Top Nordic Centers in the American Midwest
Generally speaking, the midwestern states make up an overlooked bit of the country—literally, the fly-over states. And sadly, this wild misjudgment often extends to the world of outdoor activities. It’s easy to think of the old woods of the East and the vast mountains of the West as focal points for things like Nordic skiing; in truth, the Midwest is chock full of world-class country ski terrain and culture. Between the region’s breathtaking plains and dense rolling woods, working fields and forgotten valleys, it offers ample opportunity for amazing winter exploration. Below are some of our favorite Nordic centers in the Midwest, all of which combine a warm plains-state hospitality with unique and visit-worthy trails into your next ski destination.
Tucked on the Western edge of Michigan’s Upper peninsula, almost in Wisconsin, the family owned and operated ABR Trails (Active Backwoods Retreat) takes full advantage of the Lake Superior Snowbelt in which it sits. Over 60 km of expertly groomed trails climb, drop and meander along the nearby Montreal river, reaching the heights of Blueberry Bluffs and the Hautanen Highlands and the lows of Coyote Canyon. In order for every skier to easily find the perfect route, trails are divided into loops that each offer a different level of difficulty. ABR’s professional staff (whose grooming skills are so honed they host clinics on Nordic trail building and grooming) stand ready to set you up with gear, advice, warm beverages, and whatever else you may need to keep exploring their nearly endless terrain.
Originally designed as a training facility for Olympic skiers, it is no surprise that Giants Ridge towers today as a pillar of world class skiing. With over sixty kilometers of meticulously maintained trails expanding in broad loops over the hills that stretch out westward from Lakes Wynne and Sabin, memorable skis are guaranteed. Combine their epic terrain with the reliably snowy Northwoods winters, and it is quickly clear why Giant’s Ridge remains such a prized destination. Backed by the indulgent amenities of a large resort, Giant’s has a near endless array of activities, lodgings, and meal options ready to make create a unique ski getaway for every guest.
It is not often you strike upon a resort that places cross country skiing at the heart of its guest experience. Originally a maple sugaring operation, Maplelag has converted their 600 acres to pristine ski terrain, while the various buildings on the property now accommodate upwards of 200 guests. Boasting 64 km of trails flanking the frostily picturesque Little Sugarbush Lake, two onsite saunas, and a half a dozen uniquely comfortable lodging options, this erstwhile outpost updates the best Nordic traditions with Minnesotan hospitality and North American grandeur. The last chunk of forest before the Rockies, Maplelag is well worth a stop on your next trip to the Northern Midwest.
Nestled along the north shore of Lake Superior, midway between the winter sport hot spots of Lutsen and Grand Marais, Solbakken Resort’s sprawling, snowy playground awaits skiers, snowmobilers, and fat bikers alike. Consisting of 58 km of their own excellent trails, plus several hundred miles of connected trails this northerly play area promises endless adventure and a bottomless supply of what the Norwegians call Hygge—“well being.” With lodgings that run the gamut from motels to luxurious lakeside cabins, there are comfortable accommodations fit for individual skiers, fun-loving families, and couples looking for a romantic retreat alike.
Sitting both smackdab on the stunning Flour Lake and alongside the famous Gunflint Trail, Golden Eagle Resort is a well-situated gem buried deep in the wilds of Superior National Forest. The Resort’s real claim to fame, though, is their part ownership of the Central Gunflint Ski Trail System. This behemoth network of over 70 km of excellently groomed trails offers climbs to some of Minnesota’s loftiest peaks, and the spectacular views to match. Golden Eagle also maintains a small lighted loop for skiing after dark—on which, if you’re lucky, you might see the northern lights dancing in the night sky.