Northern Michigan Outdoors: Cross-Country Skiing Sleeping Bear Dunes — Off Trail

Rico Cruz (front) and Brian Price on cross-country skis, cutting through the cattails near Shell Lake in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

I have a friend who loves to cross-country ski, but avoids trails. For him XC means sticking to the roots of the sport—leaving the trail as soon as possible and busting off through the untracked snow in forest and meadow and in the occasional swamp. This Sunday, to enjoy the off-road XC gestalt, we headed to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore about 9:30 in the morning. The snow base was frozen to a solid mass from the chill night, and a very smooth and gloriously slippery 3 inches of fresh snow was sitting on top. We were out for about three hours, just wandering around on cross-country skis, basically. At one point, Brian (the guy who loves to leave the trail) said, “I’ve never gone from here through the swamp to Shell Lake, but this snowpack might make it possible—let’s try it.” My other friend, Rico, said, “sure.” And we crashed on through the cattails with 6-feet-long skis. Believe it or not, it wasn’t really all that crazy. But at one point, even Brian conceded the mission was probably more fit for snowshoes than skis, given the increasingly thick tangle of fallen trees and we turned back. Overall, though, most of the skiing was across open meadow and forest—easy peasy. So anyway, point of this short story is that it’s always good to get outside with friends and family and wander around, especially when it’s cold out because it makes you feel so alive. 

A steep ridge rose to the west, and we skied along its base.

A bit of sun came out, adding a nice touch to an already great Sunday morning.

—Jeff Smith, editor, Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine

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