As a pre-Thanksgiving lake effect storm system dumped a foot of snow on Munising, National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Michels had a message for residents and visitors: Get used to it.
“Right now, our best indicators are that it’s going to be an above average snowfall year, with a lot of lake effect from cold Canadian air moving into the U.P.,” Michels said about the long-range winter forecast. “Temperatures look about normal or above normal, but the lake is warmer than usual, so that will get the lake effect systems going.”
That’s a favorable outlook for Munising, which lays claim to being the Snowmobiling Capital of the Midwest, based on 330 miles of trails and more than 200 inches of snow that fall in Alger County each year. The region is a perfect starting spot or destination for snowmobilers who want to spend days travelling between towns, through magical woods, and to majestic ice caves and ice structures that daring climbers scale daily.
Members of the Snowmobile & O.R.V. Association of Alger County (SORVA for short) begin grooming the trials Dec. 1 and continue as long as the snow lasts, which is usually into April. The system provides access from Au Train to Shingleton and all trails and points between. The groomed terrain matches any snowmobiler’s taste for adventure, or an easy day on the packed surfaces to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Miner’s Castle.
“The trails are such a great, smooth ride that people say it’s like a highway in the woods,” said Cori-Ann Cearley, the president of the Munising Visitors Bureau. “Some people think about snowmobiling, and they remember bouncing around on bad surfaces or being sore at the end of the day, but get on these trails and it’s not like that.
“It’s comfortable just to cruise around and see nature. There are Zen-like moments waiting in the snow, too. A fresh snow and wide-open terrain are truly beautiful scenes that you need to experience.”
While the U.P. saw near-record traffic during the summer travel season, the winter is a more dialed-back time for leisure and outdoor recreation, with attractions that are just as breathtaking as other seasons. Visitors rave to merchants, restaurant owners and hotel leaders that winter features:
- No waiting lists for lunch or dinner out.
- Less expensive hotel rates.
- Fewer people at prime locations.
As Munising prepares to welcome winter guests, Cearley and others are anticipating the exciting return of Michigan Ice Fest, the one-of-a-kind celebration of all things ice-climbing, including professional climbers showing their talents, adventures for new and returning recreational climbers, exhibits, courses and clinics.
The festival centers around Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and runs from Feb. 9-13, 2022. The ice caves at the national park and the nearby Eben Ice Caves have built a reputation as among the most stunning phenomenons in the U.S., with the massive structures forming when melting snow runs over the edge of tall cliffs and freezes. The caves typically begin forming in mid-December and change as the season progresses.
“Ice Fest is the winter’s biggest event and it’s truly a spectacle,” Cearley said. “It’s amazing to see them at any time in the winter, but when you watch people climbing them and get a chance to do it yourself, it’s a whole different level of excitement.”
Ice Fest visitors, and those that go to Eben caves, should dress accordingly as the attractions are subject to the whims of Michigan’s weather. A visit to the Eben caves requires a ¾-mile hike from the parking area.
After a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19, Cearley is looking forward to getting out to see the technical climbing again.
“I always tell everyone they need to come and see it,” she said. “Watching the pros climb is something you’ll never forget.”