Misery loves company up here in the Northland. Braced against the bone-biting windhurtling in off Lake Superior, I realized locals and visitors alike are helpless against the whims and moods ofthis, the greatest of the Great Lakes. It’s something the 29 sorry souls aboard the iron-ore freighter EdmundFitzgerald learned the hard way one tragic November night in 1975, when the ship was snapped clean in twoduring one of Lake Superior’s nastier tantrums. The Fitzgerald was making the long run from Superior toDetroit, riding heavy with a belly full of taconite pellets-she went down, fast. Some say it took no more thanten seconds-in any case it was so fast, the lifesaving equipment on board hadn’t been touched when thewreck was found.

But it’s not all death and doom up here-the sky was cold but clear as the wind blew andthe light faded fast on the “Twin Ports” of Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota, at the lake’swesternmost point. Lake Superior remained relatively calm, but still evoked a potent blend of insignificanceand loneliness as I walked through Duluth’s rejuvenated Canal Park district. What the hell were we doing inMinnesota in the first place? It all felt so odd-traveling to the Midwest to go snowboarding. But here I stoodin the Twin Ports, beginning the unlikeliest of road trips: pro-rider Shannon Melhuse, photog Andrius Simutis,and I planned to lace through the Great Lakes, hugging the shores of Superior and Michigan across theUpper Peninsula and over the Mackinaw Bridge to Traverse City, Michigan. There are well over 100 skihills scattered about the middle of America, with people snowboarding at every single one of ‘em. Just whatgoes on out here? The record’s far from complete, and several years out-of-date at least. Seen any recentphotos of snowboarding in the Midwest? Read any articles? Heard any stories? Neither had I. Oddlyenough, we’d be making snowboard-mag history as we tooled down the interstates and country roads-youknow, pioneering.

Not exactly notching first descents in some exotic range-we were simply doubling back tosee what’s been under our noses all along. Spirit Mountain isn’t really a mountain at all. Just a gentle slopewith a few lifts and 700 feet of vert rising up from Lake Superior on the outskirts of town, owned by themunicipality of Duluth. This humble little hill played host to The Battle of the Flatlands, an amateur halfpipeand big-air contest, during our visit. Jay Erickson, owner of The Alt Snowboard Shop in Minneapolis, stoodabove the icy halfpipe with a clipboard as a couple-dozen twelve to fourteen year olds buzzed around him,waiting for their crack at it.

Andy, Shannon, and I carved around Spirit Mountain’s limited terrain for a bit.From the lodge at the top of the resort (Spirit’s the first of two hills we encountered where the lodge andparking lot are at the top of the runs, not the bottom), I had a commanding view across the narrow,ice-choked bay to the workingman’s burg of Superior, heaving gloomily under the frozen weight of winter.”Soup Town” is where the rabble converges on every given night after the bars in Duluth shut down at one inthe morning. As if on cue, the semi-pro smoker-drinkers reel and swerve across the Bong Bridge toWisconsin, where last call’s not ’til two at tawdry dives like The Cove and the Pacific Club, an honest-to-godmetaler bar, where Scorpions and Quiet Riot cover bands wail triumphantly into the wee hours. But I’mgetting sidetracked. We swung by to see how the Battle of the Flatlands was progressing. The action hadmoved to the Outlaw Snowboard Park, and the Midwesterners were throwing down on the big-air hit,spinning and contorting through their warm-ups. A happening free-for-all session was also brewing in thenow-vacant pipe.

Matt Bisenius, Mike Everson, Jeff Braaksma, Sierra Colt, and Jeff Christopherson werejust a few of the riders boosting high above the walls. Even at a small regional event like this, the level offreestyle riding was que impressive. It made sense-no matter how flat or small, every Midwestern resortcould blow enough snow to build a pipe, and the kids will ride it day and night. Heading out of town throughDuluth’s more gentrified ‘hoods, past the Glen Sheen Mansion, we made our way up Lake Superior’s northshore toward the Canadian border. Nestled in the heart of Minnesota’s Sawtooth Mountains a few hoursnorth of Duluth, Lutsen Mountain is both loved and hated. With longer runs, steeper pitches, and by far thelargest vertical drop in the Midwest (900 feet), Lutsen has a lot to offer riders and skiers. But Lutsen justrecently opened up to snowboarding, and it’s a concept everyone’s still getting used to. Jay Erickson fromThe Alt warned us about Lutsen’s skier vibe, but we couldn’t resist checking out what might be theMidwest’s most challenging resort terrain.

The proliferation of matching one-piece outfits in the parking lotand the lack of a pipe or park confirmed Jay’s warnings-Lutsen’s definitely a skier’s hill. But Shannon wasstoked on the ample railing room and steeper runs, and the views out onto Lake Superior from the top of theresort were truly breathtaking-whitecaps rippling to the horizon on a deep and royal expanse. This is onemassive lake, second largest in all the world behind the Caspian Sea (which is really a lake). From theresort’s summit, it looked more like the Atlantic. Lutsen Mountain is also home to the scariest cat tracks I’veever experienced, actual slabs of solid ice for what seems like miles, impenetrable by my or anyone else’sedges.

