50 reasons we love winter in Minnesota
No, winters in Minnesota aren't easy. And yes, there are times we think those southbound snowbirds have figured out what it's all about. But all the grumbling and shivering and frostbite aside, there are reasons we continue to live in this great state during the frigid winter months. In fact, here are 50 of them. Did we miss anything? Leave your favorites in the comments!
50. Warming House Hot Chocolate
Sorry mom, but those powdery cocoa-flavored cups of hot water that you served us as children just won't do. Zac and Jill Stafford of the Warming House have concocted several types of rich liquid chocolate for the adult palate. Sadly, their plans to roll out a winter food truck have been delayed, but look for them at various events, including the Kingfield Winter Market.
49. Water Park of America
Two words: hot tubs. If you feel the blues creeping into your bones, there's always the Water Park of America. It stays open through the coldest parts of the year (though mostly on weekends). Few things scream "escapism" like floating on a lazy river or descending 10 stories on a slide while a blizzard rages outside.
Image from a 2011 jump
48. The Polar Bear Plunges
Who knew that jumping in a frozen lake in the dead of winter could be so much fun? Each year, folks dress up in wild costumes — think ballerina gear, superhero get-ups, and tropical swimwear — and plunge into frosty waters, often in sub-zero temperatures. They're not doing it because they're crazy; the events raise funds for Special Olympics Minnesota. To find a Polar Bear Plunge at a lake near you, visit our calendar events page.
47. Ice doing weird stuff
Sure, the ice sculptures created during the Saint Paul Winter Carnival are pretty cool. However, at least once a year Mother Nature reminds us that she's the best artist of them all. We're even more aware of this nowadays thanks to the ubiquity of camera phones, Facebook, and YouTube. Inspiration can strike in especially weird and unexpected ways when temperatures fluctuate between freezing and thawing, as noted last year in two incidents where icicles sprung from Minnesota lakes and managed to push their way into nearby homes. When will ice strike next? We'll have to see — and watch in amazement — this winter.
46. Curling up with a book
Don't feel like shoveling your way out of the driveway? Give Old Man Winter the finger by spending your day with a good book courtesy of a local author or publisher. Suggestions: Rock Ink Roll, a comics anthology; Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow, a witty and intimate collection of essays by Andy Sturdevant; Augie's Secrets: The Minneapolis Mob and the King of Hennepin Strip, by Neal Karlen.
45. Winter farmers markets
Just because the temperatures drop off doesn't mean that farmers' market attendance has to as well. Smart shoppers maintain their weekend routine throughout the colder months by heading to one of a handful of our indoor farmers markets (or the downtown St. Paul market, which takes place both outdoors and inside Golden's Deli.) The Mill City Farmers' Market moves from the outdoor mall near the Guthrie to inside the Mill City Museum. The Midtown Farmers' Market tucks itself inside the Midtown Global Market. Stock up on tubers, roots, and other winter veggies as well as prepackaged products like honey, jams, candies, and baking mixes without braving the cold.
44. That warm feeling you get from snowblowing a neighbor's sidewalk
It isn't as warm as the feeling you get when you are inside, no longer snowblowing the sidewalk, but it's a good feeling nonetheless.
43. The 34th Annual John Lennon Tribute
Beatles aficionado Curtiss A has gotten a little help from his famous friends for the John Lennon Tribute over the past three decades. On Sunday, December 8, the crew includes the resurgent Suburbs, the Cactus Blossoms, and Sonny Knight & the Lakers.
42. Feeling like a badass
We take more than a little pride in being able to brave these ridiculously cold winters. When your buddy in California complains about it dipping below 50 degrees? Give him a smack-down. When your friends down South say, "I could never live that far north"? Puff up your chest. When you make it to the bar without biting it on the ice? Buy yourself an extra round. And then cab it home just to be safe.
