A "Rilly Big" Ski Marathon for Michigan!
[BUMP from 3/8/06. Thought of this during a lovely all-day ski tour up north last weekend. But it keeps coming back to me.]
The Canucks have their venerable 120-mile two-day Canada Ski Marathon. It's a point-to-point event that basically goes from Ottawa to Montreal. A classic route. For the Coureur du Bois. Hmmm, point-to-point. What could we do here in Michigan... We have the White Pine Stampede that's a fine point to point event but maybe we could try something BIGGER.
Ya know, big events, big outings and big self-supported events are now ALL THE RAGE in hiking, mtbiking, running and adventure racing. Where are they in the XC ski scene? ...Hello? I've heard of a couple in mountainy areas. Well, Michigan has as good of skiing as anywhere and mountains aren't really such great places to ski-tour, truth be told. ...Ahem! They have their (ecstatic) up'n'down charms, to be sure, but the ski-wandering world probably favors rolling terrain and even frozen waterways.
If we located it up north we could call this next big thing the "Mackinaw Marathon"! I looked on a map and the empty wilderness of the Mackinaw State Forest seems to stretch from the Boyne Mountain ski resort for a lot of miles southwest down to the Schuss Mountain resort. (Of all the goofy things to think of as I enjoy a day ski-touring along a lovely trout-stream...)
OK, I checked out some maps of that region for possible routes or trails. I found two major snowmobile trails---the Chandler and the Jordan---that run through prime chunks of this area from north to south and add up to 40 miles or so. This would be an obvious route option with constantly groomed (snowmobeel) trails. Just watch out for the beelers. They're easy to hear. Maybe ski the route during the weekdays.
I note that skiing on snowmobile trails might best be done skating-style. But maybe one should use combi boots and bring kick wax for steep, long, narrow (gullied) climbs.
Newsflash! Thanks to David Eric (posts below) the High Country Pathway and Shinglemill Pathway concepts are also coming on strong. He says the Chandler trail would be death by beeler on a weekend, so, so much for that. But he says it's simply gorgeous terrain. Hmmm... He and his pals love tele-ing the glades. Thanks to David's idea, I googled the HCP and found out that it's Michigan's only "epic trail" according to the IMBA---72 miles of magnificent diversity. The MMBA (cherry)picked a 40-mile chunk of it for an event-ride to celebrate this award...I bet that section would make a great ski weekend! So, head's up on the Pigeon River!
I also note that I overheard Don Kane, the Michigan Cup originator, mentioning that his original idea for the Michigan Marathon was for it to run from Grayling to Gaylord...50km. He says there are trail options in there. I dunno why it never came off...
To keep it really "simple" this (non)event would be self-supported. Plant a shuttle vehicle to get to a motel for the night. If more quality miles could be found a two-day mode could be set up, with a Lightweight grade level involving a motel stay; a Real Skier level would involve bringing a, say, 15-lb pack with fluffy bag, pad, bivvy, a little stove, dry clothes, headlamp to camp out on the trail. We don't need the Iditaski to do it up!
Anyone else have any Epic ski routes in mind for Michigan? For anywhere? (It's not just a Michigan thing.) I could see another aspect to emphasize: culture and society. The routes I've looked at so far are wildernessy. One might not ever see a human. But it doesn't have to go that way---I could see a great epic route connecting several nifty towns, giving a chance to show locals how sweet XC is as well as refueling pitstops. Winter brings wilderness close to town, after all, especially when waterways are frozen. I like people. But one thing about Michigan wandering is that nifty towns are far apart and the suburban deathsprawlzones tend to be wide. But a margins sport like XC ski *just might* be able to slip in and out (without scratching the bases too much). In the eastern states the scale can be more human due to the centuries of development. It's also more car-wretched at times, too, but whatever. Well, it's a thought.
I mentioned the idea of a "big singletrack ski event" to the Michigan Cup organizer and he seemed interested---I told him it might help bring in fresh people----mtbikers, adventure racers, hikers, runners---all sports which are now far bigger than XC. If it wasn't an all-out race and because any old touring ski would actually work perfectly---then no one needs fancy equipment and (many more?) people can enter without intimidation. Actually, I'm not trying to provoke a crowd---this "different kind of event" might just simply attract a different set of ski buffs. --Those who are more into scenery and who don't care about grooming or ski-tech. Maybe drive a snowmobile pulling a singletrack-setting sled thru the course once beforehand. Talk about low overhead---little to no entry fee needed. It was funny that the race official said that singletrack makes it hard if it's a race because then it's hard to pass---he's from the old days---he said there used to be arguments about passing---that's true (I remember a couple) but really passing wasn't that hard. I think it's lame to have to totally change the sport and bulldoze trails and widen them to 2 lanes just to fit easy passing into the game! It rules out all the best trails! It quintuples the overhead expenses! It even loses a lot of the fun ski people who are more into great trails than easy passing (maybe they're not so much into racing, ski tech or HUGE entry fees either). 95% of the time if you want to pass you say "on your left" they step over and it's done---even near the front of a race. But I like a "not exactly a race" format---people can go fast if they like. Call it a loppet---a word I haven't seen in the ski scene in decades, tho it used to be common. (Kinda weird how it went away.) Also, insisting on groomed (bulldozed) trails for the flimsy fancy skis (and fussy master skiers!) ends up needing the overhead of $100K machines and $50 entry fees and there goes the general public and youth market up in smoke! Heck, I can't even afford entry fees to any of the good races. The Nokie in Marquette is $93 if you wait until the month of. I'd like to run an ungroomed "tour Nokie", same distance, same trails, for free and see what happened. Actually, people like to pay in many cases, so who knows. Simplicity and diversity aren't always valued like they used to be.
Here's some links and a map image...
It would be GREAT if someone who knew this turf could report in about it! [Thanks, David Eric! --See below. And thanks for the High Country Pathway tip!]
OK, we'd start at the North end of the Chandler Hills trail on this map:
Then we'd go down to the *FAMOUS* Jordan River Pathway. Offhand, it looks like a very multimodal trail. It's part of the NCT, has its own hiking trail and a snowmobile trail. These usually don't all combine. I note that Dennis Hanson's atlas says it's too risky to ski. So what's it like? I've never visited it but have long wanted to. [Actually, RadNord skis it each spring, I think---he likes it lots---he and Dick Fultz skied it last spring and had a great time.] Here's the map:
Heck, you could start even further north at the Silent Sports Lodge (nice name!) by Wolverine: http://www.fishweb.com/maps/cheboygan/trails/ir_petoskey.html. You could ski all way way along the Jordan on into the town of East Jordan. By adding those 2 chunks you might get 60 miles! 100k!