Cupcake trees and the return of the bend-down

12.18.2015 the pines snow
Gunflint Trail today.

We just returned from the Twin Cities, where we were celebrating the 100th birthday for Bob’s dad.  We left Bearskin at the beginning of the snowstorm, so we weren’t there to watch how much snow accumulated during the two days we were gone.

Quinn and Kate didn’t leave until the next morning; they forewarned us that Bearskin received at least a foot of fresh flakes, and that the trees were heavy with snow.  Then I saw a Facebook post from someone who reported there were at least 20 downed trees on the Gunflint Trail that night due to the snow.

On our trip back to Bearskin today we were somewhat unimpressed with the snow quantities, considering how treacherous driving through the blizzard had been on the way south.  The North Shore mostly has snow with stubble, a pretty coating of white that makes even the trashiest dives along the Highway 61 suddenly look fresh and redeemed.  A sparkling white that is pleasant to view out the car window, but nothing out of the ordinary for December in Minnesota.

And then we drove up the Gunflint Trail. Oh my.

There is something a little magical about the Gunflint Trail when it comes to snow.  Bearskin is the Bearskin because of this winter magic. We’ve been here long enough now to know this happens, but sometimes it’s still awe-inspiring when we see it again.  We drove up the hill and suddenly it was almost as if we had been transported to another planet. This new world was coated in a thick, drooping frosting of white.  Snow depth increased with each mile we drove up the Trail and the pine boughs sagged with heavier and heavier masses of snow the farther we drove. For as often as we’ve seen this, today both of us were exclaiming “wow, look at that” over and over all the way up the Trail.

If you’ve ever wanted to see miles and miles of pine trees that look exactly like frosted Christmas cookies, now is the time to drive up the Gunflint Trail. The downside of this heavy coating is that is looks like we have another “bend-down,” the winter version of the infamous blow-down.  Thousands of the small trees are arched into rainbow shapes and even many of the large ones have a peculiar curve.

best frosted trees
These cupcake trees by the Lodge have a curious curve today.

Dozens of big trees are hanging off the phone lines and some of the line appears to be stretched all the way to the ground. (CenturyLink, where are you? Clearly no sign of any repair activity along the Trail yet.) If you try to call Bearskin and you can’t get through, it may mean that the branch that broke the phone line’s back finally fell.  The whole arrangement looks pretty tenuous.  It’s also kind of entertaining to think that phone communication continues just fine with all manner of crazy contorted limbs and tree trunks dangling precariously from the phone lines.  Now there’s a minor miracle.

While this snow is exactly what we needed to get the ski season off to a great start, grooming after this snowstorm is going to take MUCH longer than expected.  Quinn went out in the groomer Thursday morning before he had to leave for the party, and reported it was very slow-going.  He said it was “groom 100 feet, then stop and cut down trees, groom another 100 feet, stop and cut down trees again.” Poplar Creek in particular appears to completely encased in arched trees.  It will take awhile to get through the tree mess on all our trails. This is the case on both sides of the Central Gunflint system.

We have Summer Home, Campground, and the Lit Loop cleared, and we will be out regrooming those trails first thing tomorrow morning.  The rest, however, could take some time.

But consider driving up to see the Gunflint Trail anyway as soon as you can to view this stunning landscape, before the wind knocks the frosting out of all the trees.  (Drive slowly and carefully, because this snow in the woods has really brought the moose out into the roads!)  And bring your camera, because you’re not going to see anything quite like it anywhere else in Minnesota right now.

Bearskin’s new Pisten Bully groomer arrives!

Playmobil pisten bully
McCloughan’s first Pisten Bully

This was the McCloughan family’s very first Pisten Bully.  Quinn McCloughan bought it when he was about 8 at Lake Superior Trading Post with his birthday money, and we still have it.  It grooms trails about as well now as it ever did.  If you are a 4 inch tall skier, this machine grooms the coolest ski trail you’ll ever encounter.

Bearskin’s 1987 PB

This was the McCloughan’s second Pisten Bully.  Dave and Barb Tuttle bought this grooming machine for Bearskin in 1987, upgrading from a smaller machine and making an immense investment in the future of skiing here.  The Tuttle family actually traveled to the factory in Germany to see their Pisten Bully being manufactured.

For almost 30 years the 1987 PB chugged along the trails, creating great skiing in the midst of a deep forest environment.  This was a was a well cared-for machine, but over the years there were plenty of disasters.  The worst fear was what would happen if this big diesel machine ever stalled far out on the trail in subzero temps, where it likely wouldn’t start again. (Correction: second worst fear — the worst fear was having the groomer go through the ice, but Dave had already done that one.)

