Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Skiing outside the Cities (part 2)


After submitting my thesis to the committee I took a vacation and travelled around the Midwest with my parents. We took a different loop and did it counter-clockwise compared to last year (see the blog here) when we went from Giants Ridge (NE MN) to ABR (UP MI). Here are the trails we did this time:
Birkie trail. Besides the race, I have only been skiing here once on April 27th last year when the temps reached 70F and not surprisingly the trail was not at its best shape. Now we stayed for 5 days and fully enjoyed the skiing here. The grooming was great despite the snowfalls.


April or December he is watching you on the Birkie trail
 
Near the Fire Tower
 
This year they also added the “Birkie Ridge” trail, a 3.5K connector from Hwy 63 to the 15K point on the Skate trail. It is essentially all uphill, and one can continue to climb when going to the highest point at 13.6K near the Fire Tower.
Near OO with my mom
 
A cool illustrated book I found in the cabin
 
I especially enjoyed a long ski from the Powerlines to OO and back on the Classic trail. It is so awesome to ski a huge loop with no intersections deep in the wild woods, but on a wide and perfectly groomed trail at the same time! And it is only 2.5-3 hours from the Cities!
In the north part there lives a raven family that we met quite often. I once saw one charging on the power lines, and it was funny to hear him do an unusual electric-like kra-kra after.
 
Minocqua Winter Park. After a 2 hour drive east we arrived in Minocqua, a cool island-city in NE Wisconsin. The winter park is located in the nearby woods and contains 75 km of well PB groomed XC ski trails. This system is really large with three outer loops of about 10 K and numerous inner loops. The chalet is located in the middle under the downhill slope, and there is a super steep trail in the woods that goes up and down (!) that hill.
On the Lake Marie loop
On the Nutcracker loop
 
Dense forest with evergreens, swamps, lakes, ponds and creeks makes a very scenic trail. This together with twisty rolling terrain (especially on the black diamond trails) gives a very fun skiing experience. From a training prospective, the trails vary from flat to very hilly (although the climbs are shorter compared to the Birkie trail or Giants Ridge), and are often very twisty and technique challenging.

Sunset over a frozen swamp
  
ABR. We stopped by ABR for just one ski on the way to the North Shore. This year they got much more snow and trails were very smooth. Actually it’s impressing how much work they need to do for grooming 70 K when it snows almost every day! It was cold but the trails were fast and I enjoyed 3 hours of skiing on a sunny winter day. My favorite loop for easy skiing here is probably the twisty and rolling Coyote Canyon/Highlands.
Skiing in ABR
 
North Shore. There are a number of trail systems on the North shore, and Sugarbush-Norpine-Cascade are interconnected. We stayed right across the Norpine trail near the Lake. One day was clear and the sunrise was very beautiful. It is amazing for me that the Lake does not freeze at all, because near S-Petersburg, where I am from, there is a lake that is also very large but freezes completely in winter.

Sunrise over Lake Superior
 
I have skied the Sugarbush trail for two days. It is a nice trail system, but one needs to know what’s groomed before heading out. It is not as dense as many other trails, but one can make a 30K+ loop. It is a rolling terrain in the woods, with the views of the lake through the trees in many places and a few high points with the overview of surrounding lands.

Lake Superior in sunshine through the trees
A woodpecker made a show for us after skiing
 
On the third day we went 20 miles north to Grand Marais. It is the last somewhat large town (it has a traffic light!) before the Canadian border. Very nice shoreline with a small bay, lighthouse and a lighted pier.

In Grand Marais
 
The land raises gradually from the shoreline which is probably why the XC ski trail system there is called the Pincushion Mountain. In my opinion, it is the best trail system in this region. Although it only has 25K, the terrain and views are great! Even on a cloudy and foggy day we could see Lake Superior from the parking lot and one of the loops. The trail goes through a deep evergreen forest which makes a “wall” in some places. I had a blast doing classic intervals on their well-groomed roller-coaster terrain with a lot of long climbs! There is a 7K intermediate loop with gentle but long uphills and an advanced 8K made of quite steep ups and downs.

Trails in Pincushion
 
I took Saturday off from skiing and went snowboarding in the Lutsen Mountains with my girlfriend. I was surprised with how tall those mountains are. Unfortunately (in my opinion), the XC ski trail that they have goes downhill from the top of the chairlift.
 
Giants Ridge. The weather has been mild so far, but changed to sub-zero on Sunday. With -33F last morning, I was sitting at home till noon, but then regretted because it was calm and did not actually feel that cold, and Giants Ridge’s great grooming kept the trails fast for this temperatures. Skied for 3:40 at Gold, Silver, Bronze and Summit. Only 1:50 today, but at colder temps and classic. Going back to the Cities tomorrow on the New Year’s Day. Hope 2014 will bring more skiing adventures!
At the top of Giants Ridge
 
After being in many places I can say that there are a lot of great trails in Midwest. Giants Ridge, Birkie trail and ABR all offer great terrain and grooming for a serious XC skier. At the same time many other trails, such as Minocqua or Pincushion are also very good, but offer great views as a bonus (not to say that the first three places are not pretty). An important thing when skiing in a group is a warm chalet or shelter and all those places have it! Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a place to wax the skis, but I discovered an instant paste wax (Fast Wax Slick Pro) and it seemed to work quite long on the new non-abrasive powder snow that I have been skiing on so far.
 

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