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Dashing Through The Snow

True North

Dashing Through The Snow

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True North Magazine | Dashing Through The Snow | Kent Miller | Winter 2006

HILLMAN – The sound of sleigh bells fills the air as our bundled-up group embarks on an unforgettable journey into the Northeast Michigan forest.

Boots laced up, scarves pulled tight, wool blankets adding the final layer of protection against the cold, we move on, sure-footed draft horses pulling our sleigh.  The snow crunches under their hoofs as they soldier on, leaving a trail of steam from their muzzles.

This is the beginning of what is to be a memorable night, a night that holds a visit with elk – of all things! – hearty diner inside a log cabin and a sleigh ride back beneath our woolen blankets, this time carefully warmed by a fire and puled extra tight against the cold.

This is Thunder Bay Resort in the tiny town of Hillman, straight west from Alpena.

It’s cold, but the work-week stress seems to melt away, and the beauty of Northern Michigan’s winter wonderland adds its own special touch.  A blanket of white wraps the gentle hills and valleys.  Evergreen branches sparkle as ice crystal capture the descending sun.

Up front, our team of two giant horses pulls us along.  They’re dappled-gray Percherons – tall, magnificent creatures each weighing 2,400 pounds.  There are three such teams at Thunder Bay Resort, and owners Jack and Jan Matthias hire more teams from local families during busy times.  When a sleigh is fully loaded with 20 riders, two of these giants can pull its 6,000 pounds – a task that defies the animals’ rather ordinary but endearing names like Ted, Val and Andy.

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