Families come together for festivities, fun


December 26, 2019

Tom LaVenture/Daily Globe

Hazel Hermes, 3, of Duluth, gets a skiing lesson from Santa on the Powderhorn Mountain bunny hill Wednesday. In this case, Santa is her father, Tanner Hermes.



Ironwood - Christmas is a time when many friends and families gather from near and far, with many returning home for a visit. Traditions often arise - like attending worship, gathering for meals and even last minute shopping for gifts to be exchanged.

Tuesday - Christmas Eve - was busy with last minute shoppers visiting local stores up until most of them closed earlier than usual to allow employees to spend time with families.

Ron and Mary Ann Niemi, of Ironwood, were among several last minute shoppers at Dunham's in Ironwood in the early afternoon. The two said they planned to go to church later that day and get together with family to celebrate with dinner and gifts on Christmas Day.

"It's nice," said Ron Niemi said.

The weather has been really good, Mary Ann Niemi said. It makes it easier on everyone if weather is not a factor on Christmas, she said.

"We don't have to brave the cold," she said.

For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the traffic remained lighter than usual locally. A few businesses were open, but most were closed.

But, groups of families from around the country took to the slopes of the region. Many said it's an annual tradition.

Katie Papanicholas, of Chicago, said she and her husband and four boys come here each Christmas to meet the rest of her relatives from Milwaukee who also come up to create a group of families who rent houses close to each other for a ski holiday getaway.

The tradition started around 30 years ago when she was just a girl. Her grandmother brought the families up and now the tradition is continued with her own parents.

"We can bring our families together and just all be in one spot, celebrating the holidays together, when it would be just so hard with the kids," Papanicholas said. "We're able to all get together and be trapped together in one house. The kids have an activity to do with skiing and we send them out when they're bored after unwrapping presents and doing all the holiday stuff."

The children woke up to Santa handing out gifts on Christmas morning. They ate breakfast and hit the slopes together.

"It's a fun tradition," she said. "It's four days over Christmas and it's super fun."

Mark Szumal said he was raised in Ashland but now lives in Texas. He likes to bring the family back for Christmas or Spring Break each year - and this year he heard about there being plenty of early snow.

"We flew all the way up to ski Powderhorn this year," Szumal said.

The trip works as an extended family Christmas holiday, he said. His wife's family is from LaCrosse and so all the cousins come up to create a big family outing of mainly skiing and going out to dinner.

"We're a pretty good size group," he said. "It is a great Christmas. The snow's great and the skiing's great."

Tanner and Pam Hermes of Duluth also like to blend skiing and Christmas when they come to visit Pam's parents, Jack and Patti Bertagnoli in Hurley. Last year the family dressed up as Santa to ski free at Big Snow Resort and they wore the outfits again this year at Powderhorn.

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"We're here for Christmas and so we get out and ski," Tanner Hermes said.

More than a few people thought the family were designated mountain Santas, he said. But they didn't mind.

"We say, nope, we're just Santa people," Tanner said. "It's just fun to throw on the suit."


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