Door County winter fun isn’t restricted to cozy living rooms, quiet cafés or dark movie theaters. Don’t get me wrong – cuddling up inside with a good book, sipping tea and knocking movies off my must-see list are great activities for the chilly season – but when temperatures drop, outdoor fun on the ice is just heating up.
Don’t believe me? Check out this photo spread for proof. You’ll see pictures of artists showing off their skills in downtown Sturgeon Bay, riders racing motorbikes modified for ice, broomball players in fierce competition and others finding ways to get outside and enjoy the winter season.
If you’re visiting Door County this winter or brave enough to stick through the season, take a cue from these people enjoying the local ice activities.
Wide, studded tires help this biker maneuver around tracks on the ice on the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. The photo was taken in January 2013.
Villages of ice fishing shanties spring up when the bay and lakes finally freeze over. Little Sturgeon Bay is a popular spot, and charter fishing businesses throughout the county will happily take you out on the ice to find some fish and keep you warm while doing it!
When the snow falls, a whole system of snowmobiling trails opens up in Door County and the purr of snowmobile engines can be heard from the tip of the peninsula to the county line. Check the Door County website for trail statuses and maps – map.co.door.wi.us/parks/snowmobile.
Broomball may not be an Olympic sport, but that doesn’t mean it’s not serious. Teams in the Door County Broomball League meet at the Teresa K. Hilander Ice Rink in Sister Bay to compete for the limelight. Broomball is played on a hockey rink, and players try to get a small orange ball into the opposing team’s net using a stick called a broom. Players wear specially designed shoes, helmets and pads.
Making big sculptures from ice and snow is a fun part of many local winter festivals. This picture is from the 2013 Fire and Ice festival in Sturgeon Bay, where local artists carved sculptures around the city and professional ice carvers displayed their talent. Sculpture by Jeff Olson of Egg Harbor.
Skating rinks in Ellison Bay, Sister Bay, Jacksonport and Sturgeon Bay are alive with skaters come wintertime. If the ice is thick enough, try skating on a pond or small lake, too!
To Stay Safe. Remember Ice.
By Carol Thompson
It’s empowering to be able to walk on the water, even if it’s frozen, but that common Door County winter activity shouldn’t be taken lightly.
To stay safe on the ice, Petty Officer Nathan Disher from the Sturgeon Bay Coast Guard station has an acronym to remember: ICE.
ICE: Intelligence, Clothing, Equipment
“I stands for ‘intelligence’,” Disher said. “Know what you’re dealing with. Talk to people and find out the ice conditions before you go out.”
He recommends calling local bait and tackle shops to get an idea of current conditions and whether it’s safe to tread on the ice. There are some safety thresholds for different ice thicknesses:
- 2 inches or less: Stay off the ice, it’s not safe for any activity.
- 4 inches: Safe for fishing and walking.
- 5 inches: Safe for ATVs or snowmobiles.
- 8-12 inches: Safe for small pickup trucks or cars.
- 12-15 inches: Safe for medium-sized pickup trucks.
Wind speed and direction affects ice safety on big bodies of water like Lake Michigan and Green Bay, which Disher said surprises people used to small inland lakes that typically freeze over. Wind can cause the open water to move, warm up ice and crack that ice into pieces, leaving people stranded on floating ice chunks.
“C stands for ‘clothing’,” he said. “Make sure you’re wearing proper clothing, and have extra with you.”
The Centers for Disease Control recommend wearing layers of loose-fitting clothing topped with an outer layer of a water-resistant coat and boots when venturing out in the cold. A wind-resistant outer layer will keep you warm, while wearing a base layer made of wool, silk or polyester will keep you warm and dry. (It can be tough to dry cotton once it gets wet from sweat or precipitation, and wet cotton will stay wet and cold against your skin.)
Ice picks, which can be purchased at sporting goods stores or made out of a board with an exposed nail attached to a string, are first on Disher’s list. In case you do fall through the ice, you can use an ice pick to lift yourself out.
He also recommends carrying a spud bar, a tool also available at most sporting goods stores. Spud bars are four to six feet long, and help to gauge ice thickness. Just slam the spud bar through the ice, and if it breaks through, turn around and head to shore.
Wearing or carrying a life jacket is a good idea, too.
Heading out on the ice with company is another good way to stay safe, but if you’re going alone Disher said it’s important to let people know about your plans.
“Let your family and loved ones know where you’re going and what time they can expect you back,” he said.
When there’s an emergency on the ice, make sure to call 911 or the Sturgeon Bay Coast Guard’s emergency line – (920) 743-3366.
Photography by Len Villano.