It is a crazy idea in a way…. racing down the snowpack of a ski hill, on a bike.
That was the scene at Spirit Mountain in Duluth for the running of the second annual Frosted Fatty race, and 2017 was the best yet!
The day started early with a cross country race, a new event for the 2017 Frosted Fatty. It was the first stage of the three tiered event. Racers pedaled with minimum 3” wide tires on either a 12K or 25K course through the woods, up steep hills and down through white knuckle turns on Spirit Mountain’s beautiful cross country ski trails. Many of the bikes sported tires 5” or wider. The extra surface area allows riders to travel over the snow of the ski trails. Air pressure adjustments were made, many deciding to lower their air pressure. Harder tires allow more speed and easier pedaling, but softer tires provide better flotation and improved traction. It’s a balance that was still being adjusted on the trail, racers dialing it in until it was just right. At the end, prizes were awarded to the men’s and women’s race winners in both circuits, and smiles, high-fives, slaps on the back, and handshakes were exchanged heartily.
Onto the downhill!
After a safety inspection, competitors prepared for the increased speed that the slopes would offer. Race officials inspected each bike to be sure everything was tight. The race was a combined two run course with an open format where riders had an hour on each of two runs during which they could take as many runs as they wanted to get their best times in. The first course had more technical turns, the second course had bigger bumps for more air on the jumps. There were spinouts, spills, and wipeouts as the racers sped downhill. Spectators camped out along the course and enjoyed the interactions with racers as they whizzed by on the way down the hill. The open format allowed a more relaxed race and it seemed like everyone was having a blast on a beautiful, sunny, early March day. It was a fun afternoon for all involved. There was plenty of ski patrol and medical support on hand, happily there were no serious crashes for them to attend to… everyone stayed safe and got to the bottom of the hill in one piece, though one rider was forced to change out his handlebars after they bent on the landing of the last jump on the second course. He went on to win the race.
The main event of the competition was the evening’s Dual Slalom course. Open to fat bikers, skiers, and snowboarders, racers lined up two at a time to race side by side to the bottom of the course. There were jumps, berms, tight turns, and drop-offs to contend with as riders pushed down the course. At the top, many figured the skiers had the advantage, but the boarders and bikers kept up and gave the skiers a run for the money. And there was money at stake… $500 to the “king of the hill”. Dual elimination rules applied as riders worked to keep out of the consolation bracket. Kids competed against adults, skiers vs. boarders vs. bikers. The bikers needed to keep pedaling all the way down to keep up. The berms provided great banking to keep up the speed. There were perfect conditions all day and into the night as the well-built course held up to a solid three hours of side-by-side racing. On the final run for King of the Hill, a biker and skier were neck and neck coming down the course. The skis carried a bit more speed than the bike though, and the skier finally took the win.
The whole day was so much fun! Great weather helped, but the overall atmosphere carried unique camaraderie brought out by the fat bike riders and fans. The bikes themselves instigate their own brand of fun-loving excitement. They carry a bit of comical-whimsy in a way. The oversized tires, like monster trucks and the contrast of spandex bike gear and costumes —The Surly team had some amazing garb— stood out on the bright snowpack of winter. A person almost can’t help but smile seeing one of these bikes, it would be nearly impossible to not have a grin when riding over packed snow… especially when accelerating downhill with the help of gravity— carrying the knowledge that you get to ride the lift back up the hill to do it all again.
The Frosted Fatty.
You’ve never seen or even heard of anything like it. Cheers to Spirit Mountain and all of the other sponsors, racers, athletic supporters and everyone that made this great event happen. We already can’t wait for next year’s, the 3rd Annual Frosted Fatty!
We’ve talked about the Duluth fat bike scene, and it’s one of the best, known nationally for both the quality and quantity that’s already here, but also for its growth. In recent years, and largely due to folks in the community and volunteers from Cyclists Of Gitche Gummee Shores (COGGS) the mountain bike scene and infrastructure has exploded in Duluth. The same is true for Fat Biking. Those trails are not only built for summer mountain biking, they’re multiuse trails that offer opportunities for running, hiking, mountain biking, and yes, fat biking.
But Duluth’s not the only place in the north where you can get your fat brap going (that being said, this weekend is the Frosted Fatty, and you won’t want to miss it!).
Northern Minnesota, even outside of Duluth’s own robust trail system, is proving itself a fantastic place to get out on two wheels, both in summer, and winter.
