2009-02-14 / Top News

Skiing Is Great This Year; Trails Kept Up by Volunteer Groomers

By Ryan Schlehuber

At right: Island resident Marc Bobinsky skis by Ste. Anne's Cemetery as he heads to Fort Holmes, a favorite spot for many local skiers on the Island. "The groomers have done a fantastic job with the trails," he said. "They deserve a lot of credit." At right: Island resident Marc Bobinsky skis by Ste. Anne's Cemetery as he heads to Fort Holmes, a favorite spot for many local skiers on the Island. "The groomers have done a fantastic job with the trails," he said. "They deserve a lot of credit." Dave Johnson rides a snowmobile over the 20 miles of ski trails on Mackinac Island. He cruises at a snail's pace, just five miles per hour, and he pulls a trail groomer that leaves ski tracks in the snow.

Mr. Johnson is one of six Mackinac Island Ski Club volunteers who dedicate a day to help smooth out the lumps and bumps, and, at times, snowmobile tracks, on the scenic ski trails that snake through the Island.

"I don't ski, but I can see why people like it," he said, taking a peek behind his sled every once in a while to check the tracks he leaves behind. "There's a lot of great sights here."

He stops at look-out point near Fort Holmes to admire a snow-covered Sugar Loaf rock and the sheet of ice blanketing Lake Huron in the background.

Avid skiers like Mary Patay know exactly what he means.

Pulling the grooming device slowly behind a snowmobile creates groove lines in the snow called "corduroys," as Mackinac Island Ski Club volunteer groomer Dave "Tonto" Johnson shows. They allow cross-country skiers to more easily glide across the snow with their skis. By setting down the middle section of the grooming device, weighted with a small concrete block to press down on the snow, Mr. Johnson is able to make a two-track path for traditional style skiers on each side of the Island's trails. Pulling the grooming device slowly behind a snowmobile creates groove lines in the snow called "corduroys," as Mackinac Island Ski Club volunteer groomer Dave "Tonto" Johnson shows. They allow cross-country skiers to more easily glide across the snow with their skis. By setting down the middle section of the grooming device, weighted with a small concrete block to press down on the snow, Mr. Johnson is able to make a two-track path for traditional style skiers on each side of the Island's trails. "You never know what you're going to see," she said. "I remember skiing with my dog and we saw a woodpecker and just kind of stood there watching him for a bit. The trails are so peaceful."

Cross-country skiing on Mackinac is good, said ski club member Al Arbib.

"It's been great not only for skiing but for snowshoeing or even just walking around through the Island," he said. "I think people here enjoy skiing so much because it's right out your front door."

Marc Bobinsky enjoys the exercise on second-hand skis, but he says non-skiers who wreck the smooth trails can be a problem. Snowmobilers and snowshoers ruin the smooth tracks that skiers depend on to glide forward.

Wooden barricades and posted signs warn snowmobiles that they are not permitted on the east side of the Island or on ski trails.

Mr. Arbib said now that the ice bridge between Mackinac Island and St. Ignace has formed, snowmobile traffic on the Island has increased, and so has the number of snowmobilers illegally driving on ski trails.

"You're going to have that no matter what," he said, "but, overall, we've been able to keep up the trails pretty good."

The ski club, formed in 1999, has about 15 members. Last year, the club was named the City Recreation Department's Volunteer of the Year for its dedication to keeping the ski trails groomed for the public to enjoy.

Snow this year fell early and stayed, providing a good base for skiers on the Island, said Mr. Arbib. In addition to grooming, he and Mr. Johnson, Matt Myers, Greg Main, Jason Horricks, and Frank Bloswick also keep the trails free from debris blown across the trails by high winds.

Removing the dead branches and other debris from the trails is the most tedious and difficult job in keeping the trails in good shape, he said.

"The groomers have done a fantastic job with the trails," said Mr. Bobinsky. "They put in a lot of time to keep the trails looking good. They deserve a lot of credit."

The Island's geography provides a variety of challenges for skiers, from the hard-core skier to the novice, but "just going through the forest and getting yourself lost, that's what I enjoy most about the trails," said Ms. Patay. As the school's physical education teacher, she also takes her students in grades two through seven on ski tours downtown during physical education hour.

For visitors, Mr. Arbib suggests skiers will enjoy the higher areas.

"If they walk up behind Fort Mackinac and begin skiing there, novice skiers will be able to really enjoy the sport and learn how to ski better without it being too difficult," he said.

Ski trails are still in good shape following a thaw last weekend, Mr. Arbib told the Town Crier at press time Thursday, February 12. The weather didn't affect the trail base, although a few more sticks may have popped out of the snow, he said. While a return to colder temperatures and more snowfall are hoped for, even without additional snow, he's optimistic about trail conditions in the coming weeks.

Trail maps are available downtown. Ski and boot rentals are available at the Balsam Shop.

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