its frigid beauty draws a different crowd. Snow-mobilers, ice fishers, cross-country skiers, snow-shoers, and ice climbers all gravitate toward the area to take advantage of all this spectacular winter wonderland has to offer!
It’s this last group of snow-venturers that brought me back to Munising to experience the Michigan Ice Fest, the oldest ice climbing festival in the US. Ice climbing! The perfect combination of three of my favorite things: snow, climbing, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Added bonus: wielding wicked-looking ice axes and crampons. I had a few years of rock climbing under my harness and climbed fairly regularly at a local gym. How hard could it be?
Well, we all know the answer to that question. I expected my climbing experience to put me at an advantage, but for the most part I was at square one, just like every other new climber at the festival. Day one was a workshop, learning the ropes and spending hours on the ice. The crampons were the biggest challenge – to use them most effectively, you must rely on your toes, stepping upward but stabbing into the ice downward, keeping your heel higher than your toe in order to keep the prongs from slipping out of the ice. Makes perfect sense in theory, but in practice felt totally weird. My feet kept slipping, and consequently I burned out my arms as I tried to do ice axe pull-ups to haul myself up the blue curtains, getting to the top through sheer stubbornness as my arms trembled from exhaustion. My delight at being out in the snow was dampened by my annoyance that ice climbing was a lot harder than I thought it’d be.
It was a joy to give my poor arms a break the following day to traipse around the Munising countryside. My friend and I hiked out to see the stunning green ice of Eben Ice Caves, visited the frozen pillar of Munising Falls, and even hitched a ride on a MacGyvered snow shuttle to the iconic Miner’s Castle and Miner’s Falls. Winter had sculpted the landscape into a completely different world, a sparkling, snowy wonderland that was still and peaceful compared to the bustling crowds that flocked here in the summer.
*Yooper: a resident of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The next day, we hit the ice again. I was determined to improve, still convinced this was the perfect sport for me! This was an open climb day, and the area was packed. Experienced climbers showed off their moves and offered advice, and we benefited from their tips. I finally found a groove, alternating each swing of the axes with a stab of my daggered feet, relying more on my legs than my arms (which my biceps greatly appreciated). I was having way more fun now that my arms weren’t shaking uncontrollably by the time I got to the top.
By the time we were packing up to go home, I was already looking forward to the next time I could attend the Ice Fest!
So next time you’re looking to travel to escape the winter weather, consider embracing it. Seek out those inspiring winter wonders: the frigid magnificence of a frozen waterfall, the sparkling splendor of a frosty forest, the hidden wonders of an icy cave. You won’t have to worry about the crowds, that’s for sure.
Just make sure you pack warm clothes.