Here are some of our favorite spots in northern Minnesota to get your gears turning for a fat bike winter getaway. Just remember to swing by and see us at 1910 W Superior St on the way out and back:
1 – Pincushion Mountain – Head up Highway 61 (And check out our panniers of the same name!) for two hours and you’ll find yourself in the great little town, once named the Coolest Small Town in America, Grand Marais. It’s a stepping off point for BWCA trips up the Gunflint Trail and it’s dominated by the enormous expanse of Lake Superior on one side, and the steep slopes of Pincushion Mountain on the other. A popular destination for summer riding, the Superior Cycling Association is now grooming trails for Fat Biking on the mountain, too. Check out maps and trail etiquette here.
2 – Britton Peak – A great summertime spot just up the Sawbill Trail from Tofte and right off the Superior Hiking Trail, there are several trails at Britton Peak that weave for miles through woods and slopes. Haul the Arrowhead Trail Rolltop Pack to bring snacks, water and extra layers as you navigate the woods.
3 – Split Rock Lighthouse State Park – Nearly nine miles of groomed winter fat bike trails, plus epic views of the lake and the old light make this stop a no-brainer. Offering adventurous options and the slow-rolling Gitchi-Gami State Trail, it’s a great spot for all skill levels. Find the map, with marked groom trails, points of interest and more right here. Haul a Taconite Trail Trunk Bag to keep snacks handy on a back rack.
4 – Jay Cooke State Park – Just south of Duluth off of Interstate 35 is a gem of a park that’s home to amazing natural features, including the St Louis River as it cuts down into canyons and drops through rapids on its way to Lake Superior. Jay Cooke’s trails are some of the best and it offers nearly five and a half miles of groomed fat biking trails. Find the map here. Come relax in the Lincoln Park Craft Business District after or before your ride and take a free tour of our workshop.
Want to find other trails? Check out this compendium of trail links compiled by MN Bike Trail Navigator to find maps to all sorts of trail systems. Also, check out the State of MN DNR’s Fat Bike Project Page for more info and trails in other parts of our great state.
We hope you find the perfect winter wonderland for you fat-tired floaty winter ride. Check out our whole line of bike bags that are purpose-built for two-wheeled adventure. They’re made by hand in Duluth, MN and guaranteed for life. Swing by the shop on your fat-bike-trip-up-north and see some being built!
Cheers, and happy riding, we’ll see you on the trail!
Overcast skies, big fluffy snowflakes floating down, warm, late winter temps….
great conditions for a ride on a fat bike! We strap several waxed canvas bags to the bike and hit the trail. The riding on Hawk Ridge Road along the hillside above Duluth is perfect. There are no cars as the road’s closed for the season. We meet fellow fat bike riders, trail runners, dog walkers— everyone is smiling, in perfect agreement that this is the best way to spend a late winter morning.
The bike is a bit overburdened for a casual morning ride, we’ve added some of our favorite Frost River Bike Bags— we couldn’t resist loading it up.
So many sacrifices in the name of product testing. The Surly Pugsley is decked out for touring, ready for a bikepacking expedition or a heavy re-supply run from point A to B. The waxed canvas works great at keeping the snow on the outside and keeping all the contents dry.
On the handlebars, a Caribou Trail Bike Bag points forward, a Sawbill Trail points back. It’s a handy configuration as you can easily access contents without getting off the bike, your stuff stays front, centered, and accessible. Add a layer, shed a layer, grab a phone, whatever, the essentials are right there. On the top of the frame there’s a Fernberg Trail Wedge Bag. It’s a non-traditional placement, as it’s designed to ride under the seat, but it works here and offers a spot for small items. It’d be a great spot to store an extra inner tube and tools (though with the Pugsley’s huge tubes, it’d pretty tight). Our Trezona Trail Top Tube Bag is secured in the frame, like usual, it’s filled with cans of Bent Paddle.
The big bags are on the back. Our Pugsley is set up with one of Surly’s own burly racks. The thing is rated for serious loads. We aren’t riding with anything near its capacity, but just like our canvas bags, it’s built to perform. We’re riding with our classic Highway 1 Panniers, the style we’ve built since the beginning. They feature a drawstring top under the flap that allows quite a bit of vertical expansion while providing a good, weather-tight system. The Highway 1’s come as a set, tied together with cord and a spanner that drapes over the rack, making them easily adaptable. The front corner is cut out to allow heel clearance as you pedal while a stiffening panel on the inside keeps the load and bags from rubbing on the spokes.
On top of the rack is our Taconite Trail Trunk Bag. The combo of the panniers and Trunk make for a system that allows great capacity and accessibility. The trunk has foam lining to provide structure and insulation. It’s be a great spot to stow a lunch and a couple beers (or pops) or a camera.
