By Jane Gleeson
With winter weather arriving well ahead of schedule this season and the holidays but a distant memory, cabin fever has likely set in. To help combat the winter doldrums, here’s a selection of cold-weather entertainment ideas — some close to home and others throughout the state.
Stay warm inside
The Detroit Institute of Arts presents its Sunday Music Bar concert series, free with museum admission, every Sunday at 1:00 and 3:00 pm. The concerts feature acoustic music spanning many cultures and genres. Sit back with coffee or a drink while you experience performances by a wide range of premier artists in the DIA’s Kresge Court.
The 2015 Motor City Open PSA World Tour Squash Tournament will be held at the Birmingham Athletic Club in Bloomfield Hills Jan. 22-27. Witness some of the top players from around the world at the fourth largest professional squash tournament in the country. Don’t miss the action! For ticket information, contact Julian Wellings: 248-646-1663.
Ferndale Blues and Music Festival, held Jan. 23-31, is a popular festival that attracts blues fans from near and far. Running since 2001, this epic blues fest includes more than 20 participating venues across Ferndale. Best of all, 100 percent of the proceeds from the event go to help support local Michigan charities.
Bundle up for statewide festivals
Many winter festivals are held on frozen lakes, a great place for kite-flying, ice golf and hot-air balloon rides. Park areas display intricate ice and snow sculptures, food tents and more. Here are just a few of the festivals scheduled throughout Michigan.
Jan. 15–17: Mackinaw City’s 22nd Annual Winter Fest features a snow-sculpting competition, sleigh rides, a poker run and outhouse races. There’s also an ice-fishing tournament on Paradise Lake (weather permitting) and many more fun winter activities for kids, teens and adults.
Jan. 16–17: Ice & Spice Festival in Bay Harbor, a beautiful Lake Michigan village between Petoskey and Charlevoix, holds competitions sanctioned by the National Ice Carving Association along with a chili cook-off challenge.
Jan. 16–18: Hunter Ice Festival in Niles, located in the southwest tip of the state and named for a turn-of-the-century ice-harvesting business, features more than 150 ice sculptures and an ice-carving competition.
Jan. 21-23: The Plymouth Ice Festival features the Community International Ice Sculpture, with more than 100 ice sculptures, live music and entertainment, wintery gourmet delights and interactive exhibits for the kids. There’s also an ice sculpture competition with professional judges.
Jan. 21-26: Frankenmuth’s Zehnder’s Snowfest has been host to one of the top snow sculpting events in North America for the past 23 years. Visitors will see larger-than-life snow sculptures and beautifully detailed ice carvings. Zehnder’s Snowfest also features entertainment for the entire family in the warming tent, a fireworks display, petting zoo and other children’s activities.
Jan. 22–25: Grand Haven’s Winterfest is a full weekend of winter fun in this quaint town located along the Lake Michigan shoreline. This interactive festival features activities both indoors and outdoors.
Jan. 23-25: Rochester Fire & Ice Fest includes fireworks, TasteFest, tube sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, dog sled rides, ice skating, broomball exhibition and ice sculptures.
Jan. 30-Feb. 1: Highlights of the Ice Breaker in South Haven include an ice-carving competition, wagon rides, synchronized skating and a chili cook-off.
Feb. 4-7: Winter Carnival at Houghton’s Michigan Tech University includes a human dog-sled race, snow volleyball and a tug of war and ends with a torchlight parade and fireworks at nearby Mont Ripley ski hill.
Feb. 5-8: Michigan Ice Fest in Munising features ice-climbing demos and slide shows as well as clinics for beginners at nearby Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.
Feb. 6-8: The Motown Winter Blast in Detroit offers an array of culinary delights, including the Taste of Detroit, where food and drinks from favorite restaurants, eateries and caterers will be available. You’ll also find great music, ice skating, snowshoeing, carnival rides and marshmallow roasting, just to name a few featured activities.
Feb. 12-15: The Winter Comedy Arts Festival in Traverse City features comedy concerts and films, as well as music, a hot-chocolate contest and lots of free things to do on downtown’s Front Street, including a Ferris wheel and zip-line rides, snow tubing, mini-golf, a monster dog pull and much more.