41. Spring fever
By the end of winter, people start getting weird. While other cities enjoy April showers and May flowers, here we're just as likely to be shoveling fresh snow and getting a little stir crazy — but in the best way, of course. Among the oddities spotted in April 2013, better known as the tail end of the Winter Without End: a neighbor who decided the late snow was a sign from nature to fulfill his winter goal. One night, he built a snow fort in the front yard, wrapped himself in a blue tarp and some cardboard, and slept in it.
40. Having a good excuse to stay in
This can mean curling up with a book (see #46) or just having a reason not to go to that awkward holiday party. Cold weather can be a hermit's best friend.
38. Snow emergency text alerts
For car owners, snowy days mean one thing: checking and re-checking to see whether the city has declared a snow emergency, and launched the snow plows — and the tow trucks — onto the streets. At some point each winter, everyone has a friend, neighbor, or co-worker who gets towed and starts ranting about it. This year when you start getting an earful, remind the whiner who's on the way to the impound lot that they really have few excuses: Minneapolis offers phone calls, emails, snail mail, and even text messages to warn about snow emergencies (sign up on at www.minneapolismn.gov).
Roger Hanson's 2013 masterpiece
37. Ice Man Roger
When driving on highways near Big Lake in winter, keep a lookout for a massive wall of white-and-blue ice rising above the tree line. For seven years now, computer programmer Roger Hanson has devoted his winters to a mad scientist-style endeavor: building a world record-seeking ice monument in his backyard. The project started as a hobby to use up the waste water from his house's geothermal heating system, but quickly transformed into a passion project. Last winter, Hanson's ice sculpture — constructed with water-spraying robots, breakaways, and removable metal cables — hit 64 feet high and 90 feet wide, and when it came down in late March, it took trees with it.
36. Theodore Wirth Park
Complete with all the necessary equipment and instructors available for lessons, Theodore Wirth Park makes getting involved in winter sports as convenient as possible. The site, located on 700 acres of urban forest, is where winter sports lovers can go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snow tubing, snowboarding, and skijoring to their hearts' content. Make every winter the Wirth winter ever.
Image courtesy of the Pond Hockey Championships
35. Pond Hockey Championships
Forget indoor sports. The Pond Hockey Championships is an event that attracts enthusiastic old-school hockey fans from all over the Midwest and Canada. Divisions include 40-plus, 50-plus, rat rink (no blades!), women, and men. Folks square off throughout the weekend in a bracket-style competition with hopes of glory and the Golden Shovel. The tournament takes place on Lake Nokomis, and also offers warming tents, an open-skate rink, and beer for those having fun on the sidelines. This year's event takes place from January 17-19.
34. Star Wars Holiday Special at Bryant-Lake Bowl
George Lucas refuses to acknowledge its existence. Carrie Fischer has no memory of participating in it. However, thanks to the powers of hardcore fandom, this train wreck of holiday cheer will never be forgotten. Each year, the BLB hosts two screenings of the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special so folks can experience the horror firsthand. There's a surly Bea Arthur bartending at a cantina, a jam session with Jefferson Starship, a wooden appearance from Harrison Ford, an animated segment, and more of Chewbacca's family than you ever wanted to see. Audiences come dressed in costume, and work up a buzz from the bar. While the show is bad, the event is all good: Proceeds and donations benefit Toys for Tots. This year's party is on Wednesday, December 11, at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Admission is free if you bring a new toy.
33. Wintertime driving
Bear with us here. Winter driving kind of sucks, yeah? Well, look at it this way: We Minnesotans aren't always the best about, you know, the rules of the road — like using our turn signals or holding up traffic to wave through pedestrians. But hey, when winter hits, it's our time to shine because it's, er, every man for himself. After you, my friend. No, no, I insist! (You can never be too cautious — or too polite.)
B Fresh Photography
32. Lowertown SantaCon
Each year, the Lowertown SantaCon invites folks to celebrate the best part of the holidays — booze — with a lively bar crawl through St. Paul. Revelers are encouraged to wear their seasonal best, so expect to see elves, Santas, dreidels, and a maybe even a Turducken wandering the streets and ordering drinks from the bar. Outside, the frightful weather becomes delightful, as the party often features live music from the Brass Messengers, fire performances in Mears Park, and sightings of Krampus, the demonic Christmas creature who likes to taunt children (and do Jager bombs). The sixth annual crawl will be on Saturday, December 14.
