For days beforehand the weather forecasts for Saturday afternoon (February 9th) predicted increasingly treacherous weather — wildly blowing winds, rapidly plummeting temperatures, and potential wind-chill temperatures in the 40-50 below zone. We regularly posted the updated weather warnings and strongly encouraged Bearskin skiers to get out on the trails early, dress for a precipitous temperature drop and try to be safely back at the resort by mid-afternoon.
They wisely took our advice. Snow was falling from darkly contoured, overcast skies in the morning as Bearskin skiers headed out to the trails early. By late afternoon, our guests were back in their cabins cooking sumptuous meals or sitting by blazing fires or soaking in the hot tub. We had several large groups of people here, all relishing the comforts of being safely indoors. Outside, the fierce wind gusts began to blow the new fallen snow over paths and trails. The dark sky cleared to a brilliant blue and the temperatures began to take a nose-dive.
Late in the afternoon a group of distraught skiers arrived through our door, ecstatic and relieved to have found safety. They had left from another lodge somewhat unprepared for colder temperatures, then became confused by their maps and lost on rapidly disappearing trails. Seeing Bearskin finally appear before them was, as one woman said, “The happiest moment of my life.” “I really wondered,” said another, “if maybe the story would be that we died out there.” We led them to the area in front of the fireplace, got them drinks and snacks and began preparing to transport them back safely back to their lodge. Fear and exhaustion quickly turned to the jubilant talk of a group of ecstatic survivors.
They were just beginning to warm up when the lodge lights flickered off—and then, to our relief, came on again. Most people in the lodge paid little attention to the electrical “burp,” but I started to worry a bit. Bearskin has a backup generator and a detailed emergency plan, but none of us on duty that day had ever actually carried the plan out. Bob was on his way back from a quick trip to Minneapolis to help his dad and it was just me, Andy and Quinn running Bearskin for the day. It had been a slow afternoon, with time for Andy and Quinn to experiment with some old grooming equipment (http://www.flickr.com/photos/bearskinlodge), and the only reason either of them were still around the lodge now was that they felt guilty about the hours of fun they’d had mid-afternoon.
The lights went off again, this time for a little longer, and then flashed on again. Another flutter of the lights, and then the lights were gone. We waited hopefully for the electricity to return, but this time it didn’t come back. One of the coldest days of the year so far, a lodge full of guests and now the power was out. Not good. We quickly learned that most of the county was out of power. Hope for a quick recovery dimmed.
Immediately Andy and Quinn kicked into gear, carefully following the emergency plan. In less than 15 minutes the generator was running, so a few lights and heat would be available in the main lodge. Guests were informed about the power outage, emergency lanterns and candles were located, and the water and heat situation in empty cabins was assessed. By the time Bob arrived, Andy and Quinn had everything under control.
The temperature continued to drop. While we nervously worried about the potential problems resulting from an extended power outage, it was quite another story in the cabins and lodge units. Snuggled in front of warm fires in cabins lit with lanterns and candles, our guests were thoroughly enjoying “roughing it” in the dark. Listening to the noise reverberating through the lodge units, it sounded like a giant slumber party. At one point we heard a chorus of voices singing, “Na na na na / na na na na / hey hey hey / goodbye.” Cabin 9 guests had been cooking all day, and had enough food prepared to practically stock an Old Country Buffet. Another group was enjoying an “in the dark” wine tasting event. It seemed that we were the only people on the premises who were not amused by having no power.
Hours went by, the temperatures continued to drop, and the wind began to howl. A call to the power company indicated it would be a “few hours” before electricial power was likely to return. We worried obsessively about what steps to take next. We had just decided to make ourselves a meal in the dark so we would be ready for a long night, when Andy noticed, “Hey, I think the power might be on in the cabins.” Indeed, there were glowing lights coming from cabin 8–and it wasn’t candle power! As we turned the breakers back on for each lodge, it was easy to tell when lights were restored to each unit—a huge groan emanated from each one when the lights flashed back on. And then, virtually everyone told us afterwards, they all turned the lights back off and continued having a cozy “in the dark” experience.
Not us. We ran around gleefully turning on lights and equipment, exclaiming, “This works! And this works! And this is on!” just as if we were making the first discovery of electrical current. Then we sat down to a meal of spaghetti and bread, cooked by candle light (note to self: cooking spaghetti sauce in the dark totals a clean kitchen), and jubilantly rehashed our own stories of “survival” during the great February Gunflint Trail power outage.