What’s a Yooper? And what’s a Yooper doing on snowshoes?

What’s a Yooper? From The Associated Press caption, dated May 19, 2014, reads, “Da ‘Yoopers’ added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary celebrating residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.” Yes, in April that year, Merriam-Webster added: “Yooper noun: a native or resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan – used as a nickname.”

In Da Yoopers Official Website (www.dayoopers.com) they asked, “What da heck is a Yooper?” The response was that people who live in the Upper Peninsula or the U.P. are called Yoopers and are proud of it. And they asked, “Where is Yooperland?” It’s north of the Mackinac Bridge (also pronounced “Mackinaw,” a 5-mile long suspension bridge) that connects the Upper Peninsula to the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, crossing over the Straits of Mackinac.

So, where does the “da” come from when talking about da Yoopers? It’s a long story, but made short, da replaces – the, just as dis replaces – this and dat replaces – that….all a twist-of-slang, characterizing a unique dialect to the U.P. that supposedly has some Finnish influence and has become a stereotype (in a fun and good way) of those folks from north of the bridge.

A list of slang common among some Yoopers is found in Da Yoopers Glossary at www.usaring.com/yooper/glossary.html, such as “youbetcha, Youse guys, Holyowha, and Yah, hey!”  A “chuke” is a knitted stocking cap; “Heikki Lunta” is a Yooper mythology involving a snow god; and a “pasty” is something made in the U.P. and really good to eat (meat pie made with onions, beef, potato and rutabaga rolled up in a pie crust). And, many sentences end with the word “eh.”  So, this is what Yoopaneese or the language of the Yooper is all about, eh.


A Northwoods Trading Company postcard, St. Germain, WI

-What’s a Yooper doing on Snowshoes?-

If you go back far enough, you will find the Ojibwa Native Americans of the Great Lakes area using snowshoes back in the 1800’s and before. The snowshoe with a pointed tail and a slightly turned-up pointed nose was used by the Ojibwa hunters so that they could slice through snow-covered brush on their hunt. Coincidentally, today we call those “Ojibwa snowshoes.” Explorers, trappers and woodsman of that era also used snowshoes to work their way through the deep Upper Peninsula snow. Later in history, foresters, farmers and other outdoor workers have used snowshoes too.


Ojibwa snowshoes

In 1954, Clarence Iverson began making traditional snowshoes and created the Iverson Snowshoe Company in Shingleton, located on the border of the Hiawatha National Forest. Iverson used Michigan white ash and rawhide to make his snowshoes. The company exists today under newer ownership and manufactures 17 styles of wood-frame snowshoes with rawhide, neoprene or nylon webbing.

And then began the start and growth of snowshoeing recreation that takes us from around 1980 to present, where the popularity of snowshoeing continues to grow. For a while, the industry reported about a 20% annual increase in snowshoe sales. Today, there are many Yoopers using snowshoe just for the sport of it.

-Yooper races and such-

What are some of the snowshoeing events that take place in the U.P.? Consider attending some of their snowshoe racing events. For example, the annual Noquemanon Snowshoe Races take place annually on the Noquamenon Trail. The events include a 10K and a challenging 15-mile race starting on the Noque trail and ending at the Superior Dome in Marquette. Also in Marquette during early March is the Over the River and Through the Woods 5K snowshoe race in the Vielmetti-Peters Preserve.

The Snowshoe YooperBeiner Race/Tour held in February offers competitors a 5K or 10K race, as well as a 3K or 5K tour and walk. Located near Ironwood, this fun event takes place along the Wolverine Ski Trails. On the other side of the U.P. near Paradise, Michigan, the Tahquamenon Falls 5K and 10K racing events take place in the scenic Tahquamenon Falls State Park annually.

Google snowshoe races and snowshoeing events in Upper Michigan, and you will discover other races as well as day hikes and candlelight hikes.

-Yooper snowshoeing locations-

Where are trails to snowshoe in the U.P.?  There are many. For example, the Hiawatha National Forest located in eastern Upper Michigan alone offers roughly one-million acres of wilderness to explore. Specific to the Forest is a secluded snowshoe trail located off Federal Highway 13 called Bruno’s Run. Providing a 9-mile loop, the trail passes through a forest, over rolling hills and past several lakes whereby providing a daylong challenge for the snowshoer.

Joque, Jim Snowshoeing003

The author snowshoes on Bruno Run in the U.P.

Also in the eastern part of the U.P. are several designated trails and loop options for snowshoeing in the Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The Upper and Lower Falls Hiking Trails provide many miles to explore with an opportunity to see and hear the well know Tahquamenon Falls.

To the west and along Lake Superior, is the picturesque Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, with 60,000 acres of an old growth conifer and hardwood forest including virgin pine and hemlock. Snowshoe up the Escarpment Trail for a panoramic view of the 300-acre Lake of the Clouds, as well as along many other scenic trails that touch along the Carp River and along Lake Superior’s shore.


A visitor snowshoeing on a trail in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Joque, Jim Snowshoeing001

Further south in the western half of the U.P. is the 18,327-acre Sylvania Wilderness Recreation Area set in the Ottawa National Forest near Watersmeet. Over 25 miles of trails for snowshoeing connects to 34 glacial lakes and meanders through an old growth forest.

Highly popular is the ABR (Active Backwoods Retreats) Trails in Ironwood, Michigan. Although fees for daily passes are required, there is a mix of 10K trails on 1,100 acres to snowshoe. Scenic terrain along the Montreal River Valley combined with bluffs and ridges make for an exciting hike. ABR is also known for its cross country ski and skijor trails.

These are just the tip of the iceberg when talking snowshoe trails in Yooperland. Google Upper Michigan Snowshoe Trails and you will find many more options.

Filmed in 2000, Jeff Daniel’s movie “Escanaba in da Moonlight” was a spoof on U.P. people and customs. Daniel’s character was Reuben Soady, the only one in his family who was a “buckles Yooper.” The story revolves around Reuben’s time with his father, brother and a friend at the Soady deer camp involving an attempt to end his ill fate as a failed hunter. As his father, Albert (played by the late Harve Presnell) said, “Dat year camp was as tense as a moose’s butt durin’ fly season.” The remainder of this humorous story mimics an exaggerated Yooper dialect and stereotypes Yooper behaviors. The film obviously distorts the definition of a Yooper.

However, Albert Soady’s last words in the movie captured the fine essence of a Yooper when he said, “See, it’s like dis. When I’m sittin’ down to the Sunday supper table, surrounded by Soadys, facin’ all dat food we hunted and gathered ourselves….I’m in heaven. And, if ya wanna go to heaven, it’s north a da bridge.”


This entry was posted in Features, General, Homepage Featured by Jim Joque. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jim Joque

Jim Joque is a Midwest writer on snowshoeing, backpacking and canoeing. He retired from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point as director of disability services and adjunct adventure education instructor, having taught snowshoeing, camping, backpacking, adventure leadership and Leave No Trace.

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