One of Quinn’s first groomer experiences when he was just a fresh 21-year old here was having the PB break down on the trail at -13 degrees, with nobody else around to help him solve the problem.  He proved he was up to the coming challenges when he eventually got it back to the warmth of the shop. We had a few years where Bob swore that aliens (or more likely, drones) were making the Pisten Bully wacko on specific parts of the trail system; a new computer system installation made it act much less crazy, but it couldn’t be counted on to be entirely sane.   Every time the trails were  fully groomed and the machine was safely put away, we all breathed a sigh of relief because we’d escaped Pisten Bully Disaster one more time. It was time for a replacement.


pisten bully on truck
Our brand new Pisten Bully, being delivered 12/9/2015

So this is our brand new Pisten Bully, as it was delivered to Bearskin yesterday.  Quinn and Bob, as well as Dave Tuttle, checked out all the new features.  A fraction of the size of the 1987 machine, this is a far more powerful groomer.  Our trails will be wider and smoother, plus the experience inside the groomer will be warm, comfortable and surprisingly quiet.  We don’t have quite enough snow yet to truly groom, but they took it out for a bit of experimental grooming and loved the results.  And, of course, driving the groomer will be an entirely different experience when the constant, over-riding fear of being stranded at -20 below isn’t a fundamental part of the grooming process.

pisten bully lessons
Pisten Bully lessons for Bob while Quinn and Dave Tuttle inspect
So what’s all this stuff do?


Figuring it out

Dave took the ceremonial first ride in the groomer. He drove it to the shop and made sure all the flashing lights and doohickey switches worked.

Then came the sad part: we packed up the old PB, with its old colorful Bearskin Ski Guy Logo on the outside and lots of good memories on the inside, and sent it on its way to its next home.  Somewhere in Ohio the Bearskin Pisten Bully will live to groom another day.

old pisten bully driving away
Saying goodbye to 3 decades of Bearskin grooming memories






Anatomy of an epic blog failure, or how Facebook obliterated the Bearskin Blog

blog fail

This post first appeared in April, 2013. In spite of best intentions,  this should be titled Blog Failure Part II.The blog simply faded away again, while numerous Facebook sites, Instagram posts, Twitter accounts, and Pinterest sites survived or even thrived.  But sometimes we have a better story to tell than will fit in 140 characters or in a couple snapshots. So with a rerun of this vow to bring it back to life, the Bearskin Blog is back online.

The first Bearskin Blog appeared August 27, 2007, just a few weeks after our family took on the challenge of owning Bearskin Lodge. (Click here to read the first Bearskin Blog entry from 2007.) Reading that initial blog years later, I can still feel the overwhelming emotional rush of excitement, fear, and responsibility that defined our lives during those first few years.  Everything was new, hard, and very scary.

The Bearskin Blog was a great way to introduce our family to Bearskin guests.  After three decades of being a family-run resort during the Barb and Dave Tuttle era, a few years passed when Bearskin lost the family-owned feel.  Guests wanted a relationship with the owners; they wanted to know our kids, meet our grandparents, pet our dog. They wanted to see the people who own Bearskin showing pride in their resort, fixing and repairing and updating the cabins that are a source of treasured memories for generations of Bearskin guests.

So we shared our daily lives in our Bearskin Blog.  Our dumb mistakes (A Bad Day for Birds and Suckers);  the inevitable catastrophic moments (The Good Life)  or (Survivor — the Power Outage Edition); the scary stuff (A Disconcerting Afternoon); the wildlife encounters (Bear  vs. Dumpster) or (Moose  vs. Andy McDonnell); the sad losses (A Life Well-Lived).  After awhile it seemed that most guests who came to Bearskin already “knew” us, even if we’d never met before.

In January, 2009, we decided to try making a Bearskin Facebook page.  These days almost every business has a Facebook presence but as surprising as it seems now, back in 2009 making a business Facebook page was a relatively novel idea.

Posting on Facebook was easy for us; hardly any time commitment needed.  Find a nice picture, add 25 words — done!  Facebook was the ideal format to give our guests and Facebook friends a brief  moment in their day to savor the Bearskin experience.  The page quickly developed a following and in a short time we were reaching several thousand Facebook  fans.

In our busy day it’s always easier to find 5 minutes to post on Facebook than to expend the effort to write a decent blog. And so the blog gradually faded into oblivion.  Our last finished blogging effort was in the summer of 2012 — not for lack of starting new blogs.  Our WordPress draft file is full of good blog beginnings.  Finding the time to finish is always the issue.

Looking at our past history on the blog, I miss having such a full record of Bearskin life.   The Bearskin Blog is a chronicle of what has happened at Bearskin since 2007, at least up until the time I lost the fire to keep writing.

