In Minnesota there is a term called “Minnesota Nice,” in that everyone you meet in the land of 10,000 lakes is generally nice. The locals are also accustomed to “Minnesota Ice.” Being a Northern state in the middle of the country, it tends to get cold in the winter. Like really cold. It’s not uncommon for the temperature to drop below zero for a week straight in February. And with the cold comes that Minnesota ice. The land of 10,000 lakes becomes the land of 10,000 ice rinks.
When the lakes safely freeze over (4-inch-thick ice is safe for people, 12-inch+ ice is safe for cars and trucks), the fishing fiends head onto the lakes with ice houses and heaters. Ice fishing is ingrained into the culture, a way of life for a lot of people, and a great way to enjoy the outdoors when the temperatures aren’t always the most comfortable.
Of course, Minnesota winters also bring snow, and that snow is great for the snowboarding. Unlike other places in the US, where there are huge mountains with tons of powder, Minnesota is generally flat. Instead of access to a 22-foot halfpipe or an 80-foot park jump, Minnesota boarders have a handful of icy, 300-foot-vertical hills and man-made features to get their snowboard fix. What Minnesota lacks in altitude, however, it more than makes up for in creativity. Forced to make something out of nothing, snowboarders in the Heartland can be seen riding anything they get speed on. Whether it’s a kinked city handrail or a slippery hill in the countryside, these boarders go out at all hours of the day to chase the feeling that snowboarding gives them, however they can find it.
Snowboarding and ice fishing seem like opposite ends of the sport spectrum, but when you look deeper you see how closely related they are: Dragging your gear out to “the spot,” shovelling snow and ice, figuring out what moves yield the best results, and trying to stay warm so you can feel what you’re doing. All the adrenaline rush and excitement of catching the fish or landing that trick you’ve been dreaming about. Something to take you away from your daily thoughts so you can just live in the moment.
No one had thought to combine these two winter pastimes until snowboarder Benny Milam thought up idea to get pulled onto an icehouse with rails set up on it. When I asked how he struck on the concept, Benny told me “My brother and I used to tow each other around the lake with a snowmobile back in the day and look at all these villages of ice houses. I always thought it would be cool to turn one into a feature.”
Once the icehouse was built, Benny invited a group of his friends (Garrett Mckenzie, Sam Schiltgen, Lenny Mazzotti, and Drayden Gardner) out to Green Lake, the Minnesota lake Benny grew up on, for a one-of-a-kind session on the ice. Over the course of three days, as frigid winds whipped across the lake, the riders kept themselves warm by building jumps and landings, and reconfiguring the rail features.
About that cold weather: the session took place in the middle of a polar vortex, where the lows were -18°F and highs were barely over 0°. Getting towed into the icehouse in subzero temps for 3 days will take a toll on you, but the riders refused to stop. Benny said “Everybody was juiced. I think it was the Red Bull that had them going, but the gang was snapping. It’s hard to say if anyone really stood out because everyone stood out. Those dudes can really board.”
Covering the solid ice with fresh snow and making jumps to fire themselves up and onto the ice houses was something these guys will remember for a long time to come. Who knows, sessioning an icehouse could become a seasonal event if it catches on.
Just one more activity to bring people together outside in the Minnesota winter.
Story by Chad Otterstrom