Who knows why they’re there-maybe the skiers like ‘em. We raced the sun back to Duluth thatevening, and as it dipped onto the lake, I made a big deal about getting down to the water’s edge for somephotos. We pulled off the highway, down a graded road, and were quickly lost in a maze of dirt tracks andprivate lanes. With the sun gone to afterlight and the photo mission utterly blown, we came face to face withone of my strongest preconceived Midwestern fears. Standing in the middle of the deserted dirt road stood acamouflaged man with a gun and a big dog, signaling us to stop. Militia. I’d always heard about the MichiganMilitia, but suddenly the Minnesota Militia seemed all too plausible. We stumbled down the wrong driveway,and now we’d pay with our lives. Pulling up slowly, I rolled down the window as kindly-like as possible andmet Dale Johnson, a real-estate broker out training his retriever to hunt on this fine, six-degree evening.

Likely story, I thought, eyeing him suspiciously. Then he deftly whipped out his business card-just in case wewere ever interested in acquiring one of his many view lots along the breathtaking north shore. He was areal-estate broker all right. Who else would take business cards out hunting? The swirls of snow nowdancing on the road signaled a turn in our fortune. The Midwest hadn’t seen any substantial precipitation insomething like 44 days, which was great for farmers and drivers and mothers pushing baby-joggers. ForMidwestern snowboarding, however, no snow is bad for business. Things were getting ugly, and as slopesmelted away, many resorts began eyeing their greens and fairways, pondering how early was too early toshift into golf mode.

None of that mattered to us as we motored east on Wisconsin’s Highway 2. The past 44days were just that-the past-and by the look of those dancing flakes, the present and future were conspiringto kick down some hearty Midwestern hospitality. They call this region “Big Snow Country,” and while it’swise to remember we are talking about the Midwest here, the area straddling the state line-with Hurley,Wisconsin on one side and Ironwood, Michigan on the other-was a pleasantly surprising low-Alpine haven,home to a handful of small ski hills. Pulling into the lot at Indianhead, a resort five or six miles into Michigan,we joined the dozen or so other carloads that’d lucked into the area’s first sign of snow in weeks.

Like SpiritMountain, Indianhead’s day-lodge and hotel are at the top of the runs, and the resort ambles gently 638vertical feet down to Jackson Creek. It wasn’t hard to find Minneapolis-carvers Dave and Jim Rothman inthe near-empty lodge. Like father like son, the old cliché goes, but it was actually son Dave who turned dadJim on to carving a few years ago, and this day 66-year-old Jim Rothman was more amped to ride thananyone else. Underneath the fresh topcoat, the snow was hard and icy-just the way carvers like it-so itwasn’t long before Shannon, Dave, and Jim were tearing up every one of Indianhead’s 185 ridable acres. Icruised around the mellow mountain solo for a while, enjoying the silence and solitude of the deserted slopes,and laughing out loud as the snow racked up by the minute.

After traversing the length of Michigan’s UpperPeninsula, which separates Lake Superior from Lake Michigan, we ended a long travel day by crossing theMackinaw Bridge and heading south to Harbor Springs, home to two of Michigan’s best resorts. BoyneHighlands and Nub’s Nob sit almost directly across from each other in a small valley just outside HarborSprings, and offered some of the best riding we experienced during our Midwestern sampling. We rodepowder all morning at Highlands and all afternoon at Nub’s, which claims to have the best snow in theMidwest.

It was certainly up to snuff during our visit, as was everything else; the folks at Nub’s Nob haveworked wonders with what they’ve been given, and actually succeeded in creating varied terrain. Fromgroomers and glades to the cleanest halfpipe we saw, Nub’s Nob is a great not-so-little resort. Nub’s alsoboasts the tastiest grub we encountered on the trip-some of the best resort food any of us had eatenanywhere, actually-cooked and served by the nicest team of old gals you could ever conjure up. Shannonhad a religious experience when he tasted Nub’s sloppy joes; he couldn’t stop talking about them, even afterwe’d packed up and moved on down the road to Boyne Mountain, an hour south of Harbor Springs. SteveKircher met us at the base of Boyne’s six-person express chair. Son of Boyne Mountain’s prolific founderEverett Kircher and president of Boyne USA Resorts-an impressive collection of mountains including BigSky, Brighton, Crystal Mountain, and Boyne Highlands-Steve Kircher also happens to be a rippinghard-booter. It’s a sign of the times when the head of a ski-resort empire prefers a carving board over a pairof parabolics.

He skis, too, but I think deep down inside there’s no question Steve Kircher would rather besnowboarding. A mellow, charismatic guy, he took us on a personal carving tour of Boyne Mountain, thecradle of Midwestern snowboarding and skiing. Fifty-one years ago, Everett Kircher put in the first lift,naming it after nearby Boyne Falls. From that humble start, the senior Kircher never looked back, proving tobe an innovator not only in the Midwest, but amongst his resort peers worldwide. The first snowmakingmachines weren’t developed in the Rockies or the Sierras. No, they were born out of necessity right here atBoyne Mountain.

