I’m sitting cross-legged on my dented blue metal saucer, frozen in place not by fear of the plummeting snow track in front of me or by the chill of the wind, but by the view. Lake Michigan stretches out to the horizon, huge and heaving, dotted with ice. Waves wedge and fuse the ice together at the shore, creating the jagged floating sculpture known as shelf ice.
This is winter at its best in Indiana: Thrills at Devil's Slide at Indiana Dunes State Park and a stunning tundra-scape.
But the view doesn't captivate the anxious young sledders behind me. My son prods, "Just go, Mom!" I launch forward and careen past families trudging up the 150-foot dune's fenced walking path. With a death grip on the saucer's edge, I have a great run.
Winter sports are nothing new in this area of Indiana. In 1927, in fact, a ski club in nearby Ogden Dunes built what was touted as the nation's largest artificial ski jump—a structure of steel and wood soaring 192 feet. The club hosted annual winter events and international ski jumping competitions for five years, reportedly drawing up to 20,000 cheering spectators. One of the largest crowds turned up in 1932 to watch the gold, silver and bronze medal-winning Norwegian Olympic Team of Birger Rund, Hans Beck and Kaare Wahlberg jump the dune.
The era of dunes sports fame didn't last long. The Great Depression and unreliable snows took their toll, and the massive ski jump was dismantled after the 1932 event. A historical marker is all that remains today.
But the ski jump would have been way too adventuresome for me. I'm happy to trek back up the dune, clutching my saucer, my son close behind, eager for another run. Another time, we might try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing on some of the park's 16 miles of wooded trails. Today, we'll just enjoy the rides down the snowy dune–and the winter panorama spread before us.
Activities and the parking lot next to Devil’s Slide are free once you pay the park’s daily entrance fee: $5 per vehicle Indiana residents; $10 nonresidents. (219) 926-1952; stateparks.IN.gov
Sledding photo courtesy of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Ski jump photos from Historical Society of Ogden Dunes (odhistory.org). Shelf ice photo courtesy of Air One Aerial Photography, Valparaiso, Indiana.
Read more of Kit's travel adventures at www.KitTravels.com.