All of our bike bags are named after regional bike routes. It’s a fun way to add some local character to our gear, and provides a sense of where our softgoods come from, what inspires it. For an awesome project, grab a map and undertake a “Frost River Circuit,” tracking down and riding each of the bike routes Frost River bike bags are named after. We’ll pitch the boss… let us know when you’d like to go for a ride!
For now, we’re happy to get out and explore the corners of our fair city here in Duluth. There’s oh-so-much to offer, from the tame to the thrilling. Check out our other blogs for adventures in and around Duluth, and be sure to read up on the Frosted Fatty at Spirit Mountain this weekend. It’s definitely on the thrilling end of the spectrum and worth the trip!
In the center of Duluth, just west on Superior Street, a Craft District is emerging:
We’re a collection of small businesses, clustered together, with a shared vision of getting things done, crafting good stuff that discerning folks appreciate, and telling the story of how things are made right here. Visit us in the Lincoln Park neighborhood and you can see our waxed canvas gear being handbuilt. Across the street, thousands of gallons of beer can be seen being brewed at Bent Paddle Brewing Co. You could have a pair of shoes or a leather bag made at Hemlock’s Leatherworks, you can get measured for a custom protective motorcycle suit that’ll be built at Aerostich. You can make stuff yourself at the Duluth Folk School, learn about and buy clay cups, bowls, and more at Duluth Pottery. There are baked goods from Duluth’s Best Bread, delicious local eats at The Duluth Grill, and you can shop for skate and snowboards, and other rad stuff at Damage Duluth. There’s good stuff to eat, drink, see, and do in the neighborhood, and the list of handcrafted offerings keeps growing all the time.
Standing for Oink, Moo, Cluck, OMC offers barbecued and smoked meats of the best quality, traditionally prepared right across the street from our front door. The OMC crew has spent a considerable amount of time learning the art of meat preparation from the experts of the craft in the American south. Folks at OMC have the experience of food preparation and presentation developed through years of successful work at the Duluth Grill, just eight blocks west of Frost River. During busy times at OMC, servers offer a text message based reservation service to allow people a chance to wander the area while waiting for their table. It’s another way this band of independent, locally-owned small businesses in the Craft District are working together, crafting something great in an emerging gem located in the best outdoor city in the land.
Duluth has so much to offer…
It’s a great place to live and a fun place to visit, and it is getting better ALL the time! The people are awesome, not just the folks that live here, but the visitors as well. It’s a trustworthy and hearty crowd that calls The North home or choose to visit here. Lake Superior — the great, inland, unsalted sea — is a force all it’s own. Outdoor adventure opportunities abound during all four seasons (and all four really are distinct and sharply varied). We have trails, parks, river valleys, and green space all over town. It’s awesome.
We are a community of makers.
There’s a lot of great stuff being made here in Duluth. Duluthians have long been relied upon to create what is needed. From ships and sails to timber and taconite, we’ve done what needs doing and moved what needed moving. It’s part of who we are and what we do. It’s important to us and to our identity to be known and trusted to make, move, and deliver the commodities that people want and value.
Here at Frost River, we take pride in making all the waxed canvas packs, bags, and accessories by hand in our workshop above and below the store. We love offering tours of the shop, providing visitors a view into a bustling manufacturing facility that blends modern technology with old world artisanal techniques and tools to craft lifetime-reliable softgoods. It’s important to know where the goods you buy come from. We appreciate your support of American manufacturing; our business and our neighborhood depend on it. Thank you!
Duluth really is awesome. There are so many opportunities for living, working, playing, and doing. You should come visit us as soon as possible. You won’t be sorry!
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Be Prepared is more than just a motto. Whether on a short jaunt into the woods, down winding roads or deep into the backcountry, it’s important to plan ahead and pack the things that you need, as well as the things you hope you won’t. It can not only benefit you, but your family, and fellow travelers, too.
Living a “Be Prepared Lifestyle” doesn’t take much extra effort and can be fun and rewarding mindset. You’ve got a trusty bag that goes everywhere with you right?
Here are some thoughts on handy items to bring along:
-First Aid Kit – Our RollUp Travel Kit works great as a container for a well-stocked first aid kit. Bandages, gauze, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, ibuprofen, tape, a couple absorbent pads, some safety pins, emergency medicine (think Epi-Pens), and a few choice over-the-counter meds could save your day or someone else’s, and make you a hero to a friend in need of a bit of help. Make sure you know how to use everything in your kit, get training if you don’t, and remember to rely on the professionals if you get in over your head.