31. Getting a warm drink at a coffee shop
Once pumpkin spice latte season rolls around, that pretty much means it's time for peppermint mochas and cinnamon cappuccinos. Beat the cold by warming up in your favorite coffee shop with a book as the snow falls outside. From daytime favorites to late-night caffeine fixes in Minneapolis and St. Paul, you'll never regret a trip to the coffee shop in a winter wonderland.
30. Shameless self-indulgence
Let's face it, we're all tired of the deep-seated shame we feel for our pale, "mature" bodies that look like uncooked slabs of chicken. Good luck wedging that shape into your bathing suit! Thankfully, we have winter, with all of its strategic layers of clothing. After the unending embarrassment of summertime has passed, we can bury all that guilt deep inside and stuff our faces with sweets and fats and oh-so-much eggnog.
29. Spiked hot cider
In Minnesota, winter has a habit of eating up the fall. When the orange and red leaves get prematurely covered in snow, a cup of comfort comes in the form of whiskey-enhanced hot cider. How 'bout (hiccup) them apples?
Outtake from our 2011 Winter Guide cover
Photo by Emily Utne
28. Doomtree Blowout at First Avenue and Triple Rock
Humbug on your stale holiday revues. We want some hip-hop in December. Now in its ninth year, Minneapolis's rap supergroup Doomtree has a lock on live music parties for the season for all ages. Tight.
27. Winter biking
We hear that other cities (er, Portland) have some devoted bikers. But for proof that Twin Cities cyclists go harder, look no further than our bike lanes in March, where badassery in the form of fat tires, snow goggles, and face masks will be on full display. Best of all, the city's on the bikers' side: Trails like the Midtown Greenway often get plowed as quickly as, or even before, the city streets do.
26. The Bad Plus residency at the Dakota
After the draining ordeal of various gift-giving seasons and the equally toxic shitshow of New Year's Eve, heading to the Dakota for some experimental jazz is a salve unlike any other. With four shows during December's final days, a multi-day cleanse could be in your future.
25. The wonder of the Finnish sauna
A steamy sauna followed by an ice cold beer. Need we say more?
24. Hot toddies
There's no denying that one of our favorite winter activities is drinking, always responsibly, of course. Improve upon the usual stout beer and mulled wine routine with an Irish coffee at the Local or a classic hot toddy anywhere that has hot water and whiskey. Pro tip: Drinking one out of a glass mug at the dark and cozy bar at the Monte Carlo feels particularly seasonally appropriate.
23. Red Bull Crashed Ice What do you get when you cross downhill skiing and roller derby? Red Bull Crashed Ice, duh. The extreme sports spectacle returns February 22, to downtown St. Paul. Note to the homebodies: A video game version is available on Xbox360.
22. Snow days off work and school
Sure, we've got a strong Midwestern work ethic. But that doesn't mean we don't appreciate a well timed snow day.
21. Macy's annual holiday display
Even though it hasn't changed for years, Macy's annual 8th Floor holiday display extravaganza is still worth a look. Take a peek inside a day in the life of an elf in the (faux) snow-covered Santaland complete with animatronic elves and animals. Kids'll love it (especially if they get to see the Holidazzle parade on Nicollet Mall, too), and it'll give adults an excuse to get nostalgic. Noshing on all the gingerbread men and baked goods for sale at the end of the tour is a must.
20. Heading to a cabin
When winter hits, we get cabin fever of a different sort. Knowing a friend of a friend with a cabin upstate is all it takes to start your weekend exodus. Of course, you can also opt for swankier digs, like the Lutsen Lodge on Lake Superior. Either way, stock up on snacks, booze, firewood, and board games, and have an escape plan for if things veer towards The Shining.
