Once it snows in Southwest Michigan, it’s time to get out and have fun! Three silent sports — cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat tire biking — are great ways for kids to adults to get exercise, see the beauty of this season and do so at their own pace. Whether you are a first-timer (welcome!) or a can’t-get-enough-snow-time winter sports enthusiast, here are a few tips to make your time outdoors safer and more enjoyable:
Tips for first-timers
- Consider renting equipment before buying it so you can see if you enjoy skiing, shoeing and biking as much as we think you will! Love Creek and Madeline Bertrand County Parks rent cross-country skis, poles and boots: $10-adult; $5-youth and snowshoes: $5/day; Love Creek rents fat tire bikes and helmets: $15/1 hour or $25/2 hours.
- Snowshoers: Smaller snowshoes are best for wet, compact snow; larger snowshoes for powder.
- Use poles to keep your balance.
- Start on flat ground until you get the hang of each sport. Groomed trails are easier for first-time cross-country skiers and fat tire bikers.
- Learn how to do classic or traditional (Nordic) cross-country skiing before you attempt the more challenging ski skating. Traditional cross-country skiing is like shuffle walking on snow.
Tips for everyone
- What to wear.
- Dress in layers. Wear a hat, gloves and wool-blend socks that will wick away the sweat.
- Carry an extra shirt for your trip back to the trailhead or lodge (your first shirt might become sweaty and wearing a dry one will keep you warmer).
- What to bring.
- Bring snacks (trail mix, granola bars) and warm water or soup.
- Bring your phone/camera/flashlight and extra batteries. Carry them in an inside coat pocket to keep them warm. You’ll see lots of beautiful scenes along the way to photograph.
- Use hand warmers to protect your hands and fingers. Carry a hand warmer in your inside coat pocket next to your phone/camera/flashlight when it’s below 25° F.
- Travel with a companion or a group to share the fun and to be available if there is an emergency.
- Bring a trail map and compass.
- Stay on trails
- Cross-country skiers and snow bikers: if there are groomed trails, use them. If not, stay alert for hidden dangers such as fallen branches, rocks and snow-covered streams.
- Snowshoers: walk alongside, not on groomed trails.
Tips for snowshoers
- Before you venture out in the snow, warm up your hamstring (back of thigh) and hip flexors (muscles that lift your legs) with light stretches.
- When going uphill, dig your toes in so the cleats on the bottom of snowshoes can grab the snow.
- Carry a repair kit in your backpack. Include duct tape, zip (cable) ties to make quick shoe repairs. If your snowshoes are constructed with grommets, bring a grommet repair kit.
Tips for fat tire bikers
- Always wear a helmet. Most bikers find that a balaclava hat (one that includes a ski mask/neck warmer/hood) fits best under a helmet.
- Ride as much as you can in the center of the trail. When riding, look up, not down – it will improve your balance.
- Riding on packed snow is a lot like riding on dirt, but slipperier.
- Stay seated – your bike tires need your weight to move through the snow.
Where to go.
Cross-Country Skiing & Snowshoeing
- Fred Russ Forest County Park
Decatur. This is one of Cass County’s most popular year-round destinations. Enjoy 4 miles of cross-country/snowshoeing trails from dawn to dusk. Trail Map (PDF), p. 14
- Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve
Niles. The best place to ski or snowshoe is in the Arboretum. This destination is simply beautiful and refreshingly peaceful. Trail Map (PDF), p. 3
- Grand Mere State Park
Stevensville. Located along Lake Michigan shore. Explore dunes and three inland lakes. Trail Map (PDF), p. 4
- Kal-Haven State Park
33-mile linear park between South Haven and Kalamazoo. Trail Map (PDF), p. 17
- Harbor Shores Trails
Benton Harbor/St. Joseph. Some of the most picturesque scenery in the Midwest! 12+ miles of trails to cross-country ski or snowshoe in the winter takes you along the St. Joseph and Paw Rivers and out to Lake Michigan. Trail Map (PDF)
- Love Creek County Park
Berrien Center. Nearest groomed cross-country ski trails to northern Indiana and Chicago! More than five miles of open terrain trails and challenging wooded slopes and turns. In addition to tracks for "traditional" Nordic skiing, many trails include a groomed lane for cross-country ski skating. Rental equipment available. Ski Trail Map (PDF)
- Madeline Bertrand County Park
Niles. Three miles of level to gently rolling groomed trails through pine and oak forests and along a bluff overlooking the St. Joseph River. Skiers may also explore trails in adjacent St. Patrick's County Park in Indiana with the purchase of a Berrien County Parks Daily Trail Permit. Rental equipment is available. Lighted night skiing is offered on Fridays and Saturdays in winter until 9:30 p.m.. Winter Trail Guide (PDF)
- New Buffalo Trails
New Buffalo. One of the newest trail projects in Berrien County. You’ll ski or snowshoe along several undeveloped right-of-ways starting near Turtle Pond Nature Preserve, southwest of New Buffalo. This connects with trails in the Chikaming Open Lands Turtle Creek Preserve (parking available) and continues to the nature trails behind New Buffalo Elementary School (parking available).
- Dr. T. K. Lawless County Park
Vandalia. 12 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. Special weekends in Jan. and Feb. offer lighted trails, too. Inner tube sledding (tubes provided) also available. Trail Map (PDF), p. 15
- Van Buren Trail State Park
13 miles between trailheads in Hartford (parking available) and South Haven. Trail Map (PDF), p. 18
- Warren Dunes State Park
Sawyer. Explore 1,952 acres of incredible dunes along Lake Michigan including three miles of shoreline and six miles of trails. Trail Map (PDF), p. 12
Fat Tire Snow Biking
- Love Creek County Park
Berrien Center. This park features Berrien County’s only groomed fat tire bike trail. The 3.5-mile beginners-to-intermediate route has frequent short climbs. Rental bikes and helmets are available.
- Dr. T. K. Lawless County Park
Vandalia. 10 miles of mountain bike trails. Trail Map (PDF), p. 15
Kip Miller is the chief naturalist and park manager at Berrien County’s Love Creek Nature Center and County Park.