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Groomers work through blizzards conditions to shape trails

Katie Thoresen

The Iron Belt along the Wisconsin/U.P. border just experienced four days of snow, howling wind, and subzero temperatures.

Through it all, trail groomers were working hard to keep the trails in shape.

Mike Shouldice spent part of his Christmas Day breaking trail on the Mercer Springs snowshoe trail.

“The snowshoe trails are magical right now,” he said.

That could be said of all the woods through the MECCA Trails System right now.

A layer of fluffy snow covers the forest floor and heavy snow still clings to the pine branches.

“The trees are just laden with white. It’s like walking through a scene in Dr. Zhivago,” said Shouldice.

While he was walking the snowshoe trails, two of MECCA’s most experienced groomers spent the weekend rolling track for skate and classic cross-country ski trails.

Shouldice is the Winterfest Co-race Director and one of six volunteer groomers that will work the MECCA Trail system.

He says grooming in the blizzard conditions Mercer experienced at the end of last week is no easy feat.

Katie Thoresen

Shouldice estimates they got about 20 inches of fresh snow.

The groomer will go through first and pack down the snow as much as possible before going back through to set the tracks.

Shouldice says it typically takes about 5 to 6 hours to groom all 21 kilometers of ski trail, but after this storm, it’s taken closer to 10.

“This last snowstorm was dry powder and blowing winds. The blowing winds caused trees to come down across the trails. The grooming team would be around the corner and there’s another tree across the trail. They’d stop grooming and have to move the tree off the trail and resume grooming. But it was fluffy dry, what I’ll call champagne powder with this last storm.”

The good news is that between this snow and the heavier snowfall a couple of weeks ago, the trails have such a solid base that Shouldice isn’t worried about the slight warm-up forecasted for the end of this week.

It’s good timing for the fresh snow as well as since MECCA is in the middle of its Winterfest.

People can participate virtually now by timing themselves on the trails and recording it online.

There will also be in-person races on January 28th, including the new 30-kilometer race.

“The Berkie’s a 50k race. The SISU Ski Fest in Ironwood in two weeks offers a 30k option. We wanted to show serious skiers that MECCA has some really serious terrain that they could come out for,” said Shouldice.

MECCA Trails will also be holding its annual candlelight ski-shoe-hike on the 28th.

You can learn more about the event, races, and registration on the MECCA Trails website.

Winterfest is MECCA Trails’ biggest fundraiser. It has allowed them to expand and grow over the years.

“Our traffic at the MECCA Trails has been up over the last five years, dramatically,” said Shouldice. “It’s great to pull into the parking lot and see half a dozen or a couple dozen cars. We’ve got hundreds of acres. You can be out on the trail with 25 other people but feel like you have the trails to yourself.”

Shouldice is once again looking forward to seeing all the skiers and snowshoers come out and experience the fresh snow.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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