The backcountry style of cross-country skiing in southeastern Michigan is taking shape and building steam. We are a unique bunch of skiers, most are mountain bikers looking to keep their fitness during winter, and others who just love the woods and the non-stop flow that this type of trail provides. Others still are expert skiers searching for the best skiing around the area, or possibly the best party. Whatever the case, the B-Rec Back 2 Back provided all that and more Sunday March 1st.
Twenty-four skiers and one fat biker, Matt, owner/builder of Rad Bicycles (http://Radbikeco.com of Pinckney Michigan), showed up to perfect temperatures, and precisely dusted, not groomed, trail. The trails skied are the hiking trails, Penosha and Kachin, nearing a distance of six miles and a challenging 500 feet elevation gain per lap. These trails are exactly that, non-stop flowing trials - up, down, around and within the public forest of Brighton Rec. It's a wonder the trails are not jam-packed with skiers, given how much fun they are. The majority of the trail is intermediate with the exception of three exciting descents that can easily be walked, side stepped, or traversed around.
Our first lap consisted of a social lap; a no drop, no macho-ism ski; merely for fun, enjoyment and to give everybody a previewing of the course for what's to follow. We would ski a mile of trail, stop, socialize in the woods and wait for the rest of the crew, then roll out again. We taught back country trail techniques used to ski this type of trail: the double pole is the least used technique; rather we opt for the stride, the double kick, (otherwise known as the Poto shuffle), and the scamper technique used to climb steep gullied climbs where the Herringbone proves less efficient. Skiers gazed at the beauty of the trail, views of glacial terrain in every direction. Countless times skiers voiced their opinion of its beauty, and also the fact that they had thought they were in good shape from skiing groomed trail but that this trail was an eye-opener. Clearly, the back country scene can increase fitness.
We concluded our social lap in about an hour and a half, with several light crashes and all smiles. Back to the parking lot we went to refuel and get ready for the race aspect of the event. Some, though, opted to switch to a fatbike or explore a different ski trail. It's all good!
There were several fast skiers in attendance, and ski choice began to be the talk of the lot. Sean Newmister, who placed 2nd overall (classic technique) in the 2014 Vasa 50k; Jeff Potter, who has won five Potto Raid's; John Rutherford (Rad), who has been crowned the uphill downhill champ twice at the Porcupine mountains as well as a winner of the Potto Raid; Stan Dinkel who placed 3rd in last year's B2B and 2nd in this year's Potto Raid, among others. Sean and Jeff opted to ski race skis: maybe the first time race skis have been used in a backcountry event! Rad was on flat black vintage Epoke waxable sport skis that were flying on the descents. Stan opted for his kick-zone razor-blade-refreshed no-waxers due to the fact he left his new race skis at home, a decision he will reconsider in years to follow.
The race lap started out extremely fast with Jeff, Sean, and Rad separating from the pack. Stan was desperately trying to keep pace along with others behind him. Stan was able to hold ground and pass Rad at the peak of our first steep climb. It was fun to see Jeff showcase the scamper technique on the climb with Sean directly on his tail doing the more commonly used herringbone.
Another pass was made on the long climb of Tehan Rd, which is most often done running while holding skis in hand: Jeff had some mechanical issues re-clicking in his binding and Sean zipped past. Next came Stan who was able to capitalize into 2nd just as Jeff got clipped in. A brief word of props was given from Jeff to "go get 'im" and Stan set his sights on Sean. However the nowaxers were just not fast enough on the descents and flat portions of trail and soon Sean was all alone in front. At that moment Jeff came flying by and the speed of the race skis was clearly visible: he was in sixth gear and glided out of sight.
At this point, Stan skied the rest of the trail alone, pushing the pace to stay in front of Rad and make the podium; it was a painful yet pleasurable ski.
Jeff was able to catch the speedy and fit Sean, however he kept crashing and Sean would cruise away until caught again. Sean showed impressive skill on his race skis. It was apparent he has spent time on these skis. As far as I know Sean never went to the ground. The two battled it out for the remaining several miles and came back to the lot together in a lightning fast time of thirty eight minutes; surpassing last year's icy-fast record by two minutes. Stan came in shortly after at about forty minutes, with Rad about two minutes following that. Rad was pleased with a "no dab" result since he not only didn't crash, but opted to ski up the shoulder of the dirt road rather than run and also where everyone else dismounted he opted to ski down a tricky section that T-ed into an icy driveway. The big surprise was husky young newcomer Will, finishing in fourth position maybe three minutes behind Rad, using bamboo poles and wearing a t-shirt. Word has it, it was only his second week on skis; kind of scary.
All skiers eventually found their way to the lot, and all of them showing nothing but big smiles with their achievements. Skiing the trail twice is a big achievement. Had we added a third lap it would have equaled the distance of the Potto, with slightly less climbing.
The party ensued with a parking lot bonfire, food to share, and Brewery Becker sponsored beer thanks to a beer drop off from a friend and local hiker. The sun shined bright for all skiers and the true social aspect went into high gear. And the three fat bikes on the scene were tested out time and again.
The newcomers were astonished at the trail, maybe due to the fact of the realization of what can actually be skied on cross country skis. I love all forms of skiing and have probably amassed twenty-five days skiing the wonderful groomed trails the neighboring Huron Meadows has to offer. In fact I hold another event there; Fire'n'Ice, which had forty people skiing there, many of them extremely new to skiing. However, ungroomed backcountry skiing is hitting its stride and I'm inviting you to join. Open the doors to all forms of skiing and re-energize your passion for glide. I can assure, you won't be disappointed, nor even miss the double pole.
Event Coordinator: *Fire'n'Ice ... *Brighton Rec Back 2 Back