-Essentials Kit – Consider a Large Accessory Bag to contain tools to help you get out or bed down in a sticky situation: leather gloves, a headlamp (with spare batteries), folding saw, multi tool, compass, folding shovel, fire kit with lighter/wood matches and a chunk of birchbark or other fire starter, length of rope or cord, a bit of toilet paper, small notebook, pencil, and a knife (if not wearing one already, and follow the laws in your area). Having this kit together also makes packing for a canoe trip (or other grand adventure) quicker and easier.
–Water in a sturdy container – Water is essential to life, being prepared by carrying a bit with you in a container that can be refilled as you go. If you’re going to be out for a while, consider bringing iodine or some other water treatment as well. Keep it protected and insulated with a BWCA Insulator.
-Snacks and/or a lunch – Be prepared and bring a bit of sustenance along, and avoid getting hangry (angry from hunger, which nobody really appreciates).
Yes, it’s a bit of weight, yes, it’s a bit of bulk, but these items could save the day for you, or that of someone close to you.
Whatever you choose to carry, be prepared with a few choice tools to help you out in whatever situation your adventure gets you into. We’ve got several daypacks that are well-suited to be carried everyday and in the woods and will keep you looking good while you’re at it. Happy travels on, and off the beaten path!
These are some of our favorites that we’re confident will please even those tough-to-shop-for folks. Here are packs and bags that are made by hand in our shop above the store in Duluth, Minnesota. Scroll down and pick out something you like or would like to give away. Give a gift that’s crafted with reliability and is guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Temperance Tote – A sophisticated tote for hard working folks. This crossover design is part purse, can be used as luggage, and has organization like a brief. The adjustable handles allow for shoulder carry, waxed canvas provides classic good looks that only get better with age and use.
Crescent Lake Shoulder Bag – Thoughtful layout and great materials give special appeal to this purse. Inside and out, there’s a full length slip pocket on one side and a divided slip pocket on the other. One solid brass snap keeps the top closed, and another one keeps the front exterior pocket secure. Available in two sizes, either provide portability and lasting appeal.
Shell Bag – Long ago, bags like these would be used to carry shells and tools for hunters and shooters to keep guns loaded in the field. Now, the same pattern makes a great purse or satchel. There’s a pocket inside, and a flap over the main compartment that buckles securely on the outside. The long leather shoulder strap works great for men and women alike.
Apparel – Cozy fleece, hearty hoodies, and sporty T’s, all made in America and printed with Frost River pride. Give her permission to steal your sweatshirt by giving her one of her own (then you can borrow it too)!
Flight Bag – Great go-to travel luggage. There’s no messin’ around with a Flight Bag- simple layout, classic style, and reliable construction, it’s got everything you need and nothing you don’t. Carry well on your travels and get in on the benefits of a soft sided bag (it’s crammable). Need pockets? Go with the Curtis Flight Bag.
High Falls – Here’s a neat and trim daypack, streamlined for outdoor pursuits or urban commutes. Great for him or her! We build them in standard Field Tan as well as in two-tone with orange accents for high visibility.
Growler Pack – Give a gift of craft beer portability! Growlers are kind of a pain to carry. We’ve got several different styles of Growler Packs, the Sling Pack is simple and straightforward, the Double Wide carries two. Insulated and beer resistant, they’re a great conversation starter in the tap room.
Cribbage Board – You should not rely solely on this cribbage board to navigate the Frost River waterway in the BWCA… but you probably could! There’s great detail in the engraving of this solid wood board, it’s beautiful, just like the canoe county route it depicts. Made in USA, add a Field Deck for a matched set.
Field Deck – Regulation playing cards with artful illustrations of our Frost River outdoor gear. Hand drawn and painted here in Duluth, there are no bad hands when you’re holding images like this.
Pocket Folio – Be prepared to capture creativity throughout the day when you carry a pocket notebook. Our Folio is made from the premium leather from S.B. Foot tannery in Red Wing, MN. It won’t take long to break-in and start gaining character, but will last through many Field Notes notebook refills. The covers and pages hold up so much better with the help of leather, plus there’s slots for cards and spots to keep your small stuff together.
Mitts – Warm hands can help warm a heart when you’ve got a good set of mitts. Invite hand holding and be ready to present a warm handshake, even on the coldest days. They’re sized for wiggle room inside, our American-made mitts run big.
Timber Cruiser Jr.– To us, nothing says “I Love You” like the gift of a canoe pack. They’re the cornerstone of everything we make and are useful for more than just a portage. Ever thought of traveling like a Voyageur wherever you gotta go? There are few more distinctive ways to travel through a terminal than under a tumplined canoe pack. It beats the axles off a roller bag in our book.
