By Tracy Briggs
Whenever someone from Fargo-Moorhead mentions where they live to people from other parts of the country, the conversation is likely to go something like this:
You’re from Fargo? You mean like the movie?
Yes, like the movie. But we don’t all speak that way.
Then it continues:
How do you handle those cold winters?
Quite nicely, thank you.
We can’t do anything about the Coen brother’s classic 1996 film. Some people love it, some people hate it. The same could be said of winters around here. The truth is the winters here do scare some people away. Old timers are apt to say, “It keeps the riff-raff out.” Their basis for thought? It was hearty folk who settled this land and hearty folk who continue to thrive in it.
According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NOAA), North Dakota ranks second only to Alaska in coldest average annual temperature North Dakota’s is 40.4 degrees compared to 26.6 for Alaska. Minnesota is number three with an average annual temperature of 41.2. If it weren’t for the cold winters, the average temperature would soar. The summers in the two states are relatively warm compared to summer temperatures in New England and the Pacific Northwest. Minnesota ranks as the 36th warmest state in the summer, while North Dakota ranks 38th.
When teased about their frigid hometown, many Fargo-Moorhead residents commonly respond with, “At least you don’t have to shovel cold.”
The fact is, though Fargo-Moorhead tops national data in chilly temperatures, our snowfall averages are less impressive. In an NOAA study of average monthly snowfall totals in U.S. cities during a 30-year period, Fargo-Moorhead ranked as the 24th snowiest with an average annual snowfall of 42.8 inches. That is far behind some cities in Wisconsin, Michigan and upstate New York. Even Flagstaff, Arizona tops Fargo-Moorhead’s snowfall total with 81.7 inches annually.
Many people in warmer climates might assume that people who live in Fargo-Moorhead survive winter by hunkering down inside the house with hot cocoa, a warm fire and a good book. Of course, that’s one option. But residents also embrace the weather and take part in recreational activities that require ice, snow and cold.
Hockey is big here, both as an activity and a spectator sport. In addition to youth hockey leagues, metro-area high schools have both girls and boys teams, and Fargo is home to the Fargo Force, a Tier One Junior Hockey League team. It’s no coincidence that Moorhead High School has produced several current and former National Hockey League players including two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Cullen.
For those who like figure skating, the Red River Valley Figure Skating Club offers coaching and lessons even during the warmest months of the year. RRVFSC is the home club of 2010 U.S. Olympic pairs skater Mark Ladwig. And there are plenty of ice rinks to accommodate the many hockey players and figure skaters in the region. According to the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau, the metro offers at least 33 indoor and outdoor skating rinks, many of which are connected to schools. However, the newest rink is located, far from a school, in the heart of downtown Fargo on Broadway and Main Avenue. Members of the Fargo-Moorhead Curling Club, some of whom have competed on the national stage, practice in their state-of-the-art facility in south Fargo.
Snowmobiling enthusiasts in Fargo-Moorhead find plenty of places to ride including on the frozen Red River or on golf courses covered in snow. The nearby lakes area also draws snowmobilers during the winter. While in lakes country, those snowmobilers are likely to see plenty of ice fishing houses dotting the landscape, as ice fishing is a popular way to spend a weekend day.
Fargo-Moorhead celebrates its topography as one of the premiere places in the region for cross-country skiing. Flat farmland with the occasional gently sloping hill create ideal conditions for gliding along the snow and ice.
In the winter of 2016, the F-M area kicked off the first “North of Normal Frostival” event that invites residents and visitors to celebrate the cold with games, activities and more. The event includes a number of activities such as snow kickball, disc golf, a cross-country ski race, bike race, a cardboard sled race, a fun run, snowga (snow yoga), open skating and a mobile sauna.
Stephonie Broughton, sports and events manager at the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Frostival’s chief organizer, told The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, the inaugural Frostival was even bigger than they imagined it would be, and they’re happy it seems to have achieved in making cold cool.
“We thought there was a need for our community members to become ambassadors for the community and show everybody else that we do get outdoors in the winter and celebrate winter and stop (others) thinking that we hibernate during cold winter months,” Broughton says.
The next Frostival is scheduled for January 27-29th, 2017.
As is the case, with any activity in Fargo-Moorhead from during the winter months, you’re advised to dress in layers for maximum warmth. If all else fails, remember the hot cocoa, warm fire and good book remain a viable option.
The preceding story is published in Impact: The magazine for Fargo-Moorhead business and industry 2016