The day started out cold and a skim of new sharp snow on the trail. From all forecasts it also started out as what would be my final day on skis. Not that it was a traumatic thing, for I’d only skied five or six times this “winter.” Yes, if I’d made the effort to drive north, I could have found better snow and spent many more hours on skis than on a fat bike. But this is my home trail, then one I usually spend equal hours grooming as skiing, but not this year. We really only had a week of halfway decent snow, before giving way to warm temps and dryness which prevented any semblance of a ski season.
So today was the day for the Snow Flea ski-usually taking place later in March, but temps turning to the fifties this week will end any striding or skating on real snow. The snow Fleas emerge from the buried oak leaf litter below the snow on days pushing into the 30’s and they blanketed the surface of the trail- a sure sign that the end is near. Normally I’d be on super fast corn snow now with no worry of wax to provide glide. Not today, that cold morning and a continued light snow, made for no glide conditions, despite a comfortable 30 degrees. It was a day when even on the down hills, the trail seemed to grab at the bottoms of my skis and force me to break into a skate way before I should…I should be just gliding along instead. It was decided early on that the ski pace would not be hurried then, that I had no agenda on this day, it was just to ski.
It was work to get from one trail to the next, even at this slow pace and effort and I thought about calling it a day and heading back early. I decided to keep going, to make the circuit around Levis Mound on snow I’d groomed the previous day, to take advantage of my work. The high sun on this day had already burned thru some spots, and more hikers than skiers had pounded the base. Didn’t matter, I could pick my way through, dodge a rock or fallen branch here and there and continue. I took breaks frequently. Stopped, took in the smell of the spring forest and tried to spot any movement-deer, wolf, fisher, but nothing was out and about. The woods were so quiet.
On the final stretch, I paused again to look up at the towering frosted sides of Levis Mound. On the east side, the sun had yet to claw it’s way into the snow cover and it still had that mid winter look. I’d wished I’d seen that more this year. Only skiers really understand the anticipation of ski season, of waiting months for that first round of softly falling flakes, of the first grooming and first glide down the fresh corduroy. For me, this winter never went far beyond that anticipation. At that moment, the lonesome whistle of the train headed from Black River to Merrillan echoed miles away and for whatever reason struck me as the signal that for this year, my time on skis, on this trail, were over. The Snow Fleas, the unseen animals, would have the trail to themselves again.