We left Duluth after one of the worst storms of the year…
…with travel crippled on both coasts, but our roads were open as we threaded the needle between systems and slippery roads. It was early January and we were on the way to the Outdoor Retailer Show, one of, if not the biggest outdoor shows in the world. We’d be meeting old friends and making new ones, finding more shops to support our Made in America waxed canvas softgoods, and talking about the future with press, media, suppliers, collaborators and competitors. But before we could embark on such a mission-driven week of trade shows, lights, and business cards, we needed some quiet mountain air.
The weather in Duluth had been bitterly cold, below 0˚ Fahrenheit. The engine starter groaned before it finally caught, and Henry the Frost River van hit the road at 7:30am. Lake Superior heaved thick columns of steam and in the east, the sun kissed the horizon, bathing still pack ice in deep pink. We drove Henry to the old fishing pier to watch the show. We were embarking on a classic road trip, with long hauls, greasy cafes, camping, new vistas, old friends, and always adventure on our way to Salt Lake City. In the back of the van was all the gear for the show, along with a Frost River 4-Person Campfire Tent, End Cover and a 2-Dog stove. We were ready for cold nights.
We drove south on I-35 to Des Moines, then east, through Nebraska to Colorado, to the mountains and a star-studded clear night sky stop eighteen hours later at Chateaux Chamonix in Georgetown, Colorado. Only mountains interrupted the astral view, and when dawn came, those same slopes glowed.
We spent the morning exploring historic Georgetown,
once destined to become the capitol of Colorado in a time when the booming mountain mines seemed the state’s future. The quaint shops, old banks and cafes were inviting, their brick and stone structures and tall windows seemed frozen in time. If it weren’t for the old stone jail and walls of snowy pines surrounding the valley, we could just as well be in Red Wing, MN.
With Henry back on the road, we hauled over Loveland Pass, winding our way across the Rockies until we were rocketing across the valleys on the far side on our way to Moab, Utah.
In the middle of endless snow-covered desert, we pulled off I-80 to head south on meandering Co. 128. The road was desolate, graffiti sprayed across derelict rail cars and splintered houses, “Keep out!” “No trespassing!” We motored on, following the lazy wind of the Colorado River as it carved its canyon through the red rocks.
We explored caves, ruins of an ancient suspension bridge, and, as the light faded, we finally turned off at lonely Fisher Towers Rd.
We hoped our rear-wheel drive van would bring us dutifully along the 2.4 miles of snowy gravel road. Half way, we stopped at the base of a steep, washboarded slope and looked up, then back at the van. Henry’s up to the task…
We hopped back in and hit the gas. Halfway up, the tires started to slip. “Keep it going!” We eased the gas, bouncing up and over washboards, their deep troughs and the sagging ton of Canoe Packs, Backpacks, Tents, Canoes, and Bent Paddle Brewing Co. Beer pushing our snow tires down until they found purchase. “Come on!” Up and down, the van bounced along, clearing the dashboard of phones and maps. In a few breathless seconds, we were up on flat ground, the obstacle and our lonely tracks behind us.
“Let’s hope that’s the only one,” we agreed.
The rest of the road was smooth, and we pulled into Fisher Towers Campground in twilight, owls calling from the amphitheater of contorted red rock towers. Co. 128 was a distant dark line in the snowy desertscape and but for the few silent headlights meandering slowly across the horizon, we were alone.
We lit our headlamps and set to pitching the Campfire Tent. We’d brought the End Cover with smoke hole and a two-dog stove. We couldn’t collect firewood at the site or in the surrounding plains or deep arroyos, so we had brought a bundle of good, dried, seasoned wood. With the tent up, and the end cover secured, we set up the stove and started carving feather sticks and breaking the big logs down to small bits of kindling, batoning with a handy knife.
Soon the tent was cheery and warm, glowing in the desert blue.
We cracked our Bent Paddle beers and basked in the glory of the silence and crackle of our hearty fire. We slept in silence under down and a pair of Frost River wool blankets.
We woke to a desert blanketed in fresh snow, the red rocks obscured by falling flakes. Trails through the red rock towers and amphitheater offered views of deep, hidden canyons and dripping red icicles. We explored as deep as we could in the ice and snow before turning back to break the silence with the turn the engine and our journey back out.
Before long, we’d gorged on heaping plates of huevos rancheros and were looping up the long drive into Arches National Park. Rocky outcrops, covered in snow, stood tall, camouflaged against the grey sky. Henry bounced along as we explored the fantastic formations and made our way to the desert playground of The Windows.
