The Outside Blog

Adventure : Jan 2013

Frozen Experiences of a Lifetime: Learn to Mush (Yukon)

Do you dream of gliding through the snowbound wilderness behind your very own dog team, but don’t know your tug line from your snow hook, or your wheel dog from your lead dog? Not to worry: There’s a mushing school for that.

Just outside Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory, Yukon Quest veteran and former champion Frank Turner runs Muktuk Adventures. Like many mushers, he offers the usual selection of half-day and full-day guided tours, but Muktuk also offers a six- or nine-day “Rookie Ranch,” where you learn to drive your own team. Spend your days outdoors on the frozen Takhini River, and your evenings in the lodge, cozying up to the fireplace with a collection of Turner’s canine retirees. Packages start at $1,800 for the six-day option, and include lodging, meals, gear, and an airport pickup. Higher-end packages include an overnight camping trip with your team—your own mini-Iditarod.

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Frozen Experiences of a Lifetime: Hit the Hot Springs

Why would you soak in the summer when you can head to the hot springs in winter instead, and submerge yourself in a steaming pool while ice crystals form in your hair?

Some natural hot springs remain incredibly basic: a hand-built wall of rocks to keep the warm water pooling in one area before it flows away. Others are so developed that they might as well relocate to the Wisconsin Dells. Personally, I like the springs that land somewhere in the middle, with a few amenities—changing rooms, towels, showers—but a mostly natural setting.

Colorado’s Conundrum Hot Springs falls at the undeveloped end of the spectrum. Near Aspen, they’re reached by an 8.5-mile hiking trail—no chlorinated water or accompanying day spas here.

The three Rocky Mountain hot springs maintained by Parks Canada are more built up: Radium Hot Springs, in Kootenay National Park, is Canada’s largest hot springs pool. Banff Upper Hot Springs is right in town, and has been warming visitors’ bones since the 1880s, while Jasper National Park’s Miette Hot Springs is a bit more remote.

Thermopolis, Wyoming, is a town dedicated to—and named for—its hot springs. There are a couple of private, developed pools here, but the State Bath House, in Hot Springs State Park, is free.

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Frozen Experiences of a Lifetime: Snowshoe Bryce Canyon (Utah)

Utah’s Bryce Canyon is an incomprehensible, alien landscape of twisted hoodoos—and a dusting of snow only heightens its eerie beauty. There are weekly ranger-led snowshoe hikes at the park in winter—with snowshoes courtesy of the NPS—or you can rent gear from Ruby’s Inn, just outside the park entrance, and venture in self-guided.

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Frozen Experiences of a Lifetime: Go Ice Canoeing on the Saint Lawrence (Quebec City, Quebec)

Imagine, if you will, a sport that combines canoeing and bobsledding—the grit-your-teeth-and-push part, not the wild, high-speed ride. Add in an unpredictable mixture of floating sea ice and open water, and you start to get the picture. Quebec City’s annual ice canoe race, part of its famous winter carnival, sees racers pushing and paddling their canoes across the half-frozen, tidal Saint Lawrence River. When there’s ice to walk on, they push, and when the water opens up, they hop in and paddle. Sometimes, they muddle through the slush doing a bit of both. Death trap? Maybe. But it sure looks like fun. This year’s race takes place on the second weekend in February.

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Frozen Experiences of a Lifetime: Have a Cold One

What’s the best place to drink a cold beer in the depths of a cold winter? That’s a tough call, because America’s snowier states are churning out great craft beer.

For extreme cold—as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit if you time it right—start at Silver Gulch Brewing and Bottling. Just outside Fairbanks, Alaska, above the 64th parallel, it’s North America’s northernmost brewery. Further south, in Anchorage, Midnight Sun Brewing is quirky and innovative—warm up with a Panty Peeler Tripel, flavored with orange peel and coriander. Juneau’s Alaskan Brewing is the king of 49th-state beer, and obviously a winter visit to the brewery calls for a Winter Ale.

Colorado is America’s craft beer heartland. New Belgium, in Fort Collins, is an old standby. Meanwhile, every ski town in the state seems to have its own brewery: Try Aspen Brewing, Breckenridge Brewery, or Durango’s Steamworks Brewing.

Further east, I’ve always been a fan of Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewing Company. New Glarus Brewing, in Wisconsin, is famous for its Raspberry Tart ale. And in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Bell’s Brewery has a whole menu of seasonal stouts—the unofficial beer of winter.

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