For about twenty-five years, The Outfitter has groomed the cross country ski trails at Birchwood – a large, wooded subdivision north of Harbor Springs. Our good family friends, owners of The Outfitter for twenty-three years, began the ritual and we continue it. With the same snowmobiles.
Grooming trails truly is a labor of love – an exercise that emphasises the reward at the end of the tunnel. The end result is awesome for skiers: pefectly laid-out tracks that ribbon around through the trees over a golf course and through the woods. One of the fascinating aspects of the grooming is the lack of residue left from the process. If you ski the trail right after the machines have puttered by, you smell the fumes of exhaust. If you wait 30 minutes, you have corduroy and cold, crisp air. And the craters.
Crater is the technical term for the ginormous, down to the grass, utterly ugly chaos that results from getting a snowmobile (sled) stuck. Which happens a lot. It all seems so relaxing and, well, fun. Firing up a sled to putter around at 7 mph through the woods on a beautiful sunny day is kind of romantic, sort of. And it has its moments, when your thumb isn’t completely racked from holding the throttle at 7 mph, your bum isn’t soaking wet, the exhaust isn’t atmosphering you like mosquitoes in Alaska and you aren’t buried on your side in a six-foot snowdrift. You have to redefine “fun” when your essential tools include an axe, a shovel, two dozen shear pins, extra food and flares.
But it is fun, and it is so rewarding when a skier stops in the shop just to thank you for making the trails so skiable. Some folks argue that busting through the snow forging your own path is the only way to ski – but I like both. I love being able to take the kids and the dogs behind our house, making tracks wherever we go. But I also love zipping along on fresh laid tracks on my skiiny skis, seeing how fast I can go on the flats before my lungs burn.
Most of the trail setting up here in Northern Michigan is done by volunteers simply out of love of the sport. Nothing makes them happier than a skier going out of his or her way to thank them for a job well done, craters and all.