Too soon, we were back on the highway, motoring through the emptiness on our way to Salt Lake. The Wasatch mountains raged with snow, and traffic slowed to wait for plow and slush. If it weren’t for the tall mountains, it would have felt like home, Duluth in the thick of a winter storm.
At Outdoor Retailer, we met with friends and made new ones, folks who want to share the Frost River story, who appreciate the value of solid brass, the utility of waxed canvas, and the longevity of premium leather. Before we knew it, we were packing up, and heading out of town with our new friend SASSY, a 12” tall wooden sasquatch that symbolized our winning of the American Made Outdoor Gear Award for US companies between 11 and 50 employees strong.
We were sad to leave the mountains of Utah, they’ve got so much to offer, but we had friends and family waiting for us to ski Colorado’s Rocky Mountains under the coming full moon.
Besides, SASSY had never gone backcountry snowboarding, so it was up to us to show him the ropes.
The road to Colorado was smooth, and we were met with a dinner of smothered Mexican food and a nice bonfire with friends and family, spending the night meeting, greeting and reconnecting.
We woke early, eagerly checking avalanche conditions for the aspects we’d be skiing, and which ones to leave for another day. We reviewed the charts, conditions and reports. We’d been following the snowpack over the course of the week, reviewing the avalanche tree. 50” of snow had dropped on the mountains the week before, but stability had been increasing and we were good to go.
When you’re getting ready to leave the vehicle, hit the trail or get on the water, it pays to review your gear and that of your tripmates. Just like in the BWCA, you rely on each other and your equipment, but in the mountains, it’s even more important. Avalanches are a power that must be respected. We checked each other’s packs for shovels, probes, and full water bottles, confirmed the avalanche beacons were working and that we had comms with our walkie talkies.
We took SASSY up that afternoon, skiing until sundown at treeline in the quickly setting sun. We practiced setting up our tent and stove at A basin near the beach, before being told we had to move camp. So, we practiced packing the tent, too. Our final pitch was under clear skies and a rising full moon just peeking over Mount Montezuma on A Basin’s east wall. We wanted to keep SASSY comfortable, so we kept the fire roarin’ and took shifts to keep the fire going all night.
At 5:45, we woke to the whine of snowmobiles: our friends had arrived for sunrise skiing on Loveland Pass.
Once the commercial runs opened, we hit the slopes all day. We did a mix of side country and resort skiing at Keystone, hikes to bowls, including Erickson’s Bowl, a wide open piece of sidecountry that sits above treeline, with an adrenaline-fueled drop in from a cornice at the top. For hours, we turned mellow lines in deep powder.
The next morning, we checked avalanche control and got the snowmobiles ready and on the trailer. Leaving at 4:45am we were at Vail Pass parking lot at 7:45, so early we beat the rangers. We paid our dues when they arrived, two old friends. We talked current conditions, grooming reports and where to meet up later, walkie channels and skied amazing white powder all day via snowmobiles and skinning for transportation. SASSY loved it. We saw six people all day.
It was smooth sailing until a dead sled sent us home. We cleaned up our oil and packed it out to keep the mountain pristine. It was time to head home. We got the sleds loaded and cracked some victory Bent Paddle to close out the day.
Before dawn, we’d packed our gear into Henry the Frost River van and after two weeks and 3,000 miles on the road, were headed home, back in Duluth before Day’s end.
A below zero day— fahrenheit or celsius, it’s a sure sign you’re in a cold climate when the high temps don’t get above zero…
It’s a beautiful time of year— moisture hangs in the air like a frozen veil, ice crystals shimmer, vehicles are slow to start, and the snow squeaks underfoot. It’s unmistakably cold. In Duluth, towering plumes of steam rise from the much warmer water of Lake Superior. It’s gorgeous, but if you’re going to be outside, you need to be dressed for the weather. How do folks survive and enjoy cold so deep that it hurts to breathe? Good clothes, layered right, a heavy beard, and the promise of a warm bed at the end of the day all help.
Let’s take a look at the clothes, we’ll leave the other two up to you…
Layering is key
Several light and mid-weight layers are warmer and more comfortable than a single heavy layer… especially if you’re active in the cold. Big, puffy parkas are great for warmth when standing still, but as soon as you begin to move about and raise your core temperature, you’ll begin to sweat, and will soon regret being trapped in all the lofty warmth of a heavy parka.
To build a system for layering, start from the inside out. Begin with long johns, tops and bottoms. Merino wool and high quality synthetics work best— keep cotton away from your skin in the winter, it retains moisture and will make you damp and cold when you sweat. Keep layering up with more garments made from those good materials, making your way up to sweaters, fleeces, vests, and shackets (shirt/jacket), and don’t forget about your legs, a base layer plus an insulating layer, then pants. Avoid cotton here too. In deep cold you might wear several layers of clothing (five or more) on the top and several or more on the bottom.
