The Ice, the Island, and the Adventure
Bob and Lynne Frye, of Cross Country Ski Headquarters, ski across the Lake Huron Ice Bridge to Mackinaw Island.
As we approached the snowy, bustling parking lot in Michigan’s upper peninsula city of St Ignace, on the shore of Lake Huron, we gazed out over the snow covered ice with Mackinac Island in the background, and saw them. The Christmas trees. They mark the Ice Bridge, a four mile “alternate route” from St Ignace to our destination, the quaint, historic Island of Mackinac. It was a sunny, crisp, cold, windy day in early March and we couldn’t wait to put on our gear and go.
Situated near the straits where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, the popular summer outpost of Mackinac Island offers a sharp contrast come winter, and becomes quiet and mysterious once the last ferry quits running for the season. No cars or motorbikes are allowed, and all transport is done by horse, bicycle, or on foot, except in the winter when occasional snowmobiles are used. Miles of trails weave through the island’s vastly forested center, and are off the beaten track even in the high season. Some of these trails become groomed cross country ski trails in the winter, and we were eager to traverse them and see the island in all of its winter beauty.
Happy that the strong westerly wind was at our backs, we glided on out away from shore. Because we weren’t sure what conditions we would encounter, we decided to use our Fischer Spider 62 metal edged skis, but as it turned out we could have used almost any touring ski to get across the ice. We did, however, appreciate the metal edges later that day when going down the hill by the Grand Hotel! We weren’t the only brave souls out there, either; we were in the fine company of snowmobiles, and even a fat bike, coming and going from the island. During the limited time when the ice bridge is safe enough to cross, islanders as well as winter enthusiasts from the mainland take the opportunity to venture out onto the well packed, well marked, tundra- like ice bridge for a truly unique experience. The mainland of course has supplies, cars and entertainment, but the island has groomed ski trails, tranquility and magic!
We enjoyed the ski across the ice and felt reasonably safe, taking time to marvel at the immense beauty of the ice and sky and to realize just where we were! It was incredible to think that only a few months earlier we had been sailing and maybe even swimming in this very spot. We skied onto shore at British Landing, on the northwest side of the island (a cannon marks the spot), and then proceeded up into the interior of the island. We needed to get to the other side, to the island’s main thoroughfare and commercial district on the southern shore. We skied up the road, which had a decent cover of packed, good snow. There was a ton of fresh snow as well, and the way it blanketed the beautifully huge cedars looked truly magical! We made our way past the airport and Stonecliff Inn, down through Harrisville, past the Grand Hotel and into town to our destination, The Pontiac Lodge – one of only a handful of businesses open for the winter. Our hot tub room, overlooking the picturesque Round Island Lighthouse to the south, was perfect for our 2 night stay.
We had an absolutely wonderful 2 days of skiing on the island! A friend of ours, who is also one of the island’s groomers, took us on tour up to Fort Holmes, the highest spot on the island, for awe inspiring views of the Straits, Mackinaw City and the nearby islands. We visited the famous Arch Rock, which is never crowded in the winter, and skied the groomed trails near Sugarloaf, a huge rock formation in the middle of the island (pictured here with Lynne).
Many of the trails on the east and north sides of the island are moderately hilly, groomed very nicely, and don’t see much use other than by the locals. The islanders are hearty, sincere, friendly and welcoming. So if you’re looking for an “off the beaten path” type of winter ski trip, consider Mackinac Island. We loved every minute and will continue to make this one of our yearly ski trips!
If you go: Doud’s Market is open year round as is The Pontiac Lodge, Bogan Lane Inn and The Mustang Lounge (serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.) Some useful phone numbers: Mark Chambers (long time island resident, groomer, and guide for hire) 906-847-3703, Mackinac Island Horse-drawn Taxi: 906-847-3323, Great Lakes Air (for a beautiful 5 minute flight to the Island from St Ignace) 906-643-7165, Doud’s Market: 906-847-3444, Pontiac Lodge 906-847-3364, Mustang Lounge (bar and restaurant) 906-847-9916, Bogan Lane Inn 906-847-3439. And don’t forget to take an extra layer .. “those winds sure can blow cold way out there!”
P.S. There’s a reason the conditions on the Ice Bridge aren’t advertised. It’s because these conditions can change significantly and without much notice. Use caution when deciding to go, and if the Ice Bridge isn’t ready, take a prop plane from St Ignace.