Yoopers, a name for residents of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, don’t just endure winter, they embrace it, creating plenty of outdoor fun during their months of never-ending cold and snow.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is one of the coldest and snowiest regions in the United States. Snow can fall from October until May, producing 150- to 300-plus inches of snow a year. Much of the snow falls as lake-effect snow, which occurs quite frequently, particularly in areas near the southern shore of Lake Superior. It’s not uncommon for snow to fall during five or six months of the year.
So what’s their secret to surviving and embracing their long, cold winters? Yoopers have learned to dress for the weather and accept their frigid, frozen fate with a good attitude. Cold and snow is just a part of life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, much like heat and humidity is part of life in Florida.
And it’s possible a few of them may go just a little crazy during those long winter months, if the photos above and some that follow don’t make that obvious.
Below, I interview several Yoopers on how they make the best of a long, punishing season and describe some of their activities and past times...
Photographer of Lake Superior surfers, Devon Hains
Devon Hains, a photographer who shoots surfers in the frigid water of Lake Superior during winter, took some amazing shots during the peak of the polar vortex last January when temperatures plummeted below zero in Michigan.
I asked Hains how the surfers keep warm in such cold temperatures? “They use a 9 mm thick wetsuit and keep a five gallon jug of hot water in their car nearby so if they ever experience an influx of cold water into their suit, most often in a boot, they can pour hot water into their suit and head back out,” he responded.
But how does Hains himself keep warm? “I just make sure to dress in enough layers, including of gloves, socks, pants, and torso,” he said. “I usually like to keep a hand warmer in each glove. Not only does that keep my hands warm, but also helps prevent my camera from getting too cold.”
In such frigid weather, keeping his camera functioning is another challenge. “If you’re too close to any splashing water and your camera catches some spray it will likely turn to ice in a couple minutes,” Hains said. "When that happens you might have to hop in a car and attempt to thaw out the ice so it can be wiped away. Even breathing with the camera held close to your face can cause that water vapor in your breath to freeze over the view finder. "
Despite of all these challenges, Hains presses on. “It’s incredible to watch what these surfers are capable of doing in conditions that seem so unpleasant to the rest of the world,” he said. "Plus it makes for some awesome photos!”
Upper Peninsula snowfall expert, Steve Jurmu
“Yoopers are a hardy bunch and overall pretty friendly," said Steve Jurmu who measures snow in the Upper Peninsula at various locations and then records it in a detailed spreadsheet.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve loved playing in snow, not shoveling it, but building snow forts, skiing in it, sledding in it, playing hockey, snowshoeing in it, and now I also teach winter survival," Jurmu said. "I started measuring snow in 2011 as a way for something to do in the winter.”
Snowfall can vary over very short distances due to sharp edges on lake effect snow bands. “You’ll be driving in downtown Houghton and go up the hill towards Atlantic Mine and the weather suddenly turns into a blizzard," Jurmu said.
Jurmu, who operates a FAQ page about Upper Peninsula snowfall, has documented snow in nine months of the year. “It’s not unusual to see snowflakes in September, like we did this year on Sept. 24, and our first measurable snowfall across the Upper Peninsula came on Oct. 4,” he said. "And we almost always see snowfall into March and April. I remember about five years ago, we had snow on Mother’s Day.”
The heavy snow has its downside, Jurmu said: “This year, there have been over 10 buildings that have collapsed from weight of snow and ice. Many road were closed due to winds and drifts. Michigan Tech closed a couple times this year from the weather, and that doesn’t happen often."
‘Snotscycle’ race organizer, Kyle Lindstrom
“Living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, you have to love the outdoors and also have a good sense of humor!” declared Kyle Lindstrom.
Lindstrom is one of the leaders of a local Michigan bike path group who helps organize the Snotscycle Fat Tire race and Frostbitten 50K races held on trails during February in Fumee Lake Natural Area.
Why would one hold races on trails in February with so much snow on the ground? As Lindstrom explained, “Seems the harder you make it the more people come.”
Wildlife photographer, Steve Baker
Steve Baker, wildlife photographer, keeps busy photographing snowy owls during the winter.
“My photos were taken around Rudyard and Pickford, small farming towns in Chippewa County," Baker said. "They grow the best hay in the world there -- just ask them -- and it is these hay fields that the owls find fertile hunting grounds for small rodents, mostly meadow voles. Rudyard has named itself the Snowy Owl Capital of Michigan, to promote visitation.”
Ice climbing, for a change of pace
For people who prefer a more slow-paced outdoor activity during the winter months, the Michigan Ice Fest offers ice climbing. The five day event is jam-packed with back country classes, slide shows and ice climbing up a beautiful ice fall. They also feature beer and music, but that follows the ice climbing, of course.
Bill Thompson, who helps organize the event, provided the photos of the climbers on the ice which are included in this post. Judging from the photos, the weather certainly cooperated for Michigan Ice Fest this year.
The equinox has passed, but still plenty of winter left
As winter drags on, there are some people who simply prefer to have a drink and watch it snow rather than battle the elements. But if you drink, never drive, and especially never drive and start shooting at snow banks with your pistol. Here’s a story of a Yooper who that did just that and it didn’t end well.
I checked the 10-day weather forecast for Marquette, Mich. and it shows a warm up with mixed rain and snow showers. The temperature may even push 50 degrees next week, which will help melt some of the deep snow.
But the snow cover will likely remain on the ground for many days and even weeks to follow, particularly in areas close to Lake Superior. Some locations were still reporting more than two feet of snow on the ground as of March 20, the first day of spring, according to Steve Jurmur’s snow depth data.
But no worries, Yoopers are used to the snow. Many will be outside having fun.
Below find some more photos...