"What exactly do you do up there in the middle of winter anyway?"
I perused the query posed by my Southern-born companion with some hesitation, feeling a bit defensive of my home-turf, yearning for its familiarity and comfort, yet not wanting to seem ungrateful for the Southern hospitality I had been so graciously awarded over the last few weeks.
We had just returned from a backpacking trip on one of the barrier islands off the coast of Georgia where mud, intense heat and an infinite number of biting gnats, ticks and mosquitoes, along with hair-leveling humidity had driven me to the edge of insanity. As I slumped like a slug onto the ferry that would return us to the mainland and reconsidered the question It wasn't Calgon that took me away, so to speak, but the crisp, clear recollections of a Northern Michigan winter sparkling in the morning sun. Each breath frosty white. Fleecy pillows of snow pushing pine boughs low to the frozen ground. Tracks telling stories along the trail and the soft shushhh...shushhh...shushhh of skis gliding over fresh powder.
What do we do? Why, we surround ourselves with creature comforts, of course! Things like icepicks, 4-wheel drive vehicles, good snow tires, felt-lined boots, a sturdy thermos of hot chocolate, an extensive fleece wardrobe and, of course, a good pair of cross country skis! Nothing beats the winter blahs like cross country skiing. Not only is it affordable (downright free if you don't mind breaking your own trail), but it's one of the best cardiovascular workouts around--something the whole family can enjoy together. There's no better way to enjoy the solitude and beauty of Michigan winters without burning fossil fuels, inhaling exhaust fumes or standing in line for tow-ropes or theater tickets.
Whether you ski out your back door or carry a copy of Mike Terrell's guide to Northern Michigan's Best Cross Country Ski Trails in your glovebox, you don't want to miss the 26K of upgraded, groomed trails at Sugar Loaf Mountain Resort in Cedar, Michigan. One of the many prime cross country skiing spots in Northern Michigan, Sugar Loaf is located just 22 mi. northeast of Traverse City off County Road 651. In addition to their downhill slopes, the resort hosts novice, intermediate and expert cross country trails that wind their way around the mountain. The trails pass through a variety of habitats including open meadows, orchards and hardwood forests. John Capper designed the trail system in the mid-80's, taking full advantage of breathtaking views of Lake Michigan, the Manitou Islands, Lime Lake and Little Traverse Lake.
Information boards in Sugar Loaf's rental shop and at the Ski School desk provide daily updates on trail conditions as well as suggested tours and group activities. Fuzz Foster, Sugarloaf's XC ski director, confidently pegs the course as "one of the best cross country skiing trail systems around". Foster also hosts evening sing-alongs around the bonfire, making an extra effort to warm skiers hearts as well as fingers and toes.
So, if you're like my Southern friend, wondering what on earth there is to do up here in Michigan's winter woods, jump into a pair of XC ski boots, snap on a pair of skis and hit the woods. You can ski at your leisure in beautiful surroundings, deepen your appreciation of the winter woods and never have to worry about crowds, critters or conversation. Just you and the shushhh...shushhh...shushhh....of your skis.