10 Winter Activities I Never Tried Until I Moved to Ely, MN

December 01, 2017 2 Comments

  1.      Dog sledding

I came to Ely for my first dog sledding trip to Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge with my mom when I was nine years old.  It was love at first vacation.  We fell in love with the dogs, the town, our guides, the five-star French cuisine, the thrill of driving your own dog sled, and so much more.  Every several years since then my family returns back to Wintergreen for more of their fabulous four-night Lodge-to-Lodge dogsledding adventure trips.

My childhood dream of becoming a Wintergreen guide has become my reality: I am currently employed by Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge as one of their interns.  I am beyond jazzed and grateful that I get to lead people in the outdoors and teach people about dogsledding.  It’s always thrilling to share your passion with others, and I can’t wait give people the chance to feel the same rush I feel when driving a dog sled.



  1. Cross-country Skiing

My love-hate relationship with cross-country skiing started when I became a Wintergreen dogsled guide intern for almost two weeks during my winter break freshman year of college.  During these trips, the guests are all mushing their own sleds and the guides are leading the dogs by cross-country out in front of them.  I did my best to keep up with the dogsleds and my coworkers but really struggled to stay at pace with all the sleds.  During this time, I loathed cross-country skiing- because I sucked at it! The distaste for the sport was founded on my stressful manner of learning it (five to eight hour days cross country skiing, six days a week, fast pace) and only stemmed from my general insecurity about my cross-country ski skills.

Today, however, I love cross-country skiing.  I love flying over snow.  I love the rhythm of it… the grace of it…. the flow of it… the way you glide and groove on winter terrain.  It’s a great way to spend time any winter space.

cross country skiing Ely

cross country skiing Ely


(The only reason this number is not a ten is because I took into consideration the people that do not enjoy full-body and/or endurance workouts- don’t do it!  But if you like moving your body then 10/10 YES TRY IT!!!!!)

  1.   Winter-camping

winter camping

I have only been on two different beginner winter-camping trips, but both trips were rewarding and challenging.  These trips are intense: they will definitely require some hard work and mental will-power.  You will need to collect a Volkswagen-Sized beetle amount of wood to keep fires stoked, sleep in a dog sled or non-heated tent at night, and leave the comfort of your mummy sleeping bag to bare your warm bare-ass to the wind at 3am.   It may be 15 degrees F, 5 degrees F, or -45 degrees F.  Bragging rights come with the coldest camping nights.

As much of a challenge as winter-camping can be, you will always return to the real world, feeling rejuvenated, grounded, robust, and accomplished.


(Winter-camping is definitely worth a try for those who enjoy camping, spending time in the snowy woods, or pushing their boundaries.  It’s not for the sissies. You must be ready and able to persist some amount of mental and physical persistence toughness.  I definitely love and look forward to winter-camping at least once a season, but honestly I usually prefer spending all day in the winter woods with the guarantee of a warm bed and a hot shower at night. )

  1.      Curling

curling on ice

For two winters during our Wintergreen Dogsled staff party, we made our own backyard-curling rink.  We measured out the dimensions and shoveled all the snow within the rink before flooding it with at least thirty buckets of warm water.  Once it froze, we painted on the scoring circles by tying a spray can bottle to a ski pole and created the concentric circles by adjusting the length of the rope.  The curling stones were crafted by freezing water in dog bowls with makeshift handles.

A fun time was had at said curling rink.  There was a lot of camaraderie, competition, laughter, and penguin belly slide contests.


  1. Snowshoeing

It’s cool if you enjoy walking…. In the deep snow….

snowshoeing in Ely, MN


  1.    Fat Tire Biking

Fat Tire Biking in Ely, MN

Before visiting the Canadian Border during the winter season, I never knew people could ride bicycles with tires as thick as a Triple Whopper across frozen lakes.

Anyone who likes bikes at all definitely give it a go!!  Just don’t expect to go super fast or travel far with little effort through snowy terrain.  It takes more work to pedal big tires through snow, but you’ll certainly feel like a bad-ass doing it.


  1.       Skijoring

skijoring in Ely, MN

  YES YES YES!!! Skijoring is amazing and if you ever get the chance to do it... DO IT!!!  You will be on cross-country skis and being pulled by a sled dog, which allows you to go faster and/or put in a little less effort hauling on your cross-country skis.  Attached at to the dog by a harness around your waist with a rope about 10 feet long, you will parooz the winter wonderland feeling like the ice queen or king you are.  Plus, this dog/person connection is so much fun.


    PRO-TIP:  Grab a sled dog (or a bull dog named Donna who thinks she's a sled dog) you trust for this one; if your dog doesn’t listen to you or just pulls like mad with no control in any way, you could be seriously injured.

    skijoring in Ely, MN

    1.    Ice skating

    I also never knew people ice-skated on frozen lakes.  In my mind, that was something reserved only for enclosed ice skating rinks and childhood birthday parties.  My schema was positively changed forever today when I jetted across White Iron Lake on blades that connected to my cross-country ski boots.  I really felt like I was flying out there- gliding so quickly (easily up to 10-15 mph) and so smoothly over the glass mirror of ice.  

    ice skating in Ely,MN


    These blades are phenomenal and now I want to buy a pair for myself! ice skating in Ely, MN

    ice skates

    1.      Running

    I’ve been a runner since I was young, but I had never run on winter roads.  To run in Ely, I used snow ice grips on the bottom of my running shoes (The Yaktrak brand was awesome and easy to put on) to gain some traction.


    My fellow runner and walkers… invest in some of these if you’ll be somewhere for an extended period of time where it snows a lot! I used a pair of Yaktrak cleats and they were awesome as well as easy to put on quickly (only $22 on amazon !!)

    1. Finnish Sauna & Ice Hole Jump

    jumping in a hole in the ice after a sauna

    You’ve got to do this! You cook in the steaming sizzling sauna for as long as you can stand the heat then burst out and jump into an ice hole in the nearby lake.  This makes a lot of people anxious, and it still takes me some gusto and a mental “1, 2 , 3, go” to leap into a black hole of ice water, but it’s always worth the jump!

    Every cell will feel invigorated:   it’s a total shock to the system. You will feel so good immediately after doing this and your muscles will feel so relaxed that evening climbing into bed.  It’s an incredibly exhilarating way to feel alive, awake, detoxed, and buzzed with fresh energy.



    Author: McKayla Bull

    McKayla is a recent graduate of Indiana University who studied Human Development and Family studies while teaching yoga and other group exercise classes in campus rec centers, riding for a women’s cycling team, performing original spoken word at open mics, implementing programs for the local Boys and Girls Club. She currently is employed by Wintergreen Dogsled lodge as an intern winter guide leading people on dogsledding and winter camping trips.

    McKayla has always loved writing, traveling, new experiences, being active, creating things, meeting people, eating well, sipping lavender tea in a hot candle-lit bath, etc.  

    To read more of her adventures, visit and follow her travel blog!

    “McKayla Treks”


    2 Responses

    Jennifer Partridge
    Jennifer Partridge

    December 06, 2017

    Wow! I didn’t know there were so many cool things to do at Wintergreen!

    Jeff Bull
    Jeff Bull

    December 01, 2017

    The dogs and the Xcnty dog sledding excursions are unbeatable. I’m not aware of anywhere else in the USA where you can fully and truly take part in sledding excursions in such a hands on way. The dogs are strong and boisterous but very friendly. If you love dogs and snow and cold this is a place you will love.

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