Archive for the ‘Winter at Bearskin’ Category

Lunar Eclipse

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

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 Warming up around a bonfire at the ski trail Cook Tent with complimentary hot chocolate and cookies (some home-made or actually, cabin-made, by a guest),while waiting to watch the lunar eclipse.

Skis “parked” at the Cook Tent.

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Meanwhile, back at the Lodge… 

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Look closely and you can see the moon is close to being fully eclipsed.

Survivor–the power outage edition

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

No power!

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. 

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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.

The New G2

Friday, February 8th, 2008

What is it about a Kässbohrer Pisten Bully that skiers love?  It has to be one of the most ungainly looking vehicles ever made.  Coming down the trail, the pisten bully sounds like a space ship has just landed, and especially in the twilight or darkness, it can look like a prop from “Mars Attacks.” 

The McCloughan family actually owns 3 pisten bullies.  Dave and Barb Tuttle originally bought this one for Bearskin in 1987:

Bearskin pisten bully at work

And in the early 1990’s, little Quinn McCloughan used his allowance money to buy 2 pisten bullies like this:

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There are times when it would be nice to have all 3 pisten bullies out grooming our trails, but unless you are a plastic Playmobil guy you wouldn’t be too happy skiing in the track left by the ones Quinn bought. 

So recently, after attending a very informative grooming clinic with some of the top names in cross country ski trail grooming, Bob and Quinn made a decision to buy an additional new piece of grooming equipment for Bearskin’s trails  It’s called the Tidd Tech G2 (http://www.tiddtech.com/g2/g2_action.htm) and is pulled behind the heavy duty grooming snowmobile. 

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Maplelag, ABR, Birkie Trail, Afterglow, Sugarbush and Lutsen are some of the Nordic ski centers using this equipment now and their groomers give the G2 excellent reviews.  

It so happened that the company brought the G2 out for us to try on 3 days last week when many hours of rain followed by subzero temperatures made grooming very difficult.  Once our groomers got the hang of using the G2 (after a bit of, ahem, “user error”) they were amazed at how well it renovated the trails, even in very undesireable conditions. They especially appreciate that it’s not as great a time and money commitment to take it out to improve just a section of a trail that is no longer top notch.  They also like the idea that both the Pisten Bully and the G2 can be out on the trails at once, which could speed up the time it takes to groom Bearskin’s section of the system.  Overall, we’ve had very positive feedback about the Bearskin grooming this year but the skiers who have been out on the trails set by the G2 this week especially had rave reviews for the results.

But don’t worry–we certainly won’t be giving up on our beloved Pisten Bully anytime soon.  It’s been out before sunrise many mornings recently, chugging along the trails like some weird unexpected apparition.  It will continue to be our primary grooming equipment.  The G2, though, should give Bearskin additional options for creating great skiing conditions on some of the most beautiful ski trails in the Midwest as well as help keep Bearskin at the forefront of current grooming technology.

If you visit Bearskin, be sure to ask Bob, Quinn or Andy about the new G2.  They love talking about it and as they perfect their grooming skills with this new equipment, they will really appreciate your input and opinions on how well the G2 is working. 

City of Lakes Loppet … or 2 days in a big plastic tent

Monday, February 4th, 2008

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Quinn and I have spent the past 2 days perched on folding chairs in a giant striped vinyl tent near Lake and Hennepin in uptown Minneapolis, talking to hundreds of enthusiastic skiers about Bearskin and the Central Gunflint Ski Trail system.  The event was the City of Lakes Loppet, which Bearskin helps to sponsor.  Members of our family have regularly participated in this event since its inception in 2003, both as racers and as volunteers, but spending a few days behind our sponsor table at the vendor village left us even more impressed with the Loppet, its participants and its many, many dedicated volunteers. 

Unlike many ski races, the City of Lakes Loppet offers something fun for virtually everyone:  Skijoring, where skiers are towed by dogs – in this case, not just the classic pulling dogs, but every imaginable crazy family pooch. Ski races for little kids on Barbie-pink plastic skis. Ski races for middle schoolers with mouths full of braces and cracking voices.  Ski races for the finest elite skiers and ski races for everyone else.  Classic races, sprint races, and freestyle races. And the Luminary Loppet, a night-time ski around Lake of the Isles, all lit up with hundreds of candles encased in ice (which happen to be designed and made by some regular Bearskin guests.) 

