Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Flurries awards: trail of the year

With my gushing over Woodlands in the grooming award, you'd think they'd win the trail of the year award, too. Nope.

I can't say that this was the easiest award to give out. It was, indeed, the hardest. Since it combines classic tracks, skate lanes, terrain, snow quality, grooming quality, and other intangibles, it is a major all-around award, and not one to easily figure out. In a year with little snow, City of Lakes and Elm Creek would duke it out. In a year with a lot of tricky grooming, Battle Creek and Elk River would be contenders. But this year was rather benign in all categories, and the contenders for this award are pretty much every trail I skied in the Metro, and even some I didn't: Como, Battle Creek, Terrace Oaks, City of Lakes, Elk River, Elm Creek and Hyland.

Look at that list. What trail is missing?

Of course: Murphy Hanrahan. In a season with generally good conditions, Murphy has the trump card in this category: the best terrain. All conditions, travel times and grooming being equal, I'd rather ski 10k at Murphy than anywhere else in the area. The quiet, beautiful forest. The screaming downhills and heart-pounding uphills. The well-cared-for trails with good grooming. The terrain. Ah, yes, the terrain. One of my criteria for the "that was the winter that was" series was skiable months at Murphy. When good snow reigns supreme, Murphy is hard to beat.

Or, to put it another way, where else can you get to in half an hour that has more vertical climb per kilometer than the Birkie Trail? With skiing this year in December, January, February and March, Murphy wins.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Flurries awards: golf course of the year

(note: the City of Lakes course is not included in these rankings, since it would probably win every time and since the trail wanders off the golf course)

Why give an award in this category? Well, because with today's fast-paced lifestyle, there are a lot of times when you need to go ski on the fairways in order to do what needs to be done. If you live where I do, Highland Golf Course is five minutes away, Como is ten. Especially at rush hour, these are much more convenient than the more interesting, sheltered and fun trails in the woods. But, golf courses are a necessity.

Last year, I would have had some issue deciding on this award. Como was a mess with utility work and shoddy grooming, and Highland, well, too often when I go to Highland the wind blowing across the hill is brutal and cold. Let's just say I'm not a fan.

This year, however, Como wins, hands down. Grooming at Como has improved in recent years. Back in the day, they'd sometimes run a Pisten Bully on three inches of snow, renovating up enough grass that I thought there'd be a brown, curvy line through the course come spring. With the exception of last year, when utility work set back grooming somewhat, it has improved since. It is a shame to have lost some trail in the back bowl, and it would be superb if some of the snowmaking could be extended to give us Saint Paulites a manmade strip of our own (getting through downtown Minneapolis at rush hour is a pain), but the grooming at Como this year was quite good.

The best example of this is regarding the hill climbing out of the back bowl. It originally was laid out so that it climbed up the side of a hill, with perhaps an eight percent fall line running perpendicular to the trail. I suggested on Skinnyski that they could groom a slightly more circuitous route and have much better trails. A couple days later, it was so. After trucks driving across the course all last winter, this is far better.

The one other thing at Como is the ability to telemark on the snowboard hill. A couple times there were a few inches of new powder over a solid, but not icy, base, and I took advantage. I'd storm up the hill (got to get in those hill climbs) and then drop my knees, curling down. It doesn't quite measure up to tele-skiing down the freshly-groomed gravity ski slope at Giants Ridge, but still pretty darned fun.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Flurries awards: grooming of the year

This one is too easy. Is there any question? First a few comments on trail systems with good grooming (which did not win):

1. City of Lakes. Who else grooms 35k including snowmaking and lakes, and shovels to make sure of a major race? No one, that's who.
2. Elm Creek. Mastery of the manmade.
3. Battle Creek. Since volunteers took over a few years ago, Battle Creek has gone from a mess, with hit-or-miss conditions even when the base was thick, to a well-groomed trail with consistently great conditions and grooming.
4. Terrace Oaks. Terrace Oaks somehow holds snow better than anyone, and is always groomed promptly and well after snow, although touchups sometimes are needed.
5. Murphy Hanrahan. Murphy has done quite well grooming even when there isn't feet of base.

But the winner is, of course, Woodland Trails in Elk River. Hands down. It cemented it's position--and it was already way ahead of the field--in March, when Elk River had fantastic skiing on March 14 when everyone else was melted out. But, I can not say enough good things about Woodland. (Seriously, check out my reports for them.)

Where else do the groomers refer to themselves as "Slaves"? Where else do they groom every time they need to and never when they don't? Who else takes as good care of their trail, year-round? No one, that's who.

And then there's their grooming equipment. A lot of ski trails invest oodles of money in the latest and greatest grooming equipment, with a new piece coming in every year. I have nothing against that, but am consistently amazed what Woodlands can do with two snomobiles, some lengths of culvert and screens with the ends pointed down. Seriously, with $500 of non-snowmobile equipment, they have the best conditions around. I think it goes to show that sweat equity beats dollars, hands down, every time. From the meticulously grassy trails to the constant care, Woodlands has the best grooming in the Cities. By far.

The trail slaves deserve this award more than anyone else deserves theirs.