Celebrating 38 Years on "The Road Less Traveled"
Call it an epiphany, but ever since our first dogsled trip in 1979, winter has been a way of life. We’ve learned to stay warm, have fun and follow our dreams in some of the world’s most wintery places. And three decades of crafting our own clothing has kept us cozy -- along with fans of Wintergreen Northern Wear, our functional, distinctive 4-season activewear that's "Made with Pride" in Ely, Minnesota.
1979: Wilderness Inquiry, a non-profit endeavor that Paul Schurke and Greg Lais founded to provide Boundary Waters canoe trips for disabled persons, became so popular that they explored dogsledding as a means of providing access to the winter wilderness as well. Voila! The trips were a hit and Paul was hooked. So was his assistant guide Susan Hendrickson.
1982: Following marriage and a honeymoon in the Boundary Waters, Paul and Susan team up with Will Steger to help run his Lynx Track Winter School near Ely, MN, teaching dogsledding and wilderness skills to college and community groups.
1985: As Will and Paul make plans for a dogsled expedition to the North Pole, Susan develops her design talents by crafting Eskimo-style apparel from new synthetic fabrics. Susan’s first clothing designs are field-tested and perfected on numerous polar training trips. Daughter Bria is born.
May 1, 1986: Paul, Will, Ann Bancroft and their team reach the North Pole in the first confirmed trek to the top of the world without resupply. Deemed a “landmark in polar exploration,” their epic journey results in a National Geographic cover story, a television special and their best-selling book, "North to the Pole". Susan’s apparel kept them warm throughout the 1,000-mile, 2-month journey, even as temperatures dipped to -75 º.
1990: Paul Schurke and Russian colleague Dmitry Shparo lead the Bering Bridge Expedition from Siberia to Alaska to help reconnect arctic cultures long separated by the Cold War. The US-Soviet border in the Bering Strait that had been firmly closed and known as the “Ice Curtain” for most of this century is now reopened. Presidents Bush and Gorbachev congratulate the Bering Bridge team for its role in the process. The expedition is documented in a National Geographic television special "Thawing the Ice Curtain" and Paul's award-winning book, "The Bering Bridge." Paul is invited back to Russia to launch the Soviet-American Friendship Treks, an exchange program involving outdoor adventures.
1992: Wintergreen makes waves on the home front as well. Susan Schurke’s apparel enterprise outgrows her garage, the lodge and a rental shop and finds its own home on Ely’s mainstreet. It grows to include a retail and catalog operation, 40 employees and 3 buildings, including our “Kids in the Woods” log cabin. Along the way Susan receives the regional “Entrepreneur of the Year” award. Son Peter is born. Daughter Berit follows in 1993.
1997: Paul leads a team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences to the North Pole. Two years later, he heads that way again with a team that includes Admiral Robert Peary’s great grandsons.
1999: Paul’s fifth North Pole trek helps raise a million dollars for Great Aspirations, a family-focused education charity founded by team member Doug Hall. Team members included Corky Pererson who, at age 70, became the oldest American to reach the North Pole on foot.
2000: In May, a Wintergreen team traverses the new Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut, reaching the magnetic North Pole. In July, a Wintergreen group pioneers the first-ever eco-trek to the Russian arctic ’s premier wildlife refuge Wrangel Island. Extremely isolated and, by arctic standards, unusually lush, Wrangel is home to some of the arctic’s greatest concentrations of musk oxen, caribou, polar fox, snow geese, snowy owl, walrus and polar bear.
2001: A Wintergreen group dogsleds across northwestern Greenland with the Inuit descendants of North Pole discoverers Robert Peary and Matthew Henson. The trek is documented by the National Geographic TV film "Ice Rider." Wintergreen assists in the production of a Dateline NBC/Discovery Channel film on the 1914 Karluk Expedition, one of the most tragic chapters in American polar exploration history.
2002: March: Outside magazine ranks Wintergreen among the "Top Ten" most innovative and influential outdoor companies of the past quarter Century and ranks Wintergreen's Greenland trips among the "Top 25" adventures of a lifetime.
April/May: Wintergreen returns to Greenland with a crew from Smithsonian Magazine.
June: Wintergreen pioneers a rafting/hiking trek on the volcanic Siberian peninsula of Kamchatka.
2003: The NBC Today Show features Wintergreen and NBC Dateline premieres "Ice Master," an arctic docu-drama shot in part at Wintergreen.
2004: Smithsonian Magazine features Wintergreen's Greenland trips as it's January cover story. In a February photo feature titled "Mush with the Best!," National Geographic Adventure magazine cites Wintergreen Dogsledding Vacations as the best in the business.
2005: Wintergreen Northern Wear opens its second store, in Duluth. Paul receives the “Environmental Hero” award from the National Wilderness Society for his conservation efforts.
2006: Peter Schurke (14) joins Paul on his 6th North Pole trek. A Wintergreen group pioneers a dogsled trip across the Norwegian arctic island of Svalbard. Wintergreen is featured in the PBS-TV series “Great Adventure Lodges of North America,” and in the Discovery channel feature “The Vacation You Need.”
2007: Wintergreen helps host the regional “Step it Up” rally for national action on climate change. Peter Schurke (15) departs for a year abroad as a foreign exchange student in Norway while the Schurkes, in turn, greet an Inuit student from Greenland (Aputsiaq) who will be staying at Wintergreen for the school year.
2008: Paul led expeditions across the high Arctic Island of Svalbard, northern Greenland and from the Russian Polar Ice Station.
2009: Wintergreen Northern Wear, which has grown to a crew over 40 talented production, sales & management staff, is sold to another family.
2012: Paul & his team retraced Ernest Shackleton’s 1915 Endurance Expedition on a ski-mountaineering trek across Antarctica’s South Georgia Island.
2014: Paul & colleague Dave Freeman, National Geographic’s “Adventurer of the Year,” retraced Pres. Theodore Roosevelt’s 1914 first descent of the mythical “River of Doubt” in the western Amazon.
2015: Wintergreen Northern Wear is repurchased by Sue & Paul and they begin rebuilding the business after recent new owners let it go. Paul's & Will Steger's best-selling 1986 book, North to the Pole, is re-released in an updated "Legacy Edition" by the Minnesota Historical Society.
2016: The History Channel films at Wintergreen for a proposed documentary on polar expeditions. Paul & Sue lead a dogsled trek across the high Arctic's Svalbard Island, host an Amazon visit with members of the Roosevelt family, and host a trek across Tanzania in East Africa with the non-profit adventure program they helped found, Wilderness Inquiry. The rebirth of Wintergreen Northern Wear now supports nearly two dozen staff.