Consider a light pair of gloves, for dexterity, coupled with a pair of mitts for warmth. Mitts are warmer than gloves because your fingers help keep each other warm. We use tried-and-true tricot-lined Thinsulate® in the mitts we make here at Frost River. And your Mom was right… wear a hat. We have a selection of great warm hats, both in the shop and online, all made in USA, that’ll keep you warm and a head above the rest.
Materials and fit
Choose your layering materials well, and be sure they fit. The wool vs. synthetics debate rages on. Wool is durable, it works even when wet, and won’t melt around a campfire. Synthetics are more lightweight, generally less expensive, and dry quicker than wool. Feel free to mix and match materials in your layering system.
It is handy, and space saving on a trip, to have all your layers fit together. Plus, you won’t need to take stuff off to put stuff on. You’ll likely need a selection of sizes as you layer out. For example, if you wear a medium base layer, you may need large insulating layers, then an XL shell. Some manufacturers account for layering in the sizing, others don’t, double check and try them on. Keep in mind that tight spots can turn into cold spots. Elbows, shoulders, and knees all need room to move. The more space you have, the more warm air you can trap to keep you warm.
Wool socks are the way to go for the feet, keep an extra pair in your pack for a quick change if you’re out all day. Be sure your boots and liners work with your socks. You’ll get cold with tight fitting shoes. Removable liners in your boots make drying so much quicker. Wool liners are the best, felt works, stay away from cotton. If you have room for a removable footbed you’re feet will stay warmer and dryer by having a bit of air between your feet and the ground.
Jackets and Overcoats
A shell is an important part of the system. Here, cotton can work well in extreme climes. In cold, dry conditions, far below freezing, cotton provides excellent breathability and wind protection. Be careful in waterproof rain jackets that you don’t sweat out in the tight, waterproof outer layer. You don’t want your insulating layers to get damp. Be on the lookout for anything that will decrease breathability, collect moisture, and make you cold. Your shell should have a good hood and a fur ruff works wonders to keep the wind off your face. A ruff even helps keep you warm when your hood is down. It breaks the wind around your neck, face, and ears. Natural furs, like coyote are some of the old standards, because it doesn’t collect ice from breath and snow.
Adjust as needed
Add and remove layers as required by activity and conditions. You won’t need as many layers to stay warm when skiing, snowshoeing, and moving about as you will while being stationary. As soon as you begin to perspire, stop and remove some clothing. When you stop for a break, add some insulation before you get chilled (a down vest works wonders). Having a pack handy will help carry extra insulation. Our Arrowhead Rolltop really shines here as it’s vertically adjustable for volume. Our Isle Royale retains the versatility and adds big buckskin straps, pockets, and a slot for an axe, handy when working a campfire. Winter camping expeditions often rely on toboggans, that’s the best spot to stash extra layers. Favor clothing with full zips, snaps, and/or buttons. You can dump a bunch of extra heat by opening up layers but keeping your shell closed against the wind.
Head, Hands, and Toes
Wear a good hat in the cold. We’ve got great American made hats that’ll fit under a hood for extra insulation. For the hands and fingers, mitts are best. Give your digits some company to help keep ‘em warm. Our buckskin mitts allow better dexterity, the waxed canvas provides better water resistance. The Great Northern Mitts are cut to fit over cuffs.
Hydrate and Refuel
Winter is a dry time of year. Add water to yourself, and eat often to keep your energy up.
Build Your System
For staying warm in the bitter cold, you’ll often need to forego fashion and adopt function. Don’t dress like it’s recess on the middle school playground or you’ll literally be one of the cool kids. Bundle up, get out, and enjoy this “most wonderful time to the year”.
One of our favorite local makers of stuff for staying warm in the winter is Empire Wool and Canvas here in Duluth. Kevin walks the line of form and function and offers great clothing to stay “Winter Smart”. The good stuff ain’t cheap, but it’ll last for years of being worn everyday that it’s cold, and will keep you smiling through the worst weather you can imagine. We offer several of his pieces in our store here in Lincoln Park, and he also sells directly.
Frost River has received a “SASSY” from the American Made Outdoor Gear Awards at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market.
