A Cross-Country Ski Tale, Lake Ann Pathway, Near Traverse City

Platte River, just downstream from its headwaters, Lake Ann, and along the Lake Ann Pathway.

Every winter I feel the need to send some love to my favorite ski trail, Lake Ann Pathway (about 15 minutes west of Traverse City), and the urge struck last Sunday when I took a couple spins around the outer loop. The picture above is where the pathway runs along Platte River and is just a very snow-falling-on-cedars kind of beautiful place. The closest thing I come to church kind of spot.

So I was thinking one of the things I like most about Lake Ann is the welcoming nature of the place. You can’t ski there if you take your skiing too seriously because it’s not groomed and all sorts of people walk on the trail with snowshoes and regular boots and take their dogs out there and, well, it’s just not groomed in either a literal or figurative sense. Sure, occasionally somebody who doesn’t understand the spirit of Lake Ann Pathway sticks a handwritten sign to the parking lot map that says something like “leave your dogs at home they screw up the trail.” But these are the rare uptight people who don’t really see that actually, a few dog prints in the trail don’t really make any difference at all for the most part.

So I was thinking about this democratic (in the non-political sense) heart of Lake Ann on Sunday because there were several people I saw on snowshoes, and much of the trail was beaten down by them, and my skis were kind of slipping around on the trail. I was thinking, well, I guess the world is better off with snowshoers scouring out my ski trail than if they were all home watching a basketball game. One group had a couple of handsome looking huskies and a lady said, “these are your rescue team in case you get in trouble out there.” I thanked her for being there to back me up.

When I got back to the parking lot, oddly enough there were a whole bunch of people set up making a party. Pot luck, wine and beer, cars all over the place (usually there are about six cars max there). And one of said cars was blocking my car in. I slowly put my skis and poles away, being very obvious that I was intending to LEAVE SOON, but nobody came to move the car. So I walked over and asked who owned it, and people told me it was Gail and that she was out on the trail somewhere. 

Sharon Black, Northwoods Ski and Spree member.

So I could have been, you know, peeved, but with all the strife in the world already and it being such a nice day and all, and I was, after all, at my favorite trail, I just said, “well, I think somebody owes me a bowl of chili for this situation.” And they all agreed and soon a gentleman handed me a plate with some venison sausage and a brownie and a glass of merlot and Ted Wood started telling me all about their group, which is called the Northwoods Ski and Spree. He said they have something like 190 members and do nine winter gatherings a year. (I could be getting some of this wrong since I wasn’t taking notes, but it’s something like that.) 

Naturally I was curious because I love it when I meet people who understand winter, as in the only way to thrive during winter is to take it head on, get out in it. Dress warm and get outside. If you are cold, dress warmer, get moving. And so here at my favorite trail were a whole bunch of people, Ted told me 75, just hanging out in the winter enjoying the trail and the day. 

The embarrassing thing is I’d never heard of Northwoods Ski and Spree, but Ted told me not to feel bad because they just keep a low profile and don’t really do press releases or anything. They just get together and hang out. I asked them what they did in the summer. “Nothing, we don’t get together in the summer, people just do whatever it is they do in summer and then get back together in winter.” At this point I liked the groups’ concept even more. Only in winter, excellent. My kind of people.

I don’t even know if they want more members, but if these people sound like your people, I’d encourage you to get in touch with them, a secret world of northerners who “get” winter and know how to thrive (not just survive!) in winter. You can contact Ted Wood at 231-882-7199.

By the way, I didn’t have to wait till Gail got back. Somebody moved a pickup truck and with a little of this and that maneuvering I was able to work my way out, after the brownie, sausage and wine was gone, of course. —Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine

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