Thursday, December 13, 2007

Making snow

Night before last I got to play Mother Nature. At Chester Bowl, the tiny little in-town downhill ski area in Duluth, I volunteered for the first shift on the snow gun. It was 11 degrees, apparently great snowmaking weather.

As soon as the chairlift stopped and the last of the little snowboard dudes made it down the hill, we hiked up the hill and set it all up. Big serious power cord ran down the hill to one of the lift poles. Fire hose went across the hill to a water pipe. The pump started up, the water flowed, I threw the valve and voila, snow!

In one machine, in one set up of pipes and power, all those little miracles that add up to snowfall had been captured and focused. Instead of a warm air mass bringing Gulf of Mexico moisture, it was the a pipe and a pump pulling water from Chester Creek. Instead of ...well... some chemical-physical process in the upper atmosphere, it was the "moleculizer" in the snow gun.

On one of my hourly trips up the hill to check on the machine, I made a point of walking up into the snow, to feel it on the breeze and under my feet as I'd experienced so many real snowfalls before. It felt okay.

And for all that machinery, all that work, it was as much snow as a good lake-effect storm would bring. Only it was in a tiny area, half the size of our little backyard.

Which, to me, makes the power and breadth of a real storm that much more impressive. Instead of just a few hundred square feet. a good storm dumps over hundreds of square miles.

But it was pretty cool to be part of it, for a bit.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Dog on the trail

How badly should we hate the person who brings their dogs on groomed ski trails? How shady are those shades of gray?

I got out on the Magney ski trails here in Duluth on Saturday. Magney is Duluth's wilderness giant, way out on the west side of town in the thick of old growth maple forests. It was mid-late afternoon and only about a degree above zero, so I was just a little anxious to get through the ski soon. The idea did occur to me of wrapping myself around a tree on one of those downhills, breaking my neck and freezing to death. So I took one of the official short cuts, and rather than the glorious full 7K loop I ended up at about 5K.

Right before I got back on the main loop, a very fast skier came down the main loop on a great long downhill. And right behind him was his dog, some mid-size blue-ish dog, bounding along and keeping up with the speedy master.

The trails had been groomed a few days before and there was a light inch of snow on top of the grooming. So a mid-size dog wouldn't break through the crust. I'm not a trail Nazi. I don't snarl at people going the wrong way or even yell at folks two abreast on a double-tracked trail. If I'd had the chance to converse with this guy and his dog, I probably wouldn't have said anything.

Of course, speedy skier lapped me way too soon, along with his dog. It turns out that I know the guy. He's actually a famous Duluth skier and musician and entrepeneur. And he said, right off as he zoomed past "Hey, I'm a lawwbreaker." He explained that he got on the trails thinking they hadn't been groomed.

And the hound wasn't really affecting the trail, right?

But I wished I could have brought our dog along. She would have crashed through the snowcrust and ruined everything.

Dogs don't belong on groomed ski trails. But it was darn cute.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ski program cancelled due to snow

It's 7:30 PM. I was supposed to be in Saint Paul right now, starting a program on Skiing the North Shore for the weekly meeting of the Rovers. But, based on the forecast last night for today, both in Duluth and the Twin Cities, I cancelled. I was excited about meeting the Rovers and finding out more about their club and activities.

Ironic, program cancelled due to snow. Normally it's been the other way around.

Ah, snow! Ah, Piedmont!

Just got out for my first ski of the year...ahhhh, nice. It snowed heavily on Saturday the 1st to kick off December in style. After shoveling out over the weekend and working all day Monday, this was my first chance to get out on the trails.

I went to Piedmont, one of those gems of a trail found here in Duluth. It's my regular backyard trail, except it's a ten-minute drive up there. And more snow was falling. So the drive was scary. But the skiing was fine.

When I first moved back to Duluth, I was a cynic about Piedmont. Too quaint. Too small. No Lycra to be seen. But over the years I've come to really love the trail. Jerry Nowak built it himself decades ago and eventually handed it over to the City of Duluth. Jerry still installs the goofy signs, though those weren't up yet.

Piedmont is basically one loop of about 4K, with some short-cuts and a newer advanced loop that sweeps down off the hillside. First ski of the year I take it very easy, so 4K was perfect. I don't know if they're called abductors or adductors, but there are these muscles or tendons in my thighs that get amazingly sore two days after the first ski of the year.

The snow was already falling hard. By the time I finished the loop, my ski track was smoothed over with new snow. Now the snow is just dumping from the sky here down by the lake. Real lake-effect snow, right here on Park Point.