Lapham Peak still in good hands
Snow making continues after Ed Muzik leaves for his dream job
This winter Lapham Peak lost perhaps its most valuable asset: Ed Muzik. Ed has moved on to colder and snowier pastures, assuming the position of Park Manager of Big Bay State Park, which is on Madeline Island, the largest of Lake Superior's 22 Apostle Islands.
So we'll start with a little about Ed himself and then we'll look at his legacy and the future of Lapham Peak snow making. First off, Ed is a very soft spoken guy who would literally never talk about himself. So, while I've gotten to know Ed very well over the past half dozen years or so, it came as a complete surprise to read about one of his past accomplishments in The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
It was there I found out that, in 1993, Ed (and Doug Hissom) had set the record for crossing Lake Michigan in a canoe. They crossed the lake in 24 hours, only doing it for fun and the challenge, not really trying to set any record. So with his love of for the big water, it's obvious that Ed, his canoe and Madeline Island will be a perfect fit.
But while Ed may be heading for his dream job, he will be sorely missed in southeast Wisconsin. While many others have helped make all-winter skiing on man-made snow a reality at Lapham, it was Ed who had to implement the project. And at times the job looked mind-bogglingly impossible and would have discouraged a lesser person. But Ed's mantra, "Inch by inch, anything's a cinch," reduced the immense project to manageable daily goals.
Of all the things Ed did, the following best illustrates how much far above and beyond the call of duty he went.
The first winter on man-made snow looked, to the average skier, like a huge success. But it came at a significant cost in man hours. During those days, Ed spent many a night sleeping in the pump house, waking every 10 minutes or so to move the snow guns and/or reconnect them because there was no network of electrical outlets, no underground piping and no pond from which to draw water.
So Ed, along with other employees and volunteers, filled the gap. That not only meant staying up all night to make snow (you need the cold night temperatures for the guns to work) but also moving the huge whales of snow produced. And this was complicated despite constant breakdowns of second-hand snow-moving equipment.
As of this year, the pond, electrical outlets and underground piping to the entire 1K-plus loop are operational. In fact, Lapham now had five working snow guns and 1,200 feet of new underground piping. So getting up at regular intervals throughout the night to move the snow guns is a thing of the past. However, some night-time duty is still required.
Before moving on to the present state of snow making and future goals, I'd like to mention another of Ed's big contributions to skiing in southeast Wisconsin: the trail report page found on the Friends of Lapham Peak website, laphampeakfriends.org.
Ed approached me with the idea and my first reaction was, "Why?" After all, Skinnyski.com already was posting grooming reports for much of the Midwest, including Lapham. But I also saw it as a lot of work for me, because developing an interactive site would require me to learn two new computer languages. At the time, the blogging options for commercial web pages just didn't do the job.
But Ed was persistent and made a convincing argument for the development of our own trail report website. He wanted a web page that would post "real time" grooming reports, as the Skinnyski.com site often lagged by eight or more hours. Secondly, he felt strongly that skier input should also be immediate. That way, skiers could get the latest news from a trail and not just when it was last groomed.
Surprisingly, he wanted all the public trails in southeast Wisconsin to be included so skiers could find the best skiing in the area, not just at Lapham. If we did that I told Ed to expect both negative and positive reports. He said he was fine with that. That alone gives insight into Ed's character.
I will say that in the four seasons that the trail page has been operational, there has been only one report criticized groomers. And only one report required me to edit out inappropriate language. All in all, the trail report page has been a big success. If nothing else, I've relied heavily on it the past four season to find the best snow on which to ski.
So we'll miss Ed, but judging from this past winter, Lapham Peak has been left in good hands. First of all, Paul Sandgren remains forest superintendent for the Southern Kettles, which includes Lapham Peak. Even since he moved up in position from overseeing Lapham to overall superintendent, Paul has been sited manning a Lapham groomer himself, including one New Year's Day morning. And as Brett Juhanen eased into the position of Lapham property manager, Paul spent more time at Lapham to make sure the transition went smoothly.
Quite frankly, Ed left behind a very competent and professional staff to aid Brett. Both Jay Abts and Brian Fitzpatrick had nearly 20 years experience at Lapham as rangers. And super-volunteer Sean Becker was contributed part time.
(For a thorough overview of snow making at Lapham, see Sean's video on the Lapham friends' website and YouTube.)
If I started naming all the volunteers who have made snow making at Lapham Peak possible, from fundraisers to trail caretakers, the list would be as long as this column.
Besides being a project reliant on volunteers, Lapham snow making is entirely funded through donations. So far more than $227,300 has been raised but more is needed to expand the man-made loop. The next stages include heading south off the man-made loop and up Two-Tier Hill.
When this is completed, the man-made loop will become a legitimate ski trail with something for everyone. The loop will be long enough not to get boring, have enough climbing for the most avid Birkie trainees, feature an exciting and fast downhill while bypassing the bigger hills.
Ironically, since snow making at Lapham started, southeast Wisconsin has been blessed with sufficient snow cover for much of the winter. But snow making has saved parts of the season every year since it began. For example, from December 28 to January 16, which encompassed three weekends, the man-made Lapham loop was the only game in town for snow. The parking lot was jammed from dawn until dusk each weekend.
And it was not just Birkie skiers there churning out laps. Often half the skiers were tourers enjoying the striding tracks. And during the week, casual skiers far outnumbered racers when I was there.
Because of the wide trail, striders and skaters can exist in perfect harmony. I've never seen one conflict at Lapham or at any of the other wider trails that have both a skating lane and a set track. This is a far cry from the early days of skating in the mid 1980s.
Fortunately, Lapham Peak has generated more income than expenses. In 2010, Lapham took in $350,000 and paid out $220,000. So Lapham not only is beneficial to local skiers (as well as hikers, bikers and bird watchers), it also is an excellent state investment, and actually helping to fund other operations around the state that are not as profitable.
So what are the future plans? As of this now, nothing has been formalized but the options are simple: Either upgrade the existing grooming equipment or extend the network of snow-making machines and their needed infrastructure. In both cases, the length of the man-made snow loop would be extended.
With a new Snow Cat, the whales of snow now can be pushed to extend the man-made trail. Obviously, placing snow-making machines further along the trail would achieve the same purpose.
Finally, while Ed has left for more rugged and isolated pastures, Lapham snow making has been left in good hands, so skiers of southeast Wisconsin can relax. If the temperature drops low enough at night for the guns to work, we can count on good skiing there.
Lee Borowski is a past USSA Nordic Coach of the Year, Badger State Winter Games Athlete of the Year and the coach for several junior, senior and collegiate skiers of the year. He has also coached many master skiers who have won both national and world championships. Borowski is the author of several books and articles, and producer of four videos on cross-country skiing technique. He runs the website thesimplesecrets.com.
To order Borowski's "NEW Simple Secrets of Skating" or "The Simple Secrets of Striding," demonstrated through footage of Olympic and world champions, and available on VHS and DVD, send $25 plus $1.75 shipping to Lee Borowski, 4500 Cherokee Drive, Brookfield, WI 53045. Wisconsin residents add $1.27 tax.
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