By DAN ROBLEE
HOUGHTON - The season is winding down for Copper Country skiers and snowmobilers, but there are still opportunities to hit the trails and the slopes if you know where to go.
Dan Roblee/Daily Mining Gazette
Melissa Mack, a member of Michigan Technological University’s Nordic ski club, heads out for a glide along the Michigan Tech Trails Monday. Tech’s trails are still in very good condition.
For skiers, the "wheres" and "whens" are pretty clear cut, as long as they're willing to check the trail report. For snowmobilers, finding a safe and legal place to ride can be more difficult.
According to John Mattila of the Department of Natural Resources Baraga office, grooming on all state snowmobile trails ended March 31, as did easements for snowmobile trails running on private land. Some private property may now be gated, but it's the riders' responsibility to stay off regardless, he said, noting that riding illegally on private land constitutes trespassing, and could result in ticketing or worse.
"With the private landowners giving permission for the season, it would be common courtesy to protect that private property," he said. "All it would take is one landowner to shut it down for the following year, and lose the whole trail system."
As long as there's snow, it's still legal to ride on state-owned land, such as the railroad grade that runs from Mass City to Calumet, Mattila said.
There are also a few privately managed trails, such as those the Valley Snow Drifters snowmobile club handle from Dollar Bay to Dreamland, Rice Lake and Mud Lake. Drifters member Neil Marietta said the club has stopped grooming, but that riders can still use the trails.
Those trails are still in excellent condition, he said and will likely remain so as long as nighttime temperatures stay below freezing. Shaded areas also hold up better.
Without groomers staying on top of conditions and hazards, riders need to be especially careful, Marietta said.
"I would tell them to travel at a much slower speed than at the peak of the winter," he said. "There could be a washout across the trail, or a tree that would have been taken care of by the groomer. If you're going too fast and you hit a washout you're going to be wearing a maple tree."
For Alpine, or downhill skiers, this Saturday will be the last day Mont Ripley will be open, and the hill is closed for the remainder of the week until then. The Porcupine Mountains Ski Area outside Ontonagon will be open this Friday through Monday, and is holding out slim hopes for Easter Weekend, depending on snow conditions.
Mount Bohemia in Lac La Belle remains open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, however, and Bohemia president Lonie Glieberman says he hopes to stay open until May 4.
"We had our second biggest crowd of the year on Saturday," he said. "We go until we're out of snow usually."
Glieberman said the hill's layout is well suited to spring skiing, with lots of runs that stay shady on warm spring days. "If it gets too soft in the front, at Mount Bohemia we just ski the back side," he said.
On the Nordic, or cross-country front, there's still plenty of good skiing, but time of day, proper waxing and keeping a careful eye on the trail report are all keys to an enjoyable excursion. Several trail systems have stopped grooming for the year, and the Chassell trails and a significant portion of the Nara trails are closed, with the Nara trailhead no longer connected to the upper Tech trails. To stay up to date on trail conditions, go to keweenawtrails.com.
Rick Oikarinen, owner of Cross Country Sports in Calumet, said morning skiing is wonderful, but afternoon sunshine softens up the snow and can slow things down considerably. Staying in the shade and using the right wax can also help, he added.
The right conditions - when a smooth crust forms on top of the snow - offer some of the best skiing of the year, he noted.
"Skating the crust, off the trails, is a blast this time of year," Oikarinen said. "Then the world is your trail."