B Fresh Photography
19. Saintly City Cat Club Championship Show
The Saintly City Cat Club Championship Show may put kitties in the center ring, but as an event that really brings out the Twin Cities' eccentric elite, it's the people-watching that keeps us coming back year after year. In addition to all the smooshie feline faces, amazing kitty tattoos, cat-themed clothing, and endless photo ops, one of the highlights of the Saintly City show is everyone's favorite judge, Walter Hutzler, who is always meticulously accessorized and dispenses memorable educational tidbits about each breed. That's how we know that "Abyssinians are the instigators of the feline world." It's the most fun you'll ever have for under $5. Trust.
18. Skyway people-watching
Winter means that the skyway is packed with lots of attractive (or at least interesting looking) people. From prim-and-proper Target Corp folks to stylish downtown shoppers, there's no shortage of opportunities to get your people watching on. Sure, it might not be quite as pleasant as taking in the sights on a warm summer day at Lake Calhoun or outside along Nicollet Mall, but when it's literally freezing outside, you have to take what you can get.
17. St. Paul Winter Carnival
One of the longest held traditions on this list, the St. Paul Winter Carnival was first held in 1886 as a retort to a New York reporter's description of St. Paul as "another Siberia, unfit for human habitation in the winter." Today, residents still defy that reporter's foolish assessment, celebrating winter in St. Paul with ice and snow sculptures, the Winter Carnival Medallion hunt (a high-stakes treasure hunt), the torchlight parade, dogsled races, the Beer Dabbler (number six on our list), and the crowning of the Winter Carnival royal family. The 2014 event runs January 23 to February 2.
16. White Christmases
Do I really need to waste 75 words explaining why a white Christmas is preferable to a brown Christmas, or a green Christmas, or a Christmas of any other color? Santa doesn't wear shorts and sandals, after all. So while snow might get a little old by February and March, we wouldn't have it any other way during the holidays.
Once there's enough snow on the ground, it's practically mandatory that you take a sled, a tray, or just about anything that you can slide on down the nearest hill. From the Walker Art Center's steep incline to Powderhorn Park's hills, there are tons of places around the cities where you can get that incomparable rush from the whoosh of the snow as you zip downward.
14. Winter fashion
No matter how you look at it, winter is where it's at for fashion. If you're a true fashionista, now's your time to shine: Layer up all those scarves and sweaters like only you know how, because duh, anyone can figure out a summertime outfit. And for those who lack a certain sartorial je ne sais quoi, rest assured that Minnesotans can get by without trying — we wore Red Wings and flannel before it was hip.
Photo by Patrick Kelley
It may not be as big as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but for the past 21 years the Holidazzle has delighted folks looking for some free holiday cheer. This year, scheduled to be its last, will be no different: Glowing floats, marching bands, roving Christmas characters, and Santa on his sleigh will all make their way down Nicollet Mall. Whether you take in the march from a nearby bar during happy hour or outside with friends and a thermos of cocoa, the event is a heartwarming one. The parade runs Fridays and Saturdays from November 29 through December 21 starting at 6:30 p.m.
12. Timberwolves games
It might be cold outside, but who cares when one of the hottest teams in the NBA is playing at the Target Center? This season seems poised to be the best one in a decade for the Wolves. Ticket prices, however, remain relatively cheap thanks to the last decade the team has spent losing. In an odd scheduling twist, an inordinate amount of Wolves home games are on Wednesday nights this seasons, so celebrate winter Hump Days by checking out the most competitive NBA team to grace downtown Minneapolis since the KG days.
11. Checking out Minnehaha Falls
Taking a stroll by Minnehaha Falls isn't just for the summer months. Go there after the deep freeze of winter has set in, and you'll be able to see the falls frozen in all their glory. With a slight minty-blue tint, Minnehaha Falls is the perfect backdrop for some cold-weather selfies or just a glorious bit of nature to enjoy. Just don't get caught slipping around on the icy rocks past the barriers.
