Each year when I return home to visit my family in Michigan I manage to get in some skiing, despite distractions like drinking with old friends, eating my mom’s food, and the chance surgical procedure.  At Christmas Michigan usually struggles to keep snow on the ground for more then 5 consecutive days, but this year they have had snow on the ground here since early November, with three to four foot snow banks now lining each street.  I am also in possession of my usual ski gear (I normally have to scavenge some boots and skis out of my parents garage) because I plan on driving and skiing my way back to Alaska,  so I had high hopes for some entertaining if not quality skiing, with the ability to travel with skins a rare possibility.

Cannonsburg and the moat

Cannonsburg and the moat

Thursday, celebrating my first day of vacation, I drove to Cannonsburg with my cousin Brian to meet my cousin Jim and revisit a childhood ski scene for the first time in 5 years.  Growing up I used to spend 6 days a week lapping the 135 foot vertical foot ex-sand pit, and for as long as I can remember Cannonsburg’s perpetual state of disrepair has been a constant joke, so it was reassuring to see that very little had been fixed or changed during my long absence.  The collapsed T-bar that laid for years on the skiers right of the double had been removed, the quad chairs were evenly spaced (some even padded), and one of the rope tows had been removed, but the weird smell, the dysfunctional snow guns, ratty buildings, meth addict lift operators, and shady rental equipment all still remain.

michigan skiers often forget to get off the lift

michigan skiers often strugle to get off the lift

Growing up I was always constrained by having a season pass, as the threat of having it taken away by an angry ski patroller kept our antics in check.  This time however I had a lift ticket which I really didn’t mind having taken away, so Jim, Brian and I started in with little fear on all the stuff that used to get us in trouble.  We poached the Plunge (which was closed), skied the steep bank between the Face and the Double, and jumped over the rope tows.  I even attempted to jump and grab one of the moving double chairs without a rebuke.

the Plunge, Cannonsburgs premier run

the Plunge, Cannonsburg's premier run

We were having a great time, but things slowly wound down so I decided to complete a life long goal and gap the creek that sits between the lodge at the lifts and functions as the area’s moat.  Big Mike, who has been the area bouncer / ticket checker for as long as I  can remember by patrolling the bridge, checking tickets, and providing access to Cannonsburg’s lifts, was working on the bridge, so we had to keep things mellow to  avoid getting noticed or shut down, so we didn’t so much build a jump as pile up a couple ice chunks left over from the snow guns.  The whole game of building jumps and skiing like an idiot while trying to avoid harassment brought back fond memories of my youth.  I tucked from the Face and flailed my way across, landing happy to have something new to add to an endless list of stupid stuff accomplished at “C-burg.”  Before we could go for a second round of jumping the creek, ski patrol bashed the jump with a snowmobile, which didn’t stop Jim from trying, but with the jump now just a large chunk of ice, he lost a ski on take off and landed across the creek sideways on his recently separated shoulder.  Content with a good days work we headed home.

The next morning I woke up on Frick’s ex-girlfriends floor, lost my hat, and wandered outside to find 18 inches had fallen, and spent the rest of the day diving around watching cars stuck in the snow with Frick.  That night, hoping to take advantage of the rare Michigan powder, I drove with Hunter up to Chris Idema’s grandparents house in Cedar, where we met both Chris and Al Green, with the idea of skiing the no longer operating Sugarloaf Ski Area.

Hunter and some Michigan powder

Hunter and some Michigan powder

The next morning we were up early, with vodka clear skis, Lake Michigan glowing candy blue, and views of North Manitou. We drove 5 minutes in ski boots and skinned up the resort (600 vertical feet) in a few minutes.  All the lift shacks and lodges remain but were boarded up in their original location, and most of the chairs were strung on the lifts.  The snow was deep and extremely light, although in places you could sense the wind crust underneath, a reminder that the area’s incredible view’s come at a price of serious gusts.  We took our first run down Awful Awful (the one time “steepest run in Michigan“), took a run off the side, and then returned for our third run, again down Awful Awful.

We returned to the house for lunch, before we set off towards Glen Arbor hoping to complete our Leelenau Peninsula trip with a little ski tour around Sleeping Bear Dunes, where we found a sign (thanks NPS) warning us of avalanche danger.  We had been enjoying a rare day of skinning around without beacons, shovels or probes, and decided the danger could be managed and set off in spite of the sign.  We toured around, finding firm windblown snow, pockets of light powder, areas of blown sand, and a few mini cornices.  There were even steep rollovers on top of the miniature slopes that I could definitely imagine avalanching.  I got three steep short runs in before leaving when Al found a deer skeleton on our ski back to the parking lot.  A rare day of Michigan powder skiing under our belts we returned to Grand Rapids content.

Sleeping Bear Powder

my Sleeping Bear powder turns

I’m still in Grand Rapids, and it hasn’t quit snowing.  There are only a few times I’ve ever seen the town with this much snow, so I’m hoping to get out and ski a few more times before heading back to Alaska.  Maybe we’ll get in a day skiing Mt Garfield, and I’m pretty positive there will be some more skiing (and cannon shooting) done when I’m up at Sawkaw for my brother’s film festival.  Until then I don’t know what I’ll have to talk about, back here it’s mostly been detailed beer discussions and strange nerdy conversations amongst my friends discussing the variations in NPR programing in our corners of the country.  At least I’ve got stories of Hilltop being overrun with coyotes from back home to confuse people with. Until next time you can enjoy some lake Michigan sand dune scenery.

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan and North Manitou Island