The Outfitter Loppet is groomed as it?s skied
Some winters, they had to shovel snow onto bare spots on the trail. Not last year. With snowfall approaching 130 inches, the winter of 2013-2014 was a doozy.
On the Friday before Super Bowl Sunday, the snowmobile-riding groomers of the Loppet Trail in northern lower Michigan bogged down in the thigh-deep powder. With 120 skiers expected Sunday for the 31st annual Outfitter Loppet, race director Josh Baker had 25K of powdery snow trail that needed packing.
Quick assistance came from Josh’s dad, John Baker, and his ski buddies. That afternoon, a dozen of them, wearing wide backcountry skis, spread out on the trail. By the time the first tourers started skiing Sunday morning, every section had been tracked at least three times.
Our group from Cadillac, Michigan, received an email alerting us that skiers, rather than snowmobiles, were preparing the trail and suggesting we, too, bring wide skis and poles with larger baskets. So out came the touring boards and a set of bamboo ski poles I hadn’t used since the 1980s. The retro gear was appropriate as this event seemed to be from another time.
A storybook winter day
After breakfast we drove north of Harbor Springs then down a side road to Vern and Laura Kor’s barn, where the Loppet begins. No check-in, no ski bibs, no official start. You just go when you’re ready. We skied through an open farm gate, across a pasture and into a hardwood forest following a surprisingly firm track. The pace was easy. No one was snapping off rapid fire kick-and-glides today. And no one was skate skiing. Even when the trail is machine tracked, it’s for classic skiing only.
A light snow began to fall, making it a storybook winter day. We weren’t moving fast so there was time to take it all in: the giant puffs of snow sitting on fallen trees, branches bent low by their white burdens, and from one ridge a view of Lake Michigan. Sometimes we overtook a group of skiers and shared a greeting as we passed. It was Super Bowl Sunday, but I didn’t hear a word about football.
We stopped briefly at an aid station to grab a cup of water, a Fig Newton and an orange slice and then continue on the narrow trail which snakes its way through the backcountry on a route that crosses 16 sections of private land. While we skied on a few roads and followed some narrow pathways, at other times the trail meandered as if searching for open lanes among the trees. There I was, enjoying having the forest pressing close – trees and bushes so near we could almost touch them. It was a pleasant change from our usual tours down wide groomed corridors.
The terrain rolled and we herringboned up inclines, our ski tips flinging loose snow into the air. We dropped down descents too narrow to snowplow. Misjudge a downhill and you’d tumble into the powder and need a helping hand to get out of the seemingly bottomless snowdrifts.
As our tour approached four hours and the GPS watch said we’d covered 23K, we reached our destination, The Crow’s Nest. This popular eating spot, located just a few miles south of Cross Village, belonged to the loppeters that day. We changed clothes and joined the others in the restaurant. Our entry fee included homemade pizza, hot dishes, salads, desserts and drinks. After a morning of calorie burning, we are ready to replenish our energy stocks. And did I mention the door prizes? A table full of great clothing and gear disappeared quickly as Josh Baker called off names.
The Outfitter Loppet has been quietly going on for more than three decades. It’s so popular with the locals that the 120-entry limit fills quickly. But the word is getting out. This is one experience every cross-country skier ought to have.
Go to outfitterharborsprings.com for more information about the 32nd annual Outfitter Loppet As of oress time, the exact February date of the event had yet to be announced.
Dave Foley, who used to think “loppet” had something to do with rabbits, is now a fan of this style of ski event.