For two days thousands of skiers of every age, size, shape, nationality and skill level wandered in and out of the main tent.  It was exciting to see this many people participating in skiing in such an all-encompassing variety of ways. 

Quinn and I had fun talking to so many people about Bearskin.  We’ve been told that various members of the Tuttle family often had booths at shows in the past, but that Bearskin hasn’t done this type of thing in a number of years.  For us, being in this vender village was a simple first experiment—most of the exhibitors at City of Lakes Loppet have very low-key displays because, after all, how extravagant can you get with an exhibit in a semi-heated, 30 degree, dripping vinyl tent set up in a parking lot?   We brought maps, pictures, brochures and a ski trail video made by topnotch filmmakers Quinn, Andy and Kyle (creatively filmed when they weren’t cleaning toilets, taking out garbage and answering phones.) The response was very rewarding for us: “Bearskin—we LOVE that place!” or “Bearskin, ohhhh, we’ve always wanted to go there”  or “Wow, look at all these ski trails—this looks great!”  

Quinn paid close attention to who won elite races (and is highly motivated to train for racing again, if only he didn’t work bazillion hours at Bearskin), and it was obviously a high honor to do well in those races.  But overall the City of Lakes Loppet seems to be more about joyous participation than about who beat whom.  We were really glad that Bearskin could be a part of sponsoring such a well-done event that reaches this many skiers. 

BRRRRRRRRR

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

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It’s been a very busy day at Bearskin Lodge.  The cookie jar has been emptied to nothing but crumbs, we’re down to the bottom of our second big container of free coffee, and the flames from the fire in the big stone fireplace are slowly dwindling to embers.  It was incredibly cold today, with temperatures hovering in double digits below zero all afternoon. I was feeling fairly sorry for people who paid for a lovely cabin or lodge in order to ski over their 3 day vacation, only to end up with bitterly cold weather.

 So the reaction of Bearskin guests and day skiers today has been a big surprise.  They pull open our massive, heavy front door and in walk puffy, nylon or down-encased moving icicles, with their hats pulled down over their eyebrows and their scarves or balaclavas pulled up over their cheeks.  All we see of their faces are little wisps of stray hair, eye slits and rosy red noses.  I expect them to complain about the terrible cold weather and instead what we’re hearing is, “This the best skiing we’ve had in years!” 

 Who would have guessed?  The snow is fabulous; there is no question that this is the best snow that Bearskin has had in a long, long time.   Skiers are staying surprisingly comfortable, especally on the more sheltered trails.  One guest told me she was removing layers of clothing, as she was much too warm … at -15 degrees. 

 This would have been a “stay in the cabin and watch the fire” day for me.  Bearskin guests are certainly a hardy bunch.  Although judging by the number of wine glasses, coffee cups and hot chocolate mugs stacked in the kitchen now as the day wraps up, plenty of cozy fire-watching went on today too. Bearskin skiers don’t mind the cold weather, but they’ve perfected the art of getting toasty warm again too!

High school ski weekend at Bearskin

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Cold but happy!

48 loaves of French bread. 72 pounds of chili. 60 pounds of pasta. 50 Sven & Ole’s pizzas. 20 cases of water. 500 cookies.  High school ski weekend is over.  They came, they skied, they ate (and ate and ate), they raced, they skied some more, and they left, exhausted and happy.

The forecast was for bitter cold and indeed, the temperatures hovered in the minus zone for much of the time.  But the sun was brilliant, the sky was clear and thankfully, the threatened wind chills never really materialized.  

At one point we seriously doubted that we should do this weekend. Tales abound on the North Shore and the Gunflint Trail of the infamous “ski teams that wrecked the resort.”  In fact, we had talked ourselves out of it until Adde, event organizer supreme, came to us with her sheets of notes, measurements and ideas to convince us it was “doable.”

