Sunday, March 22, 2009

One last weekend

Friday night I was toying with the idea of a day skiing up north, probably at Sugarbush up on the North Shore. So I sent an email to a friend from college who I knew did something in Ely (dogsledding trips, it turns out), asking if there would be a floor for me to crash on if I showed up. She responded with an enthusiastic yes—I guess not that many people wind up Ely in the middle of the winter—and Saturday morning I set off.

It was sunny and warm in the Cities, and by the time I got to Giants Ridge it was cloudy, but still warm. I found my ticket and made my way to the sane side of the world—the gravity slopes were packed with people—and skied up the Gold Trail. It was how I remembered it from six years ago—the last time I'd skied at Giants Ridge—but much slower. I'd only ever skied 20k at the Ridge in 2003 at the Central collegiate regionals. Due to cold weather we skied two 10ks on one day, Silver skate in the morning and Gold classic in the afternoon. What I remember from the Gold Trail is a long slog up, some rolling downhills and a screaming descent in to the finish. It was the same today, except lacking any of the speed. It was a bit of a slog down some of the hills, let alone up. But it was skiing.

When I returned to the base, I went back out on Silver, which was also slow (and had a bit less coverage). The trail was fine, but slow again. The Toilet Bowl was unexciting as was The Pit. I got a bit of speed up but nothing to write home about. I finished the day with some half-hearted teleturns on the compressed slush on the downhill area. Edges would have helped.

I then made my way up north to Ely. The first five miles were on a curvy, hill, snow-covered dirt road. It was slow, but saved about 15 miles of driving. When I finally found pavement, it was only an hour up to, and through, Ely, and in to the Wintergreen Dogsledding Lodge where a friend from the Mac ski team, Amy, is a guide. I met the dogs, ate some food (yum!) and heard about her trans-Amazon canoe trip . (The next expedition is an inside-passage kayak from Seattle to Skagway, a hike and paddle to the arctic, then a sled dog back to Minnesota, and a paddle out the Great Lakes, perhaps down the Champlain canal and Hudson, to the Atlantic. I'd think they were insane had they not already paddled the Amazon.) In the morning I helped make gingerbread pancakes, saw the cute Husky puppies, and then headed off.

My plan was to go to Sugarbush, which went off without a hitch except that I had forgotten how much of a road Highway 1 is across the Arrowhead. The answer: not much of one. It is curvy and narrow, had a bit of snow left on it, and despite no traffic I had to slow down a bit at times. I cut across to Highway 61 and then north to get to Sugarbush around noon. The trail was groomed, and because of wind off the lake, the skies were cloudy and temperature right below freezing—perfect conditions. I strode again, with the same klister, decent kick and tremendous glide. I was flying.

From my trail reports:

I skied the Picnic Loop and if it is the last ski of the season for me, it will be a good one to go out on. The trail had frozen overnight and with the northeast wind off the lake it was cloudy, so it stayed frozen until about 2:30 when I finished. I'd never skied Sugarbush before and loved the trails, especially the 10k black trail inland on the loop—which was fantastic in rolling maple forests and reminded me of skiing in Vermont (this is definitely a good thing, especially from a caustic East Coaster like myself).

The snow cover was pretty much 100%, with one dirty spot and a couple downed-but-cleared trees. At one point nature called and I stepped off the trail and put my pole in to the ground and there was still 30 inches of snow cover. This isn't the case on the entire trail but this was not a particularly sheltered or northerly-exposed section. The sun tried to come out as I neared the halfway of my ski but struggled to get all the way through, even though views inland (and the drive from Ely) were crystal clear. Thus, the trails stayed mostly frozen, with good striding on klister which came off on the downhills pretty well, meaning there was little cleanup when I finished the loop. Some of the frozen tracks were wicked fast coming down, which was nice after yesterday's slower trek around Giants Ridge. These trails are amazing; I'll see them soon when my hiking on the Superior Trail resumes this spring.

But they do have two and a half feet of base to melt first.

A long slog back to The Cities with a stop in Duluth closed the weekend, and perhaps the snow season. Now it's time to run, lift and roll.

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