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Why The Thrillist got Michigan Winters Mostly Wrong

This week The Thrillist published an article entitled Every State, Ranked by How Miserable Its Winters Are. Michigan came in at number 2, beat out only by Minnesota. Here’s some of what they had to say about The Mitten State:

“For the Michigander, this is winter: you leave work at 5 or 6, already in the dead of night, and fight your way down 94 or 96 or 75 or whatever Godforsaken stretch of highway. You can’t even tell if it is drizzling rain or snow, because the brown salt sludge that sprays up off the road coats your windshield more completely than anything that falls from the sky. Overnight, the road freezes. In the morning you wake up and it is still dark. You scrape off your car, then get stuck in traffic as the cars ahead of you gawk at the SUV that has slid into the ditch. You actually look forward to a proper snowfall, just to cover the dirt. Even then, you do not go skiing, because there are no hills.”

I had to write a rebuttal to this. Yes, our winters are harsh. But is seems, the person who wrote this has never been anywhere in Michigan in the winter outside of Detroit.

A gorgeous winter sunset over a frozen Lake Michigan beach.

1. No hills. Um, most of Michigan features a landscape of rolling hills. Nothern Michigan has several world-class ski resorts: Boyne Mountain, Boyne Highlands, Nub’s Nob, Crystal Moutain. In the Upper Peninsula, those hills are big enough to be mountains, if only they were a little further above sea level. The U.P. has plenty of ski resorts too. They get anywhere from 200 to 300 of inches of snow up there every year. Of course, they have skiing! Mt. Bohemia, in Lac La Belle, claims to have the, “highest vertical and deepest powder in the Midwest.” Michigan flat? I don’t think so.

2. Winter begins before Thanksgiving. In the article, the author rants about long Michigan winters. Yes, at the end of February, it feels like it’s been winter for an eternity. You want to pull that smug, Pennsylvanian groundhog back out of his hole and introduce him to the business end of a shotgun. But, most of the time, Michigan’s Octobers and Novembers are pretty mild. Even early December isn’t so bad. The snow and cold don’t really ramp up until Christmas, and it winds down by the middle of March. Sure we’ve had some whopper snowstorms when it was technically still fall on the calendar. Sometimes Mother Nature plays a cruel April Fool’s joke and dumps snow on us in the spring. But when those early and late events happen, the snow often melts by noon. The worst of winter only lasts about three months.

3. No sunshine. It’s true that it’s pretty cloudy here in November and December. But the sun actually comes out quite a bit after the New Year. In fact, the colder it is, the more likely the sunshine will shine. It’s a fair trade-off in the winter. Many winter days in Michigan, you’ll find yourself sporting sunglasses to keep from going blind from the sun’s glare off all that sparkly snow.

4. Brown salt sludge on the road. The article complains about the dirty snow and slush along the road. Sure it’s ugly, but it’s there because the plows and salt trucks work hard all winter keeping roads ice and snow free, so we can get in our cars and go to work, buy groceries and hit the slopes at all those ski resorts. Michigan does a pretty bang-up job or making sure her citizens can go about their business in the winter. And most of her residents know their way around a snow-covered freeway in a four-wheel drive. By the way, you just have to get a little beyond the city center to find pristine fields and hills frosted into a gorgeous winter wonderland.

5. There isn’t any outdoor recreation in Michigan in the winter. WHAT THE WHAT???!!!

  • Downhill Skiing
  • Cross-country Skiing
  • Snowshoeing
  • Sledding
  • Snowmobiling
  • Snowboarding
  • Ice Skating
  • Ice Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Fat Tire Biking
  • Hunting

There are even brave, if not slightly demented, individuals who surf the Great Lakes in the winter and kayak the unfrozen rivers and streams. If nothing else, you can always take a walk down to the beach where you’ll find ice caves, lighthouses turned into ice sculptures and more other-worldly phenomenon like ice pancakes and ice boulders.

The Grand Haven Lighthouse on a winter’s day.

In the article, other states like Alaska, Maine, and Illinois get props for having citizens who take winter in stride with a hardy constitution and good humor. So do Michiganders. Many of us enjoy winter and all the different seasons we get to experience. Get yourself a proper coat, some warm boots, and a pair of snow pants, and you’ll be just fine when the snow flies.

The author also says your Mitten State neighbor is most likely a jerk. I beg to differ. Most Michiganders are friendly, generous and always ready to lend a helping hand to folks who need assistance shoveling out a drive or getting out of a ditch. In fact, we bond over the weather. Go to the grocery store when there’s a blizzard on the way. Everybody in line chats and laughs with each other about the coming snowmageddon.

I don’t disagree that winter in Michigan is tough. But Michiganders are tougher. We’re not about to let the snow and cold make us miserable. Besides, we have all those beautiful beach days to look forward to in July.

And no sharks. Ever.

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