Feb. 20-22: Pine Mountain Ski Jumping Tournament in Iron Mountain, in the Upper Peninsula, hosts jumpers from around the world at this highly regarded U.S. tournament. Pine Mountain, one of the highest artificially created ski jumps in the world, is also a stop on the Continental Cup circuit.
Feb. 27-28: The 10th Annual Winter Beer Festival is held at Fifth Third Ball Park in Comstock Park (just north of Grand Rapids). The festival features Michigan breweries and hundreds of different craft beers.
Feb. 28: The Coopersville Outhouse 500, held in this town just east of Grand Haven, features a parade of decorated outhouses, followed by races and a decorated toilet seat contest and auction.
Winter on the river – Winter and rafting aren’t normally words you hear in the same sentence, but the owners of Big Bear Adventures (bigbearadventures.com) in Indian River believe the two are mutually compatible. The outfitter has offered family-friendly winter rafting trips on the Sturgeon River since 2001. Jordan Valley Outfitters in the Jordan Valley area of northern Michigan also offers winter rafting tours, including nighttime stargazing excursions. Winter rafting is one of the few winter activities that allow you to get up-close to a variety of animals — deer, turkey, bald eagles, beaver, mink, muskrat, fox and coyote — in their natural habitats.
Icing up – If you’re looking for a daring adventure but don’t want to travel to the Upper Peninsula (where the pros go for their ice-climbing exhilaration), check out the Peabody Ice Climbing Club. It’s located on an old apple orchard in Fenton where two man-made ice mountains provide a distinct challenge. At 45 and 75 feet tall, these two towers mimic natural ice mountains. Peabody offers a great place for well-seasoned climbers to “freshen up” before their big trip or to help train a newcomer to the sport. It also offers gear rental and instructor support. The season runs through mid-March.
Goin’ to the dogs – Another way to become immersed in Michigan’s showy snowscapes is to join man’s best friends for an exhilarating sled ride. According to experts, the only prerequisite for serious, long-distance dog sledding is that you be in good physical condition because it often entails running with the dogs as well as uphill climbs in some areas. Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs, OCM Mushing in Mancelona and Otter River Sled Dog Training Center and Wilderness Adventures in Tapiola offer regular rides.
You’ll also find kennels with short sled-dog rides, including Nature’s Kennel in McMillan and Last Chance Kennel in Mancelona. Nature’s Kennel tours are designed for beginners, so anyone can learn to drive a dog team. At the family-friendly Double JJ Resort in Rothbury, near Muskegon, guests can ride dog-pulled sleds in the winter and help train the dogs with wheeled carts in the warmer months.
Travel at the speed of ice – If fast is your speed, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex offers a luge track (one of four in the U.S.). The Olympic version of luging features racing toboggans with riders lying on their backs and descending, feet first, at close to 90 mph. These heart-thumping speeds slow down a bit at the Complex luge track, which is designed for beginners. Top speeds start at about 30 mph on a “good ice” day.
The Complex’s “Learn to Luge Experience” stresses safety when teaching new sliders or conducting races with seasoned sliders. Participants are outfitted with elbow pads, a helmet and a well-maintained luge sled. An instructor carefully goes over each part of the sled with a beginning slider and teaches steering techniques.
Gone ice fishin’ – Cold-weather lovers can enjoy a relaxing, slow-paced outdoor adventure with ice fishing. According to OffBeatTravel (an online resource for unique travel experiences), ice fishing in Michigan is ideal from December to April (weather permitting). A popular ice fishing location is Houghton Lake, where hundreds of fishermen visit each year in search of pike, salmon, crappie and bluegill.
A Michigan fishing license is required for those 17 years and older, but first-time ice anglers can take advantage of Free Fishing Weekend February 14-15 throughout the state. All fishing license fees will be waived for two days and residents and outstate visitors can enjoy fishing on both inland and Great Lakes’ waters for all species of fish.
Lighted skiing – Bring your cross-country skis and/or snowshoes to Ludington State Park on the west side of Michigan for a lighted groomed trail that traverses the park. You can enjoy either activity every Saturday — Jan. 3, 17, 31 and Feb. 14 — from 6 to 8 p.m. Later, warm up with hot chocolate, tea or cider around the campfire. The lighted trail starts at the warming shelter. The park has snowshoes to loan on a first-come, first-served basis.