So on Friday dozens of Nordic skiers and their parents streamed off the buses carrying their ski bags, high tech boots, wax kits, and gym bags loaded with lycra — as well as pink pillows, fuzzy blankets, light-up socks, junk food and stuffed armadillos. Within an hour there were colorfully clothed clusters of  teenagers out on the trails everywhere, skiing in little groups through the woods. 

Sven & Ole’s pizzas delivered to the cabins on Friday and a Saturday evening dinner in front of a blazing fire at the awesome Old Northwoods restaurant gave them a reason to come in from the cold; otherwise, most of the skiers were out on the trails for hours.

When the buses pulled away Sunday afternoon, we fearfully assessed the damage.  A cabinet door that pulled away from a hinge. A crack in a window that grew a bit. Yellow snow over the edge of a deck.  (Boys. @@ Need we say more?) Flash frozen spilled red Gatorade outside a door. Truckloads of filled trash bags.  And many sparkling, clean cabins, obviously carefully tidied up and vacuumed.

By Saturday night at Old Northwoods, parents were already asking whether Bearskin would be willing to host this weekend again.  At that time, a low point on the exhaustion curve, we weren’t certain the answer ought to be “yes.”  The kids were obviously having a great ski experience; however, one had to wonder if it was worth all this trouble.

But here’s one occurrence that made me think that perhaps our efforts had value. A tall, articulate young skier came into the lodge late one evening in search of some tea bags. We started to discuss the cold and the clear night and the stars.   “You always hear and read about how great the stars are supposed to be,” he said, “but I’ve never really understood why stars are such a big thing. You look up in the sky at home and they’re nothing much.  Then I got up here and looked up at the sky and the stars are incredible. It was really amazing to see.  Now I get it.” 

Ski weekend was a lot of work for what amounted to a few days of skiing. But maybe skiing was only a small part of what high school ski weekend at Bearskin was really about.

The WHS Skiers Arrived Safely

Friday, December 7th, 2007


12.7.07 4:15 PM Originally uploaded by Day by Day at Beautiful Bearskin Lodge

 The WHS skiers arrived safely, had a chance to ski and are awaiting the arrival of their Sven & Ole’s pizzas.

Don’t worry, parents, if they don’t call or if you can’t reach your kids. Cell phone service on the Gunflint Trail is just a “someday” fantasy. Everyone seems to be having a great time and they are staying safe.

Let’s ski!

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

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Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winter.

The pisten bully has been out grooming since early this morning and everything will soon be skiable. Let the winter fun begin.

Bearskin has a huge group of high school skiers coming next weekend. We have a memorable weekend planned for them — lots of great skiing through the woods, Sven & Ole’s pizza delivered to their cabin doors on Friday, dinner at Old Northwoods on Saturday.

Everything was in place for a wonderful winter weekend except one thing, enough snow. The snow during the last week put us in an awkward spot:  Enough snow to think the event was possible, not enough snow to make the ski weekend a good one.   It was almost better when there was no snow — at least then it was obvious whether they should come up or not.   But Wayzata high school skiers apparently have the snow gods on their side.  As of last night, this place is a skier’s dream.

Now if we could just somehow arrange for a moose to jauntily cruise through Bearskin that weekend, preferably right when all the kids happen to be watching, we would have a perfect weekend planned.  Someone on the trail should start Rent-A-Moose.  We’d be a frequent customer.

Waiting for winter

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

First ski of the season

Now that we’re in the winter Nordic ski resort business, I’m routinely informed by almost everyone that I’m supposed to want lots and lots of snow.   Of all the difficult transitions that have been made over the past few months, this mindset shift may be one of the toughest for me.   

The rest of my family has always been deliriously happy whenever it starts to snow.  For them a massive snowfall meant they could quit skiing endless circles on the man-made snow of the “hamster wheel” at Elm Creek in the Twin Cities and instead, head out to some decent ski trails. Part of the reason I happily gave up everything to move up to the Gunflint Trail was so I didn’t have to listen to my family whine about the bad snow conditions anymore. 