January 11, 2017 – Frost River has been recognized in the fifth annual American Made Outdoor Gear Awards (AMOGA) in the category of 10-50 employees for its American made, waxed canvas packs, bags, and outdoor accessories. The announcement was made on Day 2 of the 2017 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Salt Lake City, Utah. Each year American manufacturers of outdoor gear submit applications for consideration in the national competition sponsored by Kokatat Inc. (www.kokatat.com), a fellow U.S. manufacturer based in Arcata, CA.
This year’s overall winner is Luna Sandals (www.lunasandals.com) of Seattle, WA. Luna was awarded a two foot tall hand carved wooden statue of “SASSY”, a redwood Sasquatch from California. As a category winner Frost River received a miniature SASSY trophy.
Frost River congratulates Luna Sandals, thanks Kokatat, and encourages other American manufacturers to continue making great products here, along with urging customers to support domestic manufacturing and small businesses whenever possible.
Frost River takes part in the bi-annual Outdoor Retailer Market each summer and winter. It is a valuable and unique gathering of buyers, vendors, brands, and trends across an international audience.
2016 has been a big year, and we’ve been busy here at Frost River picking up old projects, working on new ones, some you’ve seen and some you’ll see soon. Always, we’ve been handcrafting reliable softgoods here in Duluth that are fit for the field and guaranteed for life. We don’t often take the time to look back and review what we’ve done, so it’s a great opportunity with the coming new year to take a chance to relive some of our favorite projects, collaborations, introductions and stories from the past year.
In March, we hosted the first ever lift-accessed downhill fat bike race in the world at the first annualFrosted Fatty at Spirit Mountain. It was a blast, with lots of great contestants, speed, thrills and great prizes for winners from us here and from other great partners, too. This coming winter, we’ll be hosting the 2017 Frosted Fatty, too, and it’s expanding. It’ll be even bigger, with more contestants, more races and more awesome. Details here.
We rolled out our Canvas My State Patches in the spring to great response. We started out with twelve iconic outlines, including Minnesota, Lake Superior and the Lower 48, along with a handful of other states. People overwhelmingly wanted their own states, and we’re proud to now offer all 50 United States as buckskin patches — Hawaii was not easy, but we did it!
We released our brand-new Voyageur Backpack Crossovers, bringing rugged versatility in a brief-sized and luggage-sized pack that is well-suited to however you like to travel. They’re highly functional, reliable softgoods that serve well in any carrying capacity.
We introduced another one of our collaboration collections with purveyors of fine men’s goods and supporters of cold winters, Askov Finlayson. They’re an amazing team out of Minneapolis’ North Loop and for years, they’ve continued to bring great ideas to the table and push us to do bigger, better things, while keeping it local in the North. This year’s collaboration was featured in Gear Patrol and Gear Junkie, along with other high quality publications. It’s our gear, built right here, in an understated and bold black waxed canvas. Available through Askov Finlayson.
On the topic of collaborations, we worked closely with the good folks at Stahl Firepit out of Portland, OR to make their Camper Firepit even more portable by modifying and customizing our Firewood Sling to complement their firepit. With dedicated sleeves for each piece of the firepit, you can haul your campfire wherever you choose, with room for tinder and logs once you’re there.
Freeman Resupply Trip – This year has been big for the Boundary Waters. Our friends Dave and Amy Freeman spent an entire year within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and we got the opportunity to bring them some food and supplies right before fishing opener. It was a great, classic BWCA trip. Read up on our resupply trip here, and updates on the Save the BWCA campaign here. Nice work Freemans!
Pocket Folio, Pint Sleeve and Skyline Rolldown Backpack – A year of big little things. Whether you’re carrying your passport, Field Notes and Beer, a lot of gear, or all of the above, we’ve come out with some great accessories to pair with the daily grind or once-in-a-lifetime adventures. Check ‘em all out here.
Limited Build of Old Glory Red – When we caught wind of a limited amount of classic waxed canvas made in Old Glory Red, we jumped at the opportunity and made a limited build of our own. In early September, we opened up preorders for two-tone packs built from the rare canvas for one week only. Now they’re all across the world. We’ve got a couple still remaining… Give us a call!
There’s a lot in the cards for the coming year, and we can’t wait to share them with you! We’ll be working hard, sewing rugged canvas and leather into reliable softgoods, securing it with solid brass hardware and guaranteeing it for life. What we do isn’t new, but that’s called building on a legacy. We work toward the future with knowledge and skills gained from the past and built on in the future.
Sign up for our email newsletter to be the first to know about all of our new releases, read up on our blogs and keep rugged and reliable in your inbox. We try not to take ourselves too seriously, but the work that we do is serious business. You need your pack to hold, your strap to carry, your seams to stay. It matters to you, so it matters to us.
Thanks for a great year, and cheers to more adventures in 2017!