When temperatures drop and snow starts to fall, many kayakers put away their boats for the winter. Jim Blake and his fellow paddlers make no such concession. Instead, they throw on their drysuits, PFDs, and helmets and head for Banning State Park near Sandstone, where the rush of whitewater maintains an open stretch on one of the biggest rapids of the Kettle River.
Here, these paddlers play amid icicle-encrusted boulders and snowy banks, reveling in the quietude and natural beauty while negotiating rapids that in winter only the most skilled kayakers should tackle. Blake, an amateur photographer, often brings a camera to capture images of the action and the seasonal scenery of the park.
"I love winter paddling," says Blake. "It's so pristine. After a fresh snowfall it's just beautiful." As these photographs attest, it's a rare sort of beauty, best appreciated between splashes of cold water to the face.