Cross-country skiing: A family tradition

ESCANABA – The twin silver tracks cut tiny train like rails into the glistening snow.

They flow through the hardwoods by the old sugar-shack, by the firewood piles and around some ancient, old stumps.

The twin tracks interweave with those of grey squirrels, deer, mice and an occasional coyote. Holes poked by poles accompany the twin tracks. Holes burrowed in the snow by ermines, shrews and grouse dot the woodland trail too.

Then down into the swamp the tracks go. The skier must have had to duck his head as a cover of snow encrusted cedars and balsams make a muffled canopy over the path.

Sometime later, our cross-country skier emerges from the lowlands and continues across the wind-swept ice along the shore. Even though the temperature was in the single digits, a red, hot sunset leads the skier home to his cozy cabin in the woods.

Upper Michigan is an awesome place to cross-country ski. Skiing of any kind has a long history in the U.P. Ishpeming is the home of the national Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame. Our Delta County Historical Museum displays the skis of ski jumping champion John Grodesky.

My Dad was a fine skier in his day. I don’t know if this is because he loved the feel of the cold powder beneath his feet or because it was a good means of getting around. Whether he was out on the snowy head of the Bay or battling big snow drifts going into camp and the Cornell woods, Dad’s big wide wooden skis were a great help.

Even while he was in the Army, in 1947, Dad managed to find time for a little RR. While stationed in California, Dad (a self-taught Yooper skier) and some army buddies took on the slopes at Beacon Hill.

In my “growing up” years, cross-country ski jaunts were a common winter time outing. Going into camp in the winter meant and half a mile trek off of the nearest plowed road. We often took a day on the weekend to ski or snowshoe into camp. Dad broke trail with six or more kids cousins or friends following behind. When the snow was new and deep, we all took turns breaking trail.

My brother Mike had a pair of skis, which I tried several times, until I eventually became a died-in-the-wool snowshoer. The skis were fun for the trail but the big shoes gave me the freedom to go anywhere. There is a place of rolling hills past the creek at camp that to this very day bears the name “Mikey fall down place”, because of a few spills he took there.

From the waxed wide wooden (often homemade) skis of yesterday to the flexible fiberglass cross-country skis of today, skiing has changed a lot over the years.

In my Dad’s heyday, no one heard of a machined groomed cross-country ski trail. Any snowy forest or field would do. Boots and bindings have become safer and more designed for speed, not warmth. Everything from ski poles to ski clothing has a bright fun new look to it.

Watch for twin silver slices in the snow in your neck of the woods. If you don’t see any, get outside and make some of your own. When the snow-scape sparkles like diamonds, enjoy some of the rich recreation heritage of the U.P.

Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong resident of north Escanaba. Her folksy columns are published weekly in Lifestyles.