Let the ski season begin!

Cabin 2, after the snow

 Wow, it’s November 26th and it is already real winter on the Gunflint Trail.  When the Twin Cities was hit with 12 inches of snow earlier in the month, Bearskin received only about 5 inches.  It gave us a wintery appearance, and was enough to give us a start on preparing ski trails, but it wasn’t enough snow to get excited about.  A few inches of additional snow fell sporadically after that, just enough to require repetitive shoveling.

Dad and daughter ski lessons.

 And then our Wednesday/Thursday snow came and suddenly it was truly winter.  We’re grooming ski trails, plowing roads, shoveling steps, sanding hills, and snow-blowing pathways — so totally different from the spring, summer, and fall routines at Bearskin.  We are very busy for Thanksgiving weekend this year, but most of our guests booked a Thanksgiving cabin without any intention to ski. The new snow gave several families an opportunity to try skiing for the first time.

Bearskin had snow last winter when many resorts along the North Shore did not.  We’re lucky that way; we seem to be in a snow belt.  But this early start to the ski season is exceptionally promising.   We’re offering an early season December special between December 1 – 17: three nights for the price of two, an especially good buy because most of those dates are still on Value Season pricing.  Come up and make the most of our early winter skiing.

Pisten Bully, out on the Lit Loop for the first time this season.

Could winter really be over? Nah…. Time to start guessing the “ice out” date!

The Bearskin bear, overlooking the snow stick–and no snow!

Winter disappeared on the Gunflint Trail rather suddenly.  We didn’t expect that.

The last two winters went on far too long, with snowfalls in April, May, and even early June.  The ice barely went out in time for the fishing opener.  This extended winter made it very difficult to deal with the seasonal transition at Bearskin.  We can’t put in docks when there is ice on the lakes or take off storm windows when a cabin is surrounded by two feet of snow. We assumed it would be more of the same this year.

So now suddenly the snow is gone.  It happened quickly, during a time when skiing is normally fabulous.  Guests handled the peculiar change well.  Midwesterners are so thrilled by the first budding days of spring that it offsets the disappointment of saying goodbye to winter activities.  The combination of frozen ground and no snow makes hiking on the ski trails this March exceptionally nice — there’s been much less of the “caked mud on shoes” experience that often defines spring.

We aren’t so naive as to think that we won’t get hit hard with snow again in April.  Check out the pictures from April 2009 and April 2008.  The Gunflint Trail has a history of April snowstorms.  But this has been a pleasant reprieve, even if it doesn’t last.

We’re all wondering how the warmer temps will affect the ice.  Ice fishermen reported very unusual March ice conditions when they drilled holes in some nearby lakes — in places, they said,  the ice looks “rotten” or “like a snow cone.” A car went through the ice near shore last week on a Gunflint Trail lake north of us.  Yesterday East Bearskin Lake was covered with huge patches of water.  Today the patches seem to be frozen again, but ridges are forming across the lake. Near the lodge, East Bearskin lake looks like a teacher demo for an 8th grade earth science class about plate tectonics. Each night the lake makes huge, loud booming sounds.

Ice ridge forming on East Bearskin Lake

A little of the past “ice out” history is documented in this blog from last spring.  The date the ice goes out has been fairly consistent, but we’re wondering how the warmer temps and lack of snow cover will affect the ice this year.  Last year we had a fairly informal “guess the ice out date” contest through this blog; a few guests came remarkably close.

Guessing this year might be more of a challenge!  We’ll offer a T-shirt prize this year to the person who comes the closest to the date.  The guess has to be posted 5 or more days before the actual ice out date. No fair watching the ice go out on web cam and posting “now, now, now!”  (Although last year many people called to say they did see it go out on the web cam — it was really quite absorbing to watch.)  Post your guesses as comments on this blog or, if you have a Facebook account, on Bearskin’s  Facebook  fan page.

If you’re seriously into date guessing games, there’s also a contest on the Gunflint Trail Association Facebook fan page.  Facebook users can make a guess for East Bearskin, Gunflint, and Saganaga Lakes. To find the guessing game discussion, look for the tab near the top of the GTA page labeled “Boxes.”


Weekend update for January 23-25

The forecast for the upcoming weekend includes some colder temperatures, but with the potential for sunny days. The snow continues to be wonderful. Guests repeatedly tell us that the snow is the best it’s been in a decade and that the quality of the grooming has been excellent.

