Where else can you join an arctic expedition, dine on gourmet camp food, and rawk out to bluegrass?
The 13th Annual Winter Camping Symposium was a bigger-than-ever success. The variety of seminars and activities was wider, the music was fantastic, and we didn’t get rained on like last year.
There’s plenty to cover here, but if you haven’t read Part One of our report, check it out first.
As Saturday progressed, attending every single seminar became impossible, but we loaded up on as much as we could. So read on, as we unpack all of what we found…
Gear on a winter camping trip is a huge consideration. With less-than-featherlight, yet essential, materials (like canvas and wood stoves), weight adds up quickly. So learning how Brian Maruska has refined his ultra-light setup, was a must.
Brian unpacked his own toboggan, noting each item not only for its weight, but also calling out any multi-functional uses. There was the tote for the wood stove’s firebox, that’s also used to haul firewood; the portable ‘camp kitchen’ that’s also a bench and a cutting board (all that from what had once been a plastic waste basket).
Gear was also packed very thoughtfully; an ice chisel’s handle is sectioned in lengths that will fit inside his stovepipe.
And as if it weren’t clear already, thriftiness lightens his load, too. Most all of his items were DIY’ed from materials purchased locally. There was even a crafter’s wicker basket used because of its weight and size.
Brian assembled his whole camp—tent, stove, cot—and had everything organized and inside the tent in a very short period (did anybody catch the actual time?).
The clear afternoon was perfect for the annual Tent Tour. Symposium organizers Chad Nelson, Ryan Fox and Duane Lottig (of Snowtrekker Tents) led the procession. At each tent, the given camper said a piece about how they had made or modified their winter home-away-from-home.
On the grounds were structures from Frost River, Cabela’s, and even GoLite. Many, however, sported some nice touches by the owners; a DIY rainfly over one person’s tent, for example. Others were entirely hand-made; one was even furnished with painted chairs and decorative hangings.
This year we followed along with Rhonda and the judges of the Winter Cook Off, one of whom happened to be our son. This meant two things: A few extra photo ops… and tastes of anything he had to sample (what! that’s not a crime. it’s not).
Entries from this year’s contestants were all rather exceptional and would make this winter camper never wish to return home. Jackie prepared a warm, unfiltered cider drink with apple slices, cinnamon, spices and Applejack (yeah, I had no choice but to stand in for my boy here). Delicious and heartwarming. Fritz’s gumbo was a rich, complex spicy treat which he served with a jalapeño cornbread. Mike, in his first-ever use of a dutch oven, baked a pineapple upside-down cake that looked and tasted like perfection. And Sydney cooked a dish with tender duck, sauteéd vegetables and subtle orange flavoring.
In the end, Sydney’s fine meal earned her this year’s Golden Spatula award. Congrats, Sydney!
Maybe it was no coincidence that the Cook Off was just shortly before dinner. A good call.
And if you weren’t hungry from the gourmet offerings, you were hungry from the cutthroat bidding of the Gear Swap. Me, I was out-bid on a wood stove by a Maruska. Huh. I don’t want to talk about it, let’s just eat.
After the meal, wilderness explorer and Ely resident Tyler Fish, had the floor. His keynote centered around the most recent of his ventures: the First American Unsupported North Pole Expedition and the Catlin Arctic Surveys of 2010 and 2011.
The account was fascinating; the journeys, grueling. The constant race against time, tides, temperatures and the constant psychological battles, left Fish and his travel partner absolutely drained by the end.
But the evening was not over yet! Local bluegrass greats, the Sans Souci Quartet, provided music and entertainment late into the night. And Surly provided some of their top-notch beverages (which in itself may have accounted for the huge jump in Symposium attendees this year). A fantastic night.
Nobody was ready to leave yet.
With still a little time to find inspiration, we caught “Camping with Kids at 26 Below,” by Chris Evavold, owner of Black River Sleds. Having brought his children onto winter trips since they were basically toddlers, Evavold had a wealth of advice and sound opinions on raising kids to love the outdoors.
At times, Evavold says, bringing kids means bringing a few extra comforts (games, books and treats) than one might normally want to include. He also emphasizes that everyone pulls their own weight, be it backpacks or a small sledload for each kid. But in Chris’ slides, the only kids we saw were happy ones, so the guy is doing something right. And we loved the idea of going ahead of the kids on a portage, leaving surprises and snacks for them to discover. Inspiration achieved.
A few more workshops beckoned after the brunch. For those who wanted to build sled assemblies, Chris Evavold offered a toboggan construction course. Ed Bouffard (of Ed’s Wilderness Systems) also led a hands-on pulk sled assembly course. And master of the blade, Warren Peterson, had a workshop on antler handle knife making.
The final event was the much-vaunted Saw Off Competition. This weekend, numerous manufacturers donated their products for campers to demo, discuss and decide upon. But everything culminated right here, right now. Choose your weapons, gentlemen.
The competition was fast and furious, but it was a certain Michael Maruska who ‘made the cut.’ Nice work, sir!
The Winter Camping Symposium was not just bigger, and not just better, than last year’s. We felt it to be more diverse (with activities for kids, as just one example) and it attracted some fantastic sponsors as well. We even met a photojournalist who’d covered the event professionally last year, and had since changed careers, now working for one of our great local gear manufacturers.
A success? Yes, we very strongly believe so. And many thanks to Bridgit, Chad, Ryan, Matt, and the staff of YMCA Camp Miller for hosting a fantastic weekend.
What did you think of this year’s event?