Warmer temperatures, longer days and miles of exquisitely groomed trails make for the best cross-country skiing that the North Shore has seen all year. On Sunday’s guided tour out at Britton Peak, we found ourselves ditching our jackets in favor of a light fleece layer. I also skipped the hard grip wax that I’d been putting on the bottom of my skis for performance on cold snow, in favor of a softer wax that allowed me to glide the trails with ease. Chickadees, finches and other birds chattered from the branches, enjoying their long awaited day in the sun. When I skied into a sunny area, I actually felt warmth on my skin.
If the peak ski season got off to a late start this year, late winter and early spring promise to pay dividends with the best skiing yet.
Here are some reasons why the time is right to get out and cruise on the snow:
• Warm Weather: OK, I’ll admit that part of me enjoys the challenge of taking on the Sugarbush Trail’s Picnic Loop when it’s 10 below outside. It’s a great way to get an ice beard. Also, knowing that I’m going to be freezing cold the moment I slow down is a great incentive to keep moving. These days, I can skip the heavy mitts in favor of lightweight gloves, and have fewer layers to deal with overall. Warm air is easier on the lungs, especially for those of us who like to ski hard.
• Faster Skiing with Less Effort: The snow is warming up and now both waxless and waxable skis will slide more easily over the moistened surface. That means you can cover more miles on the flats, and you will get more zip on the downhill stretches. Skate skiers who had their work cut out for them on the cold snow earlier in the year can open up the throttle; flying over the fast powder. Downhill skiers and snowboarders who ride the slopes at Lutsen Mountains will also get an extra dose of speed induced adrenaline.
• Tofte’s Trails are in Peak Condition: The Sugarbush Trail association has rated almost all of its trails as “Good” or “Excellent.” There has been enough fresh snow to fill in the bumps on the trail from earlier in the season, and to bury the scrub that had been poking out of the snow. Conditions are improving by the minute today as we watch the snow pile up from beside our cozy fireplaces. Additionally, the Tofte Ski Down is open, allowing guests to hit the trails right from Bluefin Bay.
• Longer days means more time for skiing: Need I say more? Visible light is keeping the diehard skiers out on the trails until 6pm. The perfect time to call it a day and warm up with a cocktail or one of our new menu items at the Bluefin Grille.
Some things to keep in mind if you plan to tackle the trails or the slopes…
• Bring sunscreen and shades: Now that the sun is higher, it packs more of a punch, not just in terms of warmth, but UV rays also. Yes, you can get sunburned when it’s cold outside. Reflected light off the snow effectively doubles your dose of sun. It’s a good idea to bring sunglasses for the same reason.
• Layer smart: Just because it feels like a balmy spring day out there doesn’t mean a shift in the weather can’t leave you cold and miserable when you’re out there in thin, non-wind-resistant clothes. Have a windbreaker and some other warmer layers available in a backpack (the Bluefin Bay activities staff has a few packs available for you to borrow.) It’s usually best to leave the warm layers in your pack at the start so that you avoid moisture build up. Sweaty clothes are not warm clothes anymore. Another helpful hint: cotton is not your friend. Cotton rich fabrics can soak up moisture from snow or from your body and chill you. Wool, on the other hand, insulates even when wet. Technological advances have also created fabrics that are great at wicking moisture away from your skin. If you should happen to take a tumble, brush off the snow thoroughly so that it doesn’t leave you saturated. Nothing can shorten a great trip quite like catching a chill.
• Let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to return: The safest way to ski is in a group and when someone else knows your itinerary, even better. A cell phone won’t necessarily have service in the backcountry, which makes good planning all the more important. Some first aid supplies are also a good idea to have along for safety sake. A ring of moleskin on a blister can make the difference between a ruined trip and more quality miles of skiing.
• Guided ski tours are going strong: Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts is offering three guided cross country ski tours a week through the month of March: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Show up at Guest Services before noon to get outfitted in skis boots and poles. The tours go until 3 p.m. and include instruction for skiers of all abilities, including first timers. It’s a great way to share the fun of skiing with others. There are 10 slots available on each tour, so sign up early! Equipment rentals are covered by the price of your stay. The only expense incurred is the price of the Great Minnesota Ski Pass which is $6.00 per person per day. Anyone under the age of 16 skis for free! The money goes to keep the Sugarbush Trail system groomed and maintained so we may enjoy the most optimal cross country skiing the state has to offer.
See you on the trails!
Tom Fagin, Activities