Monday, January 30, 2012

At long last, real skiing

FINALLY...a great day on the ski trails. It took a few good Lake Superior lake-effect snow dumps on the South Shore, but at long last we have decent natural snow within a short drive of Duluth. The Slade/Rauschenfels clan dove in yesterday, and though I nearly skied my legs off, it was totally worth it. It was the first real skiing I've had all winter.

What do I mean, "real" skiing?
  • On natural snow, not manmade snow at a downhill ski area. 
  • Longer, bigger trails that run through the countryside.
  • A real deep classic ski track I can trust to guide me along.
We went to the After Hours Trail in Brule, Wisconsin, about half an hour east of Superior along Highway 2. Online reports had been very positive. Instead of another full day of house-cleaning at home, we packed up our gear and one of the boys and headed out.

Even at 11:00 on a 12-degree Sunday morning, the parking lot was full and overflowing to a nearby field. Skiers were abuzz in the parking lot, greeting each other as if it was Christmas Day all over again. 

The After Hours Trail runs in multiple loops and grids through the Brule River State Forest, just west of the Brule River itself. A few of the trails, like the River Trail above, actually run right alongside the famed spring-fed Brule.

Inside the warming hut at the trailhead, skiers were chattering away with the endorphin rush great conditions and an hour or two on silky ski trails provides. 

Perhaps the most pumped of all of them was our son, who not only skied the 15 kilometers he needed for some ski team letter points, but also had his first "real" cross country ski experience of the winter, moving through real terrain and covering real distance instead of looping around and around the artificial snow they've been on all year. "Real" skiing? Yeah, I think he gets it too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Save the skiers...from themselves!

Nordic skating on Lake Superior from

Recently I wrote here about how delusional skiers are. They are over-the-top optimistic about the poor cross country ski conditions here in Duluth. 

But maybe it’s better that they stick to the trails and suffer than get out for the really wacky alternative stuff.

Skiers are giving up on the forest trails and want to go ice skating. But when you've got wild trails in your blood, you can't settle for a city ice rink. So skiers are buying special nordic skates they can attach their ski boots to, then having a great time on the Bay. Check out the pics and the gear at

Biking down the St. Louis River by Hansi Johnson

Other frustrated skiers are using their mountain bikes to run down the frozen rapids of the St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park. 

A colleague of mine can’t find enough snow on the lakes for kite boarding, so he’s hoping for enough wind to go surfing. In Lake Superior. In January.

We need some snow. Save the skiers from themselves.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

North Shore geology experiment

It's now a proven fact: Rocks move "down" the North Shore. Who'da thunk it? I was pleasantly surprised to see that a student at Duluth's Woodland Middle School's big annual Science Fair took on the task of proving that rocks do, in fact, move from "up" the shore (like Grand Marais) to "down" the shore (like Duluth). 

(Speaking of Grand Marais, do you suppose ace North Shore photographer Bryan Hansel authorized use of his photo in the lower right of the board??)

The student used Sparky Stensaas' great North Shore rock book to identify and label the classic North Shore rocks. Then the student used a geologic map of the North Shore to identify where the rocks came from. Then, using some mysterious calculus, the student found what direction the rocks on various beaches from Duluth to Tettegouche were from their starting spot.

The conclusion was unequivocal: North Shore beach rocks do relocate. The student even nailed some of the possible causes, listing the glacial period along with longshore currents, seiches, "and even humans."

As a well-educated grown-up, I know that glaciers were the main cause of this. And that they carried their loads from the northeast to the southwest..."down" the shore. I also know that what longshore currents there are on the shore drive rocks the same way, only very slowly. Check out the rhyolite shingle beach at Iona's Beach SNA for a classic example of this; you'll find a beach full of rhyolite cobbles just west of a pure red rhyolite cliff.

But isn't it neat that an eighth grader found out the same thing all by herself? I especially like her second conclusion:

This project is valuable in learning how the beaches of the North 
Shore were made and how their content is ever-changing.

Good job, Woodland eighth grader! Good for you and for all the rock hounds out there.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Skiers are delusional

I went skiing at Duluth's Piedmont trails last week, first thing in the morning on the day that The Big Thaw began. There was just an inch or two of snow on the trails, not enough for a classic track but enough to cover most of the rocks and sticks. I skied all 5 kilometers and left thinking, "Hmmm...not bad."

Must have been those feel-good endorphins speaking. It was bad. It was awful. Mid-January and there's not enough snow to set a track? Who was I kidding?

The Big Thaw has continued for five days now. Skiers are still finding snow, and they are either hugely optimistic or totally delusional. Here's a sampling from today:

"Only one part of the trail was basically unskiable" (regarding Boulder Lake trails)
"We saw some stubble, but really not bad at all." (from Central Gunflint trails)
"Enough rocks and roots present to make it an exercise in situational awareness" (about Snowflake trails) 

If you want to ski and actually would like some snow that is not awful, head up the North Shore to Tofte and ski on the Onion River Road. Or head inland to the Flathorn Gegoka trails. 

Yes, a bad day skiing is better than a good day at the office. And after all that time sidestepping logs and seeking out tracks deep enough to hold a Hot Wheel, you deserve to be proud. Delusional, but proud.