Guided Tour: Frozen all the way to Mackinac

This isn't your typical Race to Mackinac... you'll need snow boots, and a light step

January 2018 Feature Vanessa Oler Web Exclusive

The holidays are all wrapped up, the New Year’s been rung in, and cabin fever has set in. Hard.

We boaters tend to forget some of our favorite summer destinations expertly retool in the winter for year-round fun. Take Mackinac Island for example. The vision of Mackinac is racing to the island, hopping on shore for some fudge and a carriage ride, maybe a stay at the Grand Hotel. It’s all boat shoes and Bermuda shorts, sun hats and maxi dresses. But did you know HGTV rates Mackinac Island one of the Top 10 Christmas towns in America? With free lantern-lit skiing, snow golf, and a downtown street hockey tournament, the other side of Mackinac is just what the doctor ordered.

Boots on yet? Let’s go!

Getting There Is Half The Fun

“We use steel-hull boats in the winter to cut through the ice,” Ferry Captain Mike North says. “In fact, I’ve got to go pick it up this weekend which means 16 to 17 hours in a 95-foot ferry crossing Lake Michigan.”

The Star Line Ferry runs year-round, weather permitting. The trip to Mackinac takes only 18 minutes, but you better bundle up and follow their Facebook page. Updates on whether or not the ferry is running are posted daily.

“It could be scary for some, but I’ve been running ferries for 30 years,” North recounts. “You’ve got to know your boat and watch the weather. More than the ice, the wind is the danger to be aware of. It can get strong enough to push the ice together and jam you up.” With last year being surprisingly mild, the ferries ran year round without missing any scheduled trips.

“But if the ferry isn’t running,” North says nonchalantly, “you can always take the ice bridge.”

You read that right. Ice bridge. A team of good Samaritans checks ice depth and marks the safest pathway across the ice with Christmas trees every 100 yards. When the ice is deep enough, the ice bridge becomes a favorite track for snowmobiles, bicycles, and horses alike.

Winter Blues

“The rules are blurry. The players change teams. The sportsmanship is completely questionable. All that said, the entertainment is top notch,” reported on the Annual Jamie Bynoe Street Hockey Tournament.

“I’m the Captain of the Mackinac Redwings,” founder and local celebrity Jamie Bynoe says with pride. “Mike Oison is my assistant captain. We win the cup every year and we’re going to do it again this year. We have a huge turn out, including people who watch the games. In June we have a parade, and I’m usually in it holding the cup up.”

Nine years ago, Jamie got together with some friends to place street hockey on the frozen, car-free downtown streets of Mackinac Island. After several years of pick-up games, Jamie partnered with Kirk Lipnitz who runs the local hardware store to organize a tournament. For nine Wednesdays of the bracing Mackinac winter, teams go head-to-head for fame, glory, and bragging rights.

“It is a free for all,” Kirk laughs. “We don’t have any refs. There are just two teams. I’m captain of what Jamie calls the St. Ignace team and he’s the captain of the Island team, which is the Bynoe Redwings. We play nine games and we’ll start mid-January and end on St. Paddy’s Day and the best of nine takes home the cup.”

Currently, anywhere from 25 to 30 of the 500 year-round residents of Mackinac Island don team colors and team-logo hoodies for the greatest game ever played. Rumor has it, the St. Ignace team just ordered new jerseys for the 2018 season.

“We’ve got 30 to 35 regulars that play every week now,” Kirk says. “Years before, we wouldn’t even have enough people to play. Now we can play all year ‘round, but we do the tournament just in the winter. The tournament definitely helps break up the winter blues.”

Our favorite way to break up the long, cold winters on Mackinac is—of course—boat building. Emory Barnwell’s family has spent three generations of summers on the island and he’s hooked.

“I’ve been peckin’ away at building boats,” Emory recounts, “here on the island for seven or eight years now.”

Culminations of Emory’s passions lead him to boat building. After graduating from the College of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana, and earning a degree with distinction at the International Boatbuilding Training College in Lowestoft, England, he returned to the freshwater of the Great Lakes to establish Barnwell Boatworks on Mackinac Island.

“Right now, I’ve got my shop insulated and heated, that’s how I get a lot of winter work done. I do try to enjoy myself a little bit in the summer,” Barnwell laughs, “So, that means I’m more on the water. But I do keep myself pretty busy with all these projects. I also work on some of the antique carriages in the winter, in between boat projects.”

Lantern-Lit Skiing & Winter Festival                                 

The first Saturday of each Winter month on Mackinac Island kicks off with a unique lantern-lit cross country ski and snowshoeing event around two miles of immaculately groomed trails. The Twilight Turtle Trek is free of charge and begins at Greaney Grove with a bonfire and hot chocolate.

Skiing for February kicks off the island’s Winter Festival, which includes a bonfire cook-out, sledding, snow golf, archery, snow volleyball, and broom hockey. Seems that these islanders have no problem playing with water, even if it’s frozen and falling from the sky! Mackinac Island school hosts a photo contest to select pictures for the famous Mackinac Island Calendar. The 2018 dates are set for February 3-4.

A Jump On Boating Season

Before all the tourists come racing back to Mackinac, locals invite the hearty travelers to join them for a St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser dinner hosted by Ste. Anne Church. The dinner is the crown jewel of an entire weekend dedicated to Irish revelry. This year, get your calendars ready for Saturday, March 17 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm at the Community Hall. A $5,000 first prize is drawn at the dinner and raffle tickets are $100 each. For more information, contact Ste. Anne Church at 906-847-3307.


Barnwell Boat Works   |  Mackinac Island in Winter 

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