I don’t share their passion for falling snow.  I’ll never be better than a mediocre skier. Unlike my other family members, my nerve endings haven’t all frozen off.  I actually notice that it gets cold out in the snow. Plus, in my many years of daily freeway commutes from the suburbs to the city schools where I taught, a big snowfall always meant only one thing to me—two or more hellish hours stuck in traffic trying to get to or from work.  The only time snow ever truly thrilled me in winter was when there was enough to cancel school. 

But now our winter livelihood is dependent on getting snow, preferably massive quantities of snow — mountains of white flakes, the more the better. Intellectually I accept this.  Emotionally … well, not so much. Every morning when I wake up and it hasn’t snowed 2 feet overnight, I’m secretly a bit relieved.  Then my rational part takes over and I start to worry that it will never, ever snow on the Gunflint again.

Bearskin has been deeply into snow preparations for weeks.  Tracks and implements were put back on the pisten bully, Grandpa A’s wooden signs were nailed up to mark the snowshoe trail, and new ski maps with freshly lettered “You are here” arrows have been placed at critical junctures on each trail.  The plow truck is ready, fireplace wood is stacked neatly outside cabins, and ski supplies have been inventoried and ordered.  We’re ready and waiting for snow. 

And wait we do.  It snows.  It melts. The lake freezes over.  It thaws.  A snowy picture of the Bearskin sign made the front page of Skinnyski.com one day.  By the time the picture was posted, the snow was gone.  Quinn skied a little down a trail during a miniblizzard one afternoon.  By the next morning all traces of snow on the path had melted.  The ice on East Bearskin Lake froze in large grainy patches several times during the past few weeks, only to melt again.  Finally on Friday the lake appeared to be a beautiful solid sheet of ice, with “waves” of snow granules blowing across it in fascinating patterns.  On Monday morning the lake looked liquid again, although rocks thrown into the water hit hidden ice with a solid thump.  Tuesday I noticed the grass outside the back lodge door had turned a bright, fresh green again – welcome to spring. (And after writing this, today that green grass is covered with an inch of newly fallen snow again. We’ll see how long this lasts…) 

Dire prognostications notwithstanding, the snow will come —  and one day soon it won’t melt.  The ice will freeze.  Happy skiers will glide down the groomed trails through the pines.  This is the Gunflint, after all.  We may not have snow yet, but we most certainly will have it. My family will return from skiing coated in icy flakes and exultant over the snow conditions.  I’m looking forward to having snow that will change my mind about snow.  

Waiting for winter photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bearskinlodge

Bad day for birds…and suckers

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Bad morning for birds

It was a bad morning for birds. Found this little guy hanging upside down in a tree near the staff house, his wiry orange feet still clutching the branch, his beak dripping icicles,  his feathers coated with  snow and his eyes frozen in an icy orange stare. 

What an improbable occurrence.  I never would have believed this could happen, but there it was right before my eyes.  No wonder birds should fly south, I thought, as I snapped a quick photo of his frozen, upside-down corpse hanging from the tree.

I told a few people when I came into the lodge about the interesting sight I’d seen. They also had no idea that birds could come to such a disastrous ending on an icy winter’s day.  It wasn’t until I told Andy and Adde about it that doubts started to creep in.  “We don’t have that kind of bird up here,” said Andy.  “Um, I think I know something about that bird,” said Adde. “I hate to tell you this, but…” 

Seems that Daryl, a bit of a prankster, wired that fake bird into the tree long ago. Today’s icicles were a new effect, but I’ve probably passed that pitiful bird in the tree dozens of times.

Bob said, “You believed it was real?”  Yes…nodding sheepishly.  “You didn’t SEE where the bird is wired to the branch?”  Well, I see it all clearly in the photo now, but I was so taken in by the poor bird’s tragic ending that I missed the reality piece.

Add this to new things I’ve learned in my move to the Gunflint Trail:  Birds do not really freeze upside down on branches during icy weather.

It’s been suggested that the frozen fake birdie corpse be used as an ornament when we put up the holiday tree.  I think we will do that.   Maybe if we wire it in there just right, somebody else will get suckered into believing the bird’s heartbreaking story.