MINNEAPOLIS — When Torey Van Oot moved here from Brooklyn, N.Y., in December, she and her husband responded to the brutal cold by "leaning in." Instead of hunkering down in their home in the fashionable North Loop neighborhood, they went "ice climbing," an activity that's like rock climbing, but involves boots with spikes and a Game of Thrones-esque wall.
And last week, when temperatures reached 35 degrees, the freelance writer's first thought was: "It's a great day to have beers al fresco."
"It's really not that bad, because the city is built and set up in a way that's prepared for that," Van Oot, 31, said of Minnesota's frosty climate. "Just get a good parka, get some good boots, wear two pairs of pants when it's really cold out. You adjust so quickly."
Van Oot's positive attitude about one of America's coldest cities isn't unique. In fact, many in this city of 420,000 have bought into recent efforts by tourism agencies to rebrand the city in a way that embraces rather than apologizes for the cold. That means touting ice fishing, zip-lining and "pond hockey" while temperatures this week are not expected to climb much above freezing and could dip as low as minus-4.
So just in time for the throngs of visitors expected to descend on the Minneapolis-St. Paul region ahead of this Sunday's Super Bowl, the city is blanketed in messaging that brands it as "the Bold North" — not the Midwest.
That's obvious at the Nicollet Mall downtown, a central thruway in the city where the NFL has set up "Super Bowl Live," a 10-day free, mostly outdoor festival for fans, locals and visitors that features concerts, activities, food and shopping. While there are some indoor spaces where visitors can find refuge from the elements, most spend time outside, taking photos with massive ice sculptures, drinking hot coffee and dancing just to keep warm.
The campaign's a real undertaking. Super Bowl Host Committee spokesman Matt Howard said, "We want to lean in to what makes Minnesota a unique Super Bowl host city." That means "Nordic Waffles" on sale on the street, and in the official Minneapolis visitor center, everything from shot glasses to T-shirts to tote bags emblazoned with the "Bold North" slogan. Even a refrigerator filled with soda and bottles of water had a sign that read: "We like it cold."
Few have been a bigger cheerleader of this effort than Eric Dayton, the 37-year-old son of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and the cofounder of Askov Finlayson, a local winter apparel brand.
It started in 2013, when Dayton and his brother made 150 hats that just said "NORTH" on them. Worst-case scenario, they thought, they'd have 150 Christmas presents for friends and family.
But the hats were wildly popular, and in many ways kicked off a campaign to not only embrace the cold, but to protect it — featuring a "keep the winter cold" message — through fund-raising for organizations that fight global climate change. The branding struck a nerve.
He said the mentality helped residents "rally around" the winter and think of it as an asset for tourism, not a liability. And, Dayton added, the Super Bowl provides a chance for the region to take control of the narrative by telling folks that they're not in St. Louis or Kansas City or the Midwest anymore. They're in "the North."
"We have distinct strengths that are different and unique, and those qualities, characteristics and values are better described by thinking of ourselves as the North," Dayton said. "It also has the benefit of being geographically accurate."
Not everyone agrees with Dayton. He was met with resistance last year when he penned an op-ed for the Minneapolis Star Tribune titled: "A farewell to skyways: The case for bringing them down." In it, Dayton insisted that the city's robust 9.5-mile network of bridges that allow pedestrians to walk around downtown without ever stepping foot outside were hindering the Minneapolis experience. Most notably, he wrote, "they rob our streets of the energy and vitality that come with foot traffic, the lifeblood of healthy retail."
Still, downtown Minneapolis is bustling with people ahead of the Super Bowl. At one of the indoor portions of the Super Bowl Live festival, Rick Logan, a 53-year-old Narberth native who went to Temple University, said he moved to St. Paul "24 winters ago." Though he's gotten used to the frigid temperatures in Minnesota, Logan said he still counts his years in terms of the brutal winters he's spent here.
"A couple winters," he admits, "should probably count twice."
It's easy to spot locals who have this all figured out. Fur is everywhere. Some men sport hats that make them look like an entire fox is sitting on their head. Tom Rayburn, 56, who lives just outside Minneapolis, was wearing one of those furry hats Monday afternoon.
But he wasn't trying to "lean in" to the cold. He was out on the streets with his colleague Ilana Budensky. The two work with St. Stephen's Human Services, a nonprofit that supports the city's homeless population.