The first-ever quad chair? Boyne. And that six-person express lift we rode up? AnotherBoyne first. You don’t set that kind of track record chillin’ in cruise control-and it shows; from the lifts andruns to the Austrian-exchange ski school, Boyne Mountain is a top-notch outfit. Everett Kircher still works inthe office regularly. The locals wonder if he’ll ever retire. Will the Midwest ever be a “snowboarddestination”? Will people ever choose Indianhead over Brianhead, or Boyne Highlands over AspenHighlands? Doubtful. But for people from Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, or Cleveland-and everywhere inbetween-there are good times to be had much closer to home. It may not be Whistler, but it’s better thannothing.

We only made it to a handful of hills-the record’s still far from complete. But from the pipe riders atSpirit Mountain and the carvers at IndiritMountain, Indianhead’s day-lodge and hotel are at the top of the runs, and the resort ambles gently 638vertical feet down to Jackson Creek. It wasn’t hard to find Minneapolis-carvers Dave and Jim Rothman inthe near-empty lodge. Like father like son, the old cliché goes, but it was actually son Dave who turned dadJim on to carving a few years ago, and this day 66-year-old Jim Rothman was more amped to ride thananyone else. Underneath the fresh topcoat, the snow was hard and icy-just the way carvers like it-so itwasn’t long before Shannon, Dave, and Jim were tearing up every one of Indianhead’s 185 ridable acres. Icruised around the mellow mountain solo for a while, enjoying the silence and solitude of the deserted slopes,and laughing out loud as the snow racked up by the minute.

After traversing the length of Michigan’s UpperPeninsula, which separates Lake Superior from Lake Michigan, we ended a long travel day by crossing theMackinaw Bridge and heading south to Harbor Springs, home to two of Michigan’s best resorts. BoyneHighlands and Nub’s Nob sit almost directly across from each other in a small valley just outside HarborSprings, and offered some of the best riding we experienced during our Midwestern sampling. We rodepowder all morning at Highlands and all afternoon at Nub’s, which claims to have the best snow in theMidwest.

It was certainly up to snuff during our visit, as was everything else; the folks at Nub’s Nob haveworked wonders with what they’ve been given, and actually succeeded in creating varied terrain. Fromgroomers and glades to the cleanest halfpipe we saw, Nub’s Nob is a great not-so-little resort. Nub’s alsoboasts the tastiest grub we encountered on the trip-some of the best resort food any of us had eatenanywhere, actually-cooked and served by the nicest team of old gals you could ever conjure up. Shannonhad a religious experience when he tasted Nub’s sloppy joes; he couldn’t stop talking about them, even afterwe’d packed up and moved on down the road to Boyne Mountain, an hour south of Harbor Springs. SteveKircher met us at the base of Boyne’s six-person express chair. Son of Boyne Mountain’s prolific founderEverett Kircher and president of Boyne USA Resorts-an impressive collection of mountains including BigSky, Brighton, Crystal Mountain, and Boyne Highlands-Steve Kircher also happens to be a rippinghard-booter. It’s a sign of the times when the head of a ski-resort empire prefers a carving board over a pairof parabolics.

He skis, too, but I think deep down inside there’s no question Steve Kircher would rather besnowboarding. A mellow, charismatic guy, he took us on a personal carving tour of Boyne Mountain, thecradle of Midwestern snowboarding and skiing. Fifty-one years ago, Everett Kircher put in the first lift,naming it after nearby Boyne Falls. From that humble start, the senior Kircher never looked back, proving tobe an innovator not only in the Midwest, but amongst his resort peers worldwide. The first snowmakingmachines weren’t developed in the Rockies or the Sierras. No, they were born out of necessity right here atBoyne Mountain.

The first-ever quad chair? Boyne. And that six-person express lift we rode up? AnotherBoyne first. You don’t set that kind of track record chillin’ in cruise control-and it shows; from the lifts andruns to the Austrian-exchange ski school, Boyne Mountain is a top-notch outfit. Everett Kircher still works inthe office regularly. The locals wonder if he’ll ever retire. Will the Midwest ever be a “snowboarddestination”? Will people ever choose Indianhead over Brianhead, or Boyne Highlands over AspenHighlands? Doubtful. But for people from Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, or Cleveland-and everywhere inbetween-there are good times to be had much closer to home. It may not be Whistler, but it’s better thannothing.

We only made it to a handful of hills-the record’s still far from complete. But from the pipe riders atSpirit Mountain and the carvers at Indianhead to the legacy of Everett Kircher at Boyne Mountain, certainthings hold true. Riders in the Midwest make the best of what they’ve got, and have a blast doing it.Indianhead to the legacy of Everett Kircher at Boyne Mountain, certainthings hold true. Riders in the Midwest make the best of what they’ve got, and have a blast doing it.