Photo courtesy of the Depot
10. The Depot Ice Rink
Sharpen your skates, downtown denizens: Minneapolis's slice of urban jungle may be one of the few parts of the city without a nearby lake, but that doesn't mean you can't ice skate near the skyscrapers. Starting this year on Thanksgiving Day, Minneapolis's historic train shed will transform into a skating rink for the season. Even better than the views: Glass wall-enclosed, heated skating means you can practice your axels safe from winter's biting wind.
9. Singing before Wild games, "Lay us down under a frozen pond!"
It's a feel-good moment every Minnesotan should experience.
8. The Current's Birthday shows at First Avenue
A live mix of established and fresh talent populating 89.3 the Current's airwaves during the past calendar year packs First Avenue's mainroom for a couple of nights in late January. For number nine, there will be speeches, there will be cheer, and that's just what Mark Wheat brings to the festivities.
7. The Twin Cities Burlesque Festival
When's the best time to take it all off? In the dead of winter, of course! The best local and national burlesque artists will take over the Ritz Theater from January 30 to February 2 in what's being billed as "The Great Minnesota Strip-Together." It's a weekend full of performances, parties, workshops, and more. Ooh-la-la.
6. Winter Carnival Beer Dabbler
Take the polar plunge by drinking outdoors at the Winter Carnival Beer Dabbler, which will be held this year on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. If the alcohol doesn't warm you, the large crowds might — or, of course, the bonfires. Bonus: organizers say they plan to break the world record for largest snowball fight.
5. The Winter Wonderland in Rice Park
Not only does this annual holiday display bring the magic of New York City's Rockefeller Center tree to downtown St. Paul's Rice Park, it also lights up the rest of the park's trees with thousands of twinkling LED lights (energy efficient, of course) and adds plenty more holiday decor. And right next to the park, in Landmark Plaza, the Wells Fargo WinterSkate offers free skating in a large outdoor rink. (Skating is free and so are the skates for Wells Fargo members; otherwise, rentals are a very affordable $2). The winter wonderland lasts from November 30 to January 1, but the Wells Fargo WinterSkate rink stays open until February 2.
4. Art Sled Rally at Powderhorn Park
As mentioned above, Powderhorn Park has some wicked sledding hills. Every year, locals take advantage of this hilly terrain at the Art Sled Rally, a chance for community members to throw themselves headlong down a hill in a variety of elaborate, fanciful, handcrafted, and sometimes hilariously non-functioning sleds. There are sleds that look like pirate ships, Hungry Hungry Hippo sleds, sleds shaped like birthday cakes, and an exuberant crowd that cheers the whole spectacle along.
3. The City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival
Everything about this festival is the best of winter. It happens in February, which means people are not yet completely sick of the snow thing. It involves reverse-plowing, that is, shutting down major streets in Uptown and dumping white stuff all over them. Greatest of all, after the competitive cross-country skiers have made their rounds, at night, it transforms Lake of the Isles into a winter wonderland. The evening Luminary Loppet is fit for the pro and the amateur, the families and the jaded 20-somethings alike, and comes complete with fire dancing, snow sculptures, and thousands of candle-containing luminaries lighting the way.
Photo by Melissa Goldman
2. Art Shanties Held during the cruelest month of winter, the Art Shanties are a bright spot in January. Each year, the festival invites artists, scientists, musicians, authors, and other creative types to design their own shack and bring it out to Medicine Lake in Plymouth. This year, the shanties will be held on White Bear Lake, but the result will be the same: a charming open-studio-type event on ice, featuring science experiments, dance parties, costume photo shoots, and art making and taking. Need to mail a letter? They've got a post office, too. Happenings range from thoughtful to silly, sporadic to carefully planned. Regardless of the activities you partake in, you'll probably end the afternoon with a smile on your face.
1. Spring is just around the corner
Despite 49 reasons to think otherwise, are you still not enthused about this whole winter thing? We can't totally blame you, but take solace — the holidays usually come and go in a flash, and before you know it, it'll be February and 50-degree March days (okay, more like like 40-degree) will be in the forecast. And in any event, bitching about the brutal weather is something that brings us Minnesotans together, right?
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