As I type this, I’m watching a group of women skiers from Cabin 3 glide by on the lake path. Frost is making the trees along the lake’s bank look like white cotton candy today, so right now the skiers appear to be posing for an idyllic Christmas card photo. (Where’s the camera, where’s the camera?  Never nearby when we need it!) To keep up on current trail conditions, check out our trail reports at http://bearskintrailreports.wordpress.com/


Menu for January 23

Chez Jude will be here again this weekend and the menu looks fabulous. See http://www.bearskin.com/ChezJude/bearskin_lodge_menu1.23.pdf   for details. Reservations are available for both Friday and Saturday nights. There are favorable changes in the menu pricing. Also, the kids’ menu is now available online. (http://www.bearskin.com/ChezJude/kidsmenu.html )  Chef Judi Barsness is willing to make accommodations for guest’s special dining needs, as well as for children’s dietary idiosyncrasies. Just let us know ahead of time.

Dog sled trip heading towards Aspen Lake
Dog sled trip heading towards Aspen Lake

Erik Simula will be here this weekend for dog sled trips. While many spots are already full, there are still a few times available. Call our front desk for reservations. Watching Erik go down the lake this week has been breathtakingly beautiful. The snow is so sparkly that it almost looks as if he is mushing through glitter. The dogs seem to be moving quite fast and easily through the deep snow, much more so than they were earlier in the winter when the snow was wetter and less fluffy. It looks staged, it is so perfect.  More mushing info at  http://www.bearskin.com/mushing.html

Learning how to put on a ski -- ski lessons
Learning how to put on a ski -- ski lessons

Quinn has some openings next week for ski lessons. Today he had a first time lesson with an 8 year old who was new to skiing. Quinn started on skis when he was 3 years old, so he doesn’t have much recollection of those “first times.”  He made a plan for a step by step lesson that would teach how to use the skis and the poles individually, and then put both new skills together afterwards. A few minutes into the lesson, his young student was already skiing. It’s amazing how quickly children pick up this skill.

Our massage therapist will also be available on Saturday, as well as next Wednesday. To make reservations for any of Bearskin’s activities, give our front desk a call at 1(800)338 4170.

Lots of snow



Yes, it snowed. A lot.

Quinn and Bob have been out grooming. This is our first major snow this winter, so many steps need to happen to get the ski trails completely in shape. But daily progress is being made.  The temps  that moved in after this front were low, but the predicted  high winds did not especially appear.  Everyone outside working today thought the weather was actually much more tolerable than they expected.

But it’s slow going digging out from the snow:

“Winter Storm Warning” — snow is on the way

There’s nothing indefinite about our weather forecast for tomorrow:


100% chance of precipitation doesn’t leave us with many questions about the day ahead. It will snow.  For sure. A lot.


And blow. And be cold.  Ahhh, winter!

Years of long freeway commutes to my teaching job trained me to dread snow; snow only meant a horrendous drive to or from work.  But a great ski season at Bearskin depends on getting a few nice, big blizzards, so a new mindset is required.  It doesn’t come easy. Quinn is eager to have enough snow to groom.  Bob can’t wait to run his new plow.  Kaitlin spent her last winters in Taiwan, so she’s enthusiastic about experiencing a Minnesota-style blizzard again. And I just think….why didn’t we buy a resort in Hawaii?   

No palm trees and coconuts here.  We have been slowly accumulating a few inches of snow each week, but it honestly isn’t enough to be very good skiing yet.  Looks like that should change on Sunday. Real winter is finally here, just in time for all the post-Christmas skiers. We’ll keep you updated on the outcome of this snowstorm, but with luck (yeah, see how hard I’m trying?) Sunday should bring us the snow we need to make winter at Bearskin the memorable experience our guests come here for.

Addendum, Sunday — time stamp is EST, snow is moving NE:




Waiting for snowflakes

This fall Bearskin has two employees who are eagerly awaiting the first snow — not counting Andy and Quinn who are also impatiently hoping for snow, mainly so they can play with all the big, burly snow equipment.  Our new employees Laura and Megan come from Florida and Louisiana, where obviously snow is not a typical part of their life experience.  For them, the first time that it actually snows here on the Gunflint Trail will be a noteworthy day.

Earlier this week we almost had something for them – a cold rain was falling and if you looked carefully, you could imagine occasional hard-edged drops that almost passed for flakes.  Laura and Megan counted it as snow, and by Down South standards it might have qualified.   But we knew better.  

The forecast for this weekend threatened snow showers for Sunday.  It was a bizarre weather day.  All afternoon dark, angry clouds raced across a gray sky, alternating with unexpected bursts of fleeting sunshine.  The erratic rain briefly turned icy often enough that we promised Megan and Laura that they would surely see real snow by the end of the afternoon.  It didn’t happen.

However, this is our forecast:    

We might not be making snowmen this week. Quinn probably won’t be able to take out his skis and most likely Andy won’t be running the plow truck.  But Laura and Megan just might see genuine snowflakes before the week is over.

