Sunday I hit my favorite trail to ski, the VASA trail near Traverse City. The outer loop is a continuous 25km ribbon through state forest. It is a one-way trail with no road crossings. You just get on it and go. Has a great wilderness vibe to it. The trail is maintained and groomed by volunteers. Grooming is always impeccable.
I had great reservations committing to the drive up. It was very warm earlier in the weekend, and the temp was still falling. I would try Crystal Mtn first, an alpine/Nordic resort. If that didn't pan out, I'd head up further to VASA. What caused me consternation was this from VASA the evening before:
Gary will be watching the temperatures overnight to determine the best time to groom tomorrow. He will wait until the temperatures drop below freezing before he heads out onto the trail. He will probably use the snowmobile and Tidd Tech or Ginzu since the trail needs more time to set up before we take out the LMC. I will send out an update after he gets started.
Today’s groom was completed with the Tidd Tech because of the temperature at the start of the groom (31), and the forecast. Unfortunately I was unable to completely erase the Fatbike tracks on the 11 and 25K loops. They were much deeper than normal because of the recent snow that was not completely packed yet and the warmer temperatures overnight.
So if Crystal Mtn didn't pan out, I was looking at frozen-in fat bike tracks at VASA. I don't want to go into a rant right now about what I think of bikes on trails groomed for skate and classic Nordic skiing. If fat bikes are so cool to ride in snow, why-oh-why is the local MTB community lobbying to ride 10ft wide groomed ski trails?? I think it is a trend that will see bikes on most public lands groomed ski trails in the next year or two. I'll rant on this topic later.
So 2hrs into my drive up, I call Crystal Mtn. They weren't grooming, snow still too wet, but temp now falling to 25F. Argh! Their morning report said "epic conditions." Epically icy? No way was I going to skate on icy ruts left over from the previous day's slushy conditions. So VASA it would have to be.
Roads got heinously bad. The temp dropped from 40F to 15F in one hour, and it was still drizzling out. Black ice everywhere. When I got to the VASA trailhead, there were only 20 cars or so there. I feared an ice skating rink. Talking to a woman who had already gone out, she said they did get out with the snowmobile to rough it up some. Hmmm, that could still suck.
Heading out on the 25k loop, I had trouble keeping my skis under me. The first kilometer is always like that, two-way, access to all distance options, so very high usage. There was deep cover. I brought my race skis with nice sharp edges, which helped. Once on the outer 25k one-way loop, conditions improved a lot.
There are a couple bypass-able sections of the 25k loop, marked as black diamond. They are wicked climby. The descents were polished smooth, frozen hard, with black ice building on them for good measure. Needless to say, I found them frightful.
The second bypass-able section was not groomed that morning. That was the most terrifying 2km of skate skiing I've ever done. Too icy to walk down, zero control of speed and direction skiing down. Could have bushwhacked I suppose, but I took great risk by death wedging my way down each plummet.
Back on the main loop, things were good again. There were lengthy sections that were just awesome. Crispy corduroy that afforded good control. You could free skate at 20-25kph. I finished the 25km loop in about 90 minutes, grabbed another water bottle, and went out for the 11k loop.
At least the drizzle turned over to light snow at this point, and I didn't have to keep stopping to chisel ice off my glasses. On the way back to the trailhead, I hit the 5km trail, which I don't think I've ever skied before. It was in mint condition, no ice at all. It is easily the most fun section of trail there, being narrower with lots of long, twisty descending.
I did not notice any detracting fat bike tracks. Perhaps the morning groom helped fill them in some more. Fat biking the VASA trail is on a trial basis, and a point of contact is given for trail users to share their comments. I was thinking oh yeah, if the trail was trashed when it was too soft to ride, they'll be hearing from me. The MTB community is supposed to police themselves to ensure this doesn't happen. Was pretty relieved to see the trail in great shape.
I finished with 42.5km in 2.7hrs with 3700ft of climbing, a great skate for sure. That makes almost 150km of skating in a five day window, probably a new record for me. Should make a great base for hitting some of the longer, steeper climbs back in New England.
Monday I hit the very first trail I mountain biked on back in 1996. It had seen sufficient traffic when it was soft, then froze up solid when it got cold again, to ride it with 2" studded tires. It is the Yankee Springs MTB loop, a 13mi singletrack loop that carves through eskers, surprisingly hilly.
There still a pretty good snow base there, so the trail was an 8" wide ribbon, bowl shaped in the bottom, which required considerable focus to stay in the rut. Else you'd quickly find yourself without a bike under you.
The Pines section.
The ice storm damage was extensive. Kudos to the crew that clear all the debris so quickly, including large trees. There was a lot of ice on the trail that had fallen from the trees during the thaw. It made for a crunchy, noisy surface and required a bit of work in areas. I thought at first maybe I could bang out two laps in 2.5hrs or so, but no way, not even close. I really needed a rest day, so I backed down to a semi-recovery pace.
Great esker ridgeline riding here, with long, flowy descents.
One lap was more than enough. I logged 13.4mi (no wheel sensor) in 2hrs. It is interesting to note that I can ski about 50% faster than bike on almost identical conditions. Just one more reason why I find skating on snow more fun than biking on snow. Enjoying it while we got it.