Monday, 29 December 2014 09:56

Outdoor Winter Activities

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Tubing fun at Boyne Highlands Tubing fun at Boyne Highlands

You can only stay indoors so long before cabin fever sets in. You can't escape the Michigan winter, so you might as well bundle up and have some fun outdoors.

Our state takes winter activities seriously, too. There are 51 ski areas and resorts, with 6,500 miles of snow mobile trails and 3,000 miles of cross country skiing trails, according to Pure Michigan's website. We have people going out of their way to take advantage of some of the winter amenities our state offers. So what the hell are you doing inside?

"There are a lot of folks talking about the fact that Americans don't use all their vacation time," said Michelle Grinnell, travel public relations manager for Pure Michigan. "We're encouraging people to take a snow day and get out and explore Michigan. ... Winter is the best time to get outdoors in Michigan."

If you're an athletic type and itching to get out of the gym, there are plenty of opportunities to get some outdoor action.

"There's something about [going outside] that makes you feel a little youthful when you're outside playing," said Cari Draft, owner of EcoTrek Fitness. "When you're stomping in rain puddles or stepping your boots into snow."

EcoTrek offers outdoor workouts in the Grand Rapids and lakeshore areas, regardless of weather. Just dress for the conditions outdoors, you dummy. Draft recommends dressing in layers in colder weather since you can always take off clothing if you get hot, but can't add more clothing if you get too cold. Workouts last 75 minutes and include strength training, cardio and flexibility.

Skiing -- whether it's downhill or cross country -- makes your body work. When you're downhill skiing (and snowboarding, too), your core muscles are activated to keep your body balanced and of course, your legs take a beating. Downhill skiing targets your inner and outer thighs, hamstrings and glutes. So you can go ahead and throw out that Buns of Steel VHS you've been hoarding for the past 20 years.

Luckily, we have a crazy number of ski resorts in Michigan. You can hit up Cannonsburg in Belmont, Mulligan's Hollow Ski Bowl in Grand Haven, Bittersweet Ski & Snowboard Resort in Ostego, Muskegon Winter Sports Complexor make a getaway of it and head to Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, Boyne Mountainor Ski Brule in the Upper Peninsula.

For those looking for more of a low-impact workout, cross country skiing is a full-body workout without the strain on your joints and ligaments. Plus, you get to take things slow and take in the beautiful Michigan winter scenery in one of many parks that have cross country skiing trails. Blandford Nature Center and Kent Trails offer two places to go in Grand Rapids. Further south there's Kimball Pines County Park in Battle Creek, Kalamazoo Nature Center, Ely Lake in Allegan and Historic Charlton Park in Hastings. If you're on the lakeshore, there's Duck Lake State Park in Muskegon, Grand Haven State Park, Kal-Haven Trail State Park in South Haven, Kirk Park in West Olive, Saugatuck Dunes State Park, Muskegon State Park and Musketawa Trail in North Muskegon. Granted, these are only a fraction of what Michigan offers.

If cross country skiing's not your jam, you could try out snowshoeing on one of those trails. Snowshoes even out your weight on the snow to make it easier to walk in snow, cushioning your feet and allowing you to cover further distances.

Of course, you need equipment if you're going to do any of these activities. In Kalamazoo, there's Lee's Adventure Sports, which offers snowshoes, as well as snowboarding and skiing equipment. In Holland, you can hit up Reliable Ski Haus, which not only sells snowboarding and skiing equipment, but also rents them to people who aren't ready for commitment. (We understand.) Bill and Paul's Sporthaus in Grand Rapids specializes in all things outdoors. Everything skiing and snowboarding related is available as well as snowshoes and car racks to carry all your gear.

If you spent the majority of your childhood doing laps around the rink in the off-chance you'd be cast in the next Mighty Ducks, there are plenty of ice skating opportunities in West Michigan. Every winter, Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids is turned into an outdoor rink, complete with music and romantic lights in a downtown setting. Also in an outdoor setting, Holland offers Riverview Park Ice Rink and Lakeview Park Ice Rink. As part of the sportsplex, Mulligan's Hollow in Grand Haven has an outdoor skating rink that is lit for night skating, as well as Muskegon Sportsplex.

Some people aren't sporty, however, and that's OK. There are still great things to do outdoors on a wintry day. Bundle up and enjoy how eerily beautiful Lake Michigan gets in the winter. Once bustling with people in swimsuits, the beaches are all but empty. The water is frozen and the sand has been replaced with snow. Take a romantic walk down a pier and pack a thermos full of hot chocolate to sip while you watch the water. Or find some prime snow-covered sand dunes to Instagram. Or bring a professional camera. We don't know your life.

If you don't want to fully commit to the outdoors, wander around one of West Michigan's many downtown areas, where you can pop into a restaurant, bar or shop when you get to chilled. Head to downtown Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Saugatuck, Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon and Battle Creek. All have clutch strolling opportunities.

"You can still enjoy the beauty of Michigan and indulge," Ginnell said. "Take a weekend and go to a resort or go shopping. ... We're fortunate that Michigan is a four-season state and there are some great things to do here in the winter."

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