Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ski the North Shore...finally!


That was me today, swooping around the back of Rock Hill on Duluth's Bagley Nature Area ski trail. The hard snow was fast and unforgiving. The trail curved to the left but there wasn't enough room on the right to snowplow.

I knew I was going to crash.

Yet somehow I stayed up.

A fine brush with death. North Shore skiing has begun.

The Christmas Blizzard was, literally, a wash-out here right on the Lake Superior shores. But the maps and the numbers don't lie: just a few steps away from the lake, the snow piled up big-time.

Taking my clue from, I went to the place in Duluth that had gotten the best reports for ski trail conditions, the Bagley Nature Area ski trail. The snowfall had been bountiful, probably part of the map's big white teardrop coming NE out of Duluth. The snow must have fallen with the consistency of mashed potatoes...and then frozen overnight into near-cement.

Someone had been out there when it was softer and groomed it. Which is great, except the tracks were as firm as steel track and kept my skis in like the wheels of a roller coaster

The hard snow made the hard parts of Bagley harder. The short steep hills were unforgiving. The big swooping downhill around the back side of Rock Hill was treacherous.

The Bagley ski trail is owned and managed by the University of Minnesota Duluth, part of their stunning Bagley Nature Area. It has two loops, "East" and "West." I always start on the 1.7K "East" loop, with a lovely run through classic North Shore ridgeline sugar maple forest. Although this is supposed to be the easier side, it has a few nasty hills, made nastier by today's hard, fast snow. The "Caution: Steep Hill" sign is new this year; it looks like UMD has lawyered up on its trail.

The 1.2K "West" loop is climbs up and around Rock Hill. That's the loop where I nearly fell.

I have faced death and survived. The snow is deep enough, at least away from our lakeshore slush. After a break for the blizzard, the groomers, both the volunteers and the pros, are out there. The North Shore ski season has begun.

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