7 Minute Miles

Skiing in the U.P.

Posted Saturday, February 21st, 2015 01:33 am GMT -5 in Casinos, Family, Food, Longform, Skiing, Travel

I sign up for online contests all the time (which is probably why I get so much junk mail), but it seems like it’s been a long time since I’ve won anything. Last month, though, I got a call from City Pages and the nice marketing person said I won a ski trip to Michigan. I picked up the certificate from their offices near Ford Center and called Indianhead Mountain Resort reservations. The prize was good for two free nights in the main lodge, with two sets of “BIG” lift tickets (good at both Indianhead and Blackjack Ski Resort). Kid one had a speech tournament, so kid two and I left on Friday and headed to the U.P.

We took our time on Friday, stopping at Tobies in Hinckley before driving to Duluth and across to Superior. I wanted to check out Legendary Waters Resort and Casino, so we drove to Ashland and took the left turn up to Bayfield. I’ve been through Ashland before, but the whole Bayfield area was new to me. I’ve always read about concerts at Big Top Chautauqua, but have never made it to one. Bayfield was like a southern Grand Marais, with a marina and lots of touristy shops and restaurants. Washburn was also a nice small town with some very pretty architecture.

Legendary Waters is a new(ish) casino right on the big lake, but was much smaller than I expected. We had lunch in their restaurant and overall I thought it was a very nice property. Our server said they had been open three years and I later found out that Shakopee financed most of it. I signed up for their players club, got extra free play for my birthday (and for providing my email address) and won around $35 without risking any of my own money. I also stopped briefly at Bad River Casino on the way to Hurley and Ironwood, signed up for their club and basically won the same amount there. That floor was a little larger and had a nice selection of new games.

We drove through Ironwood and on to the ski resort area around Bessemer and Wakefield. There are several ski resorts in this area, but this was my first time to any of them (I’d been to Hurley and Ironwood twice in the past for consulting gigs). We found the Indianhead access road and pulled in to a dark parking lot in front of the main lodge (which brought to mind images of The Shining). We entered the lobby, which was aglow in candle light, and was told Xcel Power was in the middle of a regional power outage. They were still able to check us in, though, since everything had already been printed out (they had old-school room keys instead of key cards).

With no power for lights in the room or the restaurant, we drove back to Ironwood for dinner and ate at the Golden Dragon. I’d been to most of the restaurants in Ironwood and remembered liking all of them, but our experience this time was awful. The service at Golden Dragon was fine, but the food was terrible. I can tolerate most things, but this was honestly the worst Chinese food I’ve ever had.

We returned back to the lodge after dinner and found they still had no power. We waited in our running car for a few hours, but MK needed a bathroom and didn’t want to use one in the dark. I drove her back to the Ironwood Walmart, thinking we could waste some time walking around. We walked in the first set of doors and, I kid you not, the power went out! Their generators kicked on long enough for MK to use the facilities before they announced the store was closing and everybody needed to get out. We returned to the lodge and the lights finally came on a few hours later.

We got all our gear to the room and finally got to sleep around midnight. The rooms at the main lodge were what I would call “ski area rustic,” with lots of 70s-era wood paneling, pink bathtub and toilet, a small tube TV and no open electrical outlets anywhere but the bathroom. I also thought it was funny that the light switches were also connected to the primary outlets, so *everything* went off when you flipped the switch. We could hear other people through the thin walls, but thankfully it wasn’t bad most of the time. Slept fine in the beds and there was hot water in the shower too.

The main lodge is located away from the upper chalet, so you either have a very long walk, take a shuttle or drive your car over to the ski area parking lot (which is what we did). The weather the first day was so-so: cloudy, with a little wind, some light snow and a bit colder than we would’ve liked. We rented some nice gear for MK from the ski shop (two day junior fee for everything: $59). Lift tickets would’ve cost us $206, so that was a nice prize to win (the lodging was worth another $400 or so). We ate lunch at the lower chalet (very basic ski area food) and later stopped for some hot chocolate at the upper chalet.

That night we decided to drive back into Ironwood to try a different restaurant, Maple Steakhouse. We struck out again and had the manager give us a discount off the bill. This time it was both service and food quality – our server just plain disappeared after bringing us our main course and the meat they served me in my sandwich was awful (surprising for a steakhouse).

On Sunday we decided to check out of our room and drive over to the other ski area, Blackjack. It’s only a few miles away and just recently merged with Indianhead – they even run a shuttle bus between the two resorts. The weather was nicer, but I freaked out at first, as I couldn’t get my boots on in the parking lot. I sent MK off to take a run on her own while I went inside to try in a warmer setting (which worked). We took a few runs together in front of the chalet, then decided to try a run farther over called Spillway.

That was a mistake.

Spillway was a steep run that hadn’t been groomed and was very icy. I had gone first to check it out, but MK quickly picked up speed and passed me. The run got steeper towards the bottom, then leveled out and curved to the left to get back to the lift. There were also several open patches of water on that runout area and unfortunately MK ended up crashing into one of them, where she sat in about a foot of icy water. I caught up to her as fast as I could, popped off my skis, jumped in and got her out of the water. The lift attendant came running over and he radioed for the ski patrol.

While waiting for the ski patrol snowmobile, we walked MK over to the lift shack to warm up. The sled arrived and they drove her over to the patrol office in the chalet. I took the lift up and found my way back over there too. The woman in the office had her under blankets and warmers and there was an awesome patrol dog watching over her too. I went to the car to get dry clothes and also ordered her some hot food from the cafeteria.

I liked the Blackjack chalet more than the other ones and we hung out there for a while until she felt recovered. Thankfully nothing was broken – just the thin ice on top of the pond she fell in. The ski shop in the building was selling ski patrol shirts as a fundraiser, so we bought one (and gave an additional donation in the jar). Thanks to everyone at Blackjack who helped us out that day – you rocked. They even took care of returning her rental gear for us so we didn’t have to drive that stuff back to Indianhead.

We basically drove straight back to Duluth from Blackjack and met my sister Lynn for dinner at Grandma’s in Canal Park. Much, much better food and service there. We also stopped at the Electric Fetus on Superior Street, which is always a fun store to shop.

Not exactly the trip I thought we’d have, but still a fun adventure. Plus, MK says she is willing to try skiing again this year.

Watch out Afton!

Originally published by DK on February 21, 2015 at 1:33 am