Wolverine Village delights
Apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge for the title, but the paraphrase of a line from "Christabel" is not far from the mark.
Gina Interrante knows. As she and her husband, Brian Watzke, sought early season Upper Peninsula skiing last year, Interrante had a winter wish. When they rounded the corner of Sunset Road and Lookout Lane on the way to Ironwood's Wolverine Ski trails, she said to Watzke, "Wouldn't it be great if there were cabins we could stay at here?" And, as if the frost fairy had waved a magic wand, Wolverine Village appeared before their eyes.
"I couldn't believe it," Interrante said. "It was my wish come true."
Before their eyes in a nook in the hill were three beautiful cabins, a lodge and a bath house/wax room. They stopped, got a tour and info, and really excited. When they returned home, the gears started turning.
"We booked the whole place for a weekend two weeks before the Birkie," she said. That was enough space for 50 skiers. Kind of like going to camp with skis. With the appeal of the Snowbelt's white gold, the spaces were soon filled with Madison Nordic Ski Club members, and other skiing and biking friends.
This writer-skier was among them.
Wolverine Village is the brainchild and passion of Bob Alleva, who grew up skiing in the Hurley-Ironwood area on the Wisconsin-Michigan line.
"I've been successful in my business and wanted to do something for the area. Something that would bring people up here and allow them to enjoy the slower tempo of this beautiful part of the world," Alleva said.
Alleva visited us Saturday evening to thank us and give us some background on his creation. Henry Wisnewski, a well-known rep for Atomic Skis, is also a presence at Wolverine Village, and the wax room has a definite Atomic character.
"Henry and I grew up together," Alleva said. "In eighth grade you could knuckle down and make something of yourself. Henry and I went the other way. Poor Sister Celeste, our music teacher, had to be a saint to take us. We were always cutting up. I had a way of surreptitiously whistling between my teeth. One day she caught me at it. 'Well Robert,' she said. 'If you like to whistle come up here and whistle for everybody.' She made me whistle 'Finiculì, Finiculà.'"
Alleva then repeated his performance of the Neapolitan anthem for all of us. Despite this talent, Alleva didn't pursue a career in entertainment. He and Wisnewski would go on to become professional Alpine skiers on the Peugeot Ski Team then switched to cross-country skiing at the elite level in the 1980s. You can find out more about their background and the resort at www.wolverinevillage.com.
The Wolverine Nordic trails and comfy Wolverine Ski Club warming chalet are right across the road from the cabins. The old ski jump on the facing hill, with trees now growing up in the out run, gives a sense of the depth of skiing history in the area.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries ski jumping was the premier form of competition wherever there was snow. The first jump at Wolverine opened in 1937. The famous Norwegian jumper Torger Tokle, the "Babe Ruth of Skiing," triumphed there with a record jump before he lost his life in the army of his adopted land during the liberation of Italy in 1945.
A 5K cross-country ski race trail was laid out in 1976. After the formation of the Wolverine Ski Club in the early '80s, it eventually expanded to the current system of seven trails for classic and skating, totaling 25K and about 12K of actual trail distance. There is also a 3.5K snowshoe trail.
The ski trails were designed with competition in mind. That design works well for the recreational skier, too, as there is hardly a slope you'd have to herringbone. You'd be fooling yourself, though, to think that any area with a ski jump on its hill is flat. If you take the Powderhorn Loop, you actually find yourself skirting the edge of one of the slopes of the downhill area of the same name. A 10K outing could easily involve 800 feet of climbing.
Except for the ski jump and downhill areas, the scenery is almost entirely a mix of deep Northwoods hardwoods and evergreens. A good way to start out is to hop on the 2K Novice Loop then climb out of the ski jump area on the Wolverine Trail.
On the club's website, www.wolverinenordic.com, it is stated, "Lake effect provides us with snow that tends to arrive earlier, pile deeper and last longer than anywhere else in the Midwest." Whether you are from the snow-starved Banana Belt or better endowed places, you're bound to appreciate this bounty of nature. Frequent grooming keeps the trails firm.
There are other winter sports opportunities in the area, too. ABR Nordic Center, with its incredible system of trails, is just a few miles away. Besides neighboring Powderhorn, three other downhill areas - Indianhead, Whitecap and Blackjack - are nearby.
The Hurley-Ironwood area is known for many things. The mining era left a legacy of industrial buildings, imposing architecture and cultural remnants - like pasties, the meat and potato pies favored by Cornish miners, found at bakeries around the towns. Add the heyday of the lumber boom and you had a pretty rough and tumble mix 100 years ago. There were once over 100 bars in Hurley alone. That makes the main drag, Silver Street, look pretty tame today despite the many remaining watering holes. Only the strong survived.
It's a tribute to the spirit of the people who worked the mines that they'd come up from thousands of feet underground to the reality of winter and figure out how to have fun in the snow.
That is the sort of spirit that inspired Alleva to create Wolverine Village and welcome visitors to enjoy the scenery, trails and to smell the crisp, clean air. Interrante's group is heading back there this winter. They are even planning an amateur talent contest to give Alleva's whistling a run for its money.
Phil Van Valkenberg lives in Golden Lake, Wisconsin. As an old Norwegian-born neighbor once told him, "You don’t need to drive somewhere to go skiing. Just put on some wax and go cross country." And for the past 50 years, Phil has been sliding on old wood skis into what is now CamRock Park in his hometown of Cambridge.
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