Lake Effect Snow

Come on, Lake Superior, do your stuff! Tonight I head out for my 21st annual cross-country ski trip with my friend Susan. And we’re counting on lake effect snow to resurrect the ski trails after the abysmal winter conditions of late.

Over the years, we have covered all the trails on the North Shore, taking pride in checking them off and highlighting our maps to see our progress. We have made repeat trips up the Gunflint Trail, enjoying the large trail systems there that usually have good snow coverage. We’ve skied the Birkie trails near Hayward, and ventured East, to try Maplelag and its many kilometers of skiing right outside the door.

Map of US lake effect areas around the Great Lakes – from Wikipedia

This year we chose a different destination, thinking that we had a sure bet for snow by going to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After all, for the last 30 years Ironwood has had an average of 188″ of snow a year, with snowfall on 79 days of the winter.  And most of that is lake effect snow. The westerly winds blowing cold air over Lake Superior gather and retain moisture over the relative warmth of the lake. But once the saturated clouds hit land, they dump that moisture and voila – snow! Lots of it. Hence the area’s reputation as a snow-belt. When Minnesota and the North Shore are short on snow, the UP normally delivers.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been snow challenged on our trip. A few years back we brought along our hiking boots, and used them more than our skis. Another year, the temperatures rose so high on our first day skiing that the trails turned to sheer ice for the remainder of the weekend.  We switched to snowshoeing in the woods.  Once we encountered yellow, slushy ice crossing while crossing a lake, even in mid-winter – we were glad to reach the other shore safely. And everyone remembers last year, the winter that wasn’t.

No matter what the snow conditions, the temperatures or the accommodations, we always manage to have a good time. I’m sure this year will be no exception. But having ample snow and well groomed trails sure goes a long way toward that end. No pressure, Lake Superior.  We have faith in you.

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