Snow sprinkles along the lake path this morning.

ADDENDUM as of 1:30 PM 10/27/08:  Sometime during the night, after I wrote this blog, the snow came.  Not a lot of snow; just a sprinkle.  Certainly not enough to ski on or to plow or groom.   As Calvin in the old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip once said, “Getting an inch of snow is like winning 10 cents in the lottery.  If it hadn’t been the first snow, we’d label it an annoyance.  But Megan and Laura have now seen their first “real” snow.  We can safely assume that it won’t be their last.





High school ski weekend at Bearskin

Cold but happy!

48 loaves of French bread. 72 pounds of chili. 60 pounds of pasta. 50 Sven & Ole’s pizzas. 20 cases of water. 500 cookies.  High school ski weekend is over.  They came, they skied, they ate (and ate and ate), they raced, they skied some more, and they left, exhausted and happy.

The forecast was for bitter cold and indeed, the temperatures hovered in the minus zone for much of the time.  But the sun was brilliant, the sky was clear and thankfully, the threatened wind chills never really materialized.  

At one point we seriously doubted that we should do this weekend. Tales abound on the North Shore and the Gunflint Trail of the infamous “ski teams that wrecked the resort.”  In fact, we had talked ourselves out of it until Adde, event organizer supreme, came to us with her sheets of notes, measurements and ideas to convince us it was “doable.”

So on Friday dozens of Nordic skiers and their parents streamed off the buses carrying their ski bags, high tech boots, wax kits, and gym bags loaded with lycra — as well as pink pillows, fuzzy blankets, light-up socks, junk food and stuffed armadillos. Within an hour there were colorfully clothed clusters of  teenagers out on the trails everywhere, skiing in little groups through the woods. 

Sven & Ole’s pizzas delivered to the cabins on Friday and a Saturday evening dinner in front of a blazing fire at the awesome Old Northwoods restaurant gave them a reason to come in from the cold; otherwise, most of the skiers were out on the trails for hours.

When the buses pulled away Sunday afternoon, we fearfully assessed the damage.  A cabinet door that pulled away from a hinge. A crack in a window that grew a bit. Yellow snow over the edge of a deck.  (Boys. @@ Need we say more?) Flash frozen spilled red Gatorade outside a door. Truckloads of filled trash bags.  And many sparkling, clean cabins, obviously carefully tidied up and vacuumed.

By Saturday night at Old Northwoods, parents were already asking whether Bearskin would be willing to host this weekend again.  At that time, a low point on the exhaustion curve, we weren’t certain the answer ought to be “yes.”  The kids were obviously having a great ski experience; however, one had to wonder if it was worth all this trouble.

But here’s one occurrence that made me think that perhaps our efforts had value. A tall, articulate young skier came into the lodge late one evening in search of some tea bags. We started to discuss the cold and the clear night and the stars.   “You always hear and read about how great the stars are supposed to be,” he said, “but I’ve never really understood why stars are such a big thing. You look up in the sky at home and they’re nothing much.  Then I got up here and looked up at the sky and the stars are incredible. It was really amazing to see.  Now I get it.” 

Ski weekend was a lot of work for what amounted to a few days of skiing. But maybe skiing was only a small part of what high school ski weekend at Bearskin was really about.

The WHS Skiers Arrived Safely

12.7.07 4:15 PM Originally uploaded by Day by Day at Beautiful Bearskin Lodge

 The WHS skiers arrived safely, had a chance to ski and are awaiting the arrival of their Sven & Ole’s pizzas.

Don’t worry, parents, if they don’t call or if you can’t reach your kids. Cell phone service on the Gunflint Trail is just a “someday” fantasy. Everyone seems to be having a great time and they are staying safe.

First snow!


The view out of the upstairs window of the Big Staff House this morning was a complete surprise.  I love looking at the lake each day out this window (in spite of it being a funky old paint-spattered window) because the view of East Bearskin Lake from this spot is exceptionally gorgeous and ever-changing — one of the secrets of Bearskin staff housing.

I had no idea it was snowing last night, so that first glimpse of the snow-coated, white tree branches was totally unexpected. 

The first “real” snow has shifted the entire Bearskin staff into fast forward on the winter chores.  Of course, we have gradually been changing to winter mode, but today’s snow seems to have inspired more serious winter preparations.  The last boat came out of the water (“The water was too cold, should have done that last week!”), the few remaining floating docks were pulled in, the plow truck is being readied for action and, of course, the final preparations and maintenance chores are being done on the Pisten Bully. 

Saturday and Sunday were truly beautiful fall days on the Gunflint Trail, among the best ever.  On Monday fall was over. Welcome to winter.

More first snow photos at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/bearskinlodge/