7,000 people like the Bearskin Facebook page (actually, now it’s closer to 12,000).  They get a quick daily glimpse of Bearskin life on Facebook, but there is no sense of history to it.  Yes, you can go back on the Facebook Timeline to see what was posted in the past.  Without even looking I can tell you what it was for any date of the year:  an interesting  picture with 3 – 5 sentences of seasonally appropriate comments.  It could be 2009 or it could be 2013.  The defining sense of time and place just isn’t there.

Life at Bearskin is not as novel to us at it was in 2007, but nonetheless it’s still always interesting here.  The changing of the seasons, the big  resort projects, the unexpected wildlife encounters, the unusual guests–all of those things make our days at Bearskin memorable. I’m going to try to revive our dead blog.  Of course, we won’t give up on Facebook.  But for those people who like to relish the long version of the Bearskin story, rather than a few fleeting Facebook  seconds, the Bearskin Blog is back.  Bookmark us and see how long the Blog revival lasts!

Nip, trim and chat — this year’s trail work weekend

10.31.14 snow and sunrise
Snowy surprise on Friday morning

Snow started falling Thursday night, one day before our “Trail Work Weekend” workers were scheduled to arrive.  Not just the usual fall dusting that coats the world in a thin layer of white crystals and kills all the geraniums. No, this was the real thing, a blizzard of swirling flakes that left 2 – 3 inches of solid snow cover. Our trail workers hike the grassy cross-country ski trail with saws, loppers, and nippers in hand, cutting back the branches that had the audacity to grow over ski trails during the summer.   They walk, they don’t ski.  Snow wasn’t actually expected on the ski trails quite yet.

An annual Bearskin tradition, trail work weekend is held every year in late October or early November. For $99/per person, guests stay all weekend in the cabin of their choice.  They spend a few hours nipping and pruning and chatting on the ski trails with a group of new friends. Then after an afternoon of free time, we all gather in the lodge again for a meal, complimentary as part of the weekend fun.

Our trail weekend workers tend to be a mix of regular guests, wanting one more Bearskin trip this year at a bargain price, as well as new guests who are thinking this is a good way to check us out. This year we had an exceptionally large group, the maximum number we could fit in the restaurant, and the majority of them were new to Bearskin.  The snow was a surprise to everyone.

The shoe store in Grand Marais sold a few new pairs of boots to trail workers on Friday. Everyone managed to pull together enough hats, gloves and warm socks to keep warm on the trail. At 9 AM the group met for coffee, scones, and a plan, then headed out in four groups.  Never have trail workers accomplished so much. Many of them promised to come back this winter to ski the trails and check to see if they missed any spots!

11.1.14 trail workers heading out in the snow
A little snow doesn’t stop this group. It turned out to be a great morning.

The snowy trails made some memories for guests, both fun and sad.  One group could see they were obviously just minutes behind a moose who was hiking the same path. There was added excitement as each time they turned a corner, they expected to encounter a big bull  — a sight you don’t  truly want to see during rutting season.  Another group was following a very active fox.  For one of our guests the snowy trails brought back some strong feelings.  Many years ago she fell and badly broke her leg on a ski trail.  We all remember it as one of the most traumatic incidents that ever occurred at Bearskin.  This time she chose her trailwork area randomly, but it turned out to be the same one where she was injured.  It was a significant moment to return to that spot again for the first time.

Much thanks to Bearskin’s great staff for making this event happen for all of us. We were down two employees, but Andy and Kate did a great job of stepping into entirely different jobs and running the show superbly well. Andy put in an 11 hour day; we had to make him go home.  Kudos also to guest Don Hess, who has done trail work weekend often enough that he was able to fill in and lead the fourth group —  without losing a single person.

Pictures of this weekend are sorely lacking.  Our usual group dinner photo came out a bit dim.  If you took any pictures, we’d love it if you’d share them with us.

If you want to be part of Trail Work Weekend in 2015, you can reserve now. We tentatively have it scheduled for the weekend before deer hunting starts, Friday, October 30 – Sunday, November 1. Yes, this means you would have something fun to do for Halloween that did not involve wearing an embarrassing costume.  And you can still gorge yourself on Halloween candy — we’ll leave you a treat bag full of goodies.

trail clearing dinner 11.1.2014
A much-too-dark shot of a delightful group of trail workers enjoying their dinner.


When great trees fall…

Old white pine in front of Bearskin Lodge

Bearskin reluctantly said “Goodbye” to an old friend this week.  The immense white pine that stood by the front steps of the Main Lodge finally had to be removed.

For years Bearskin guests have been intrigued by the ever-widening hollow on the inside of the 150 year old tree.  A frequent guest, a man who is now the parent of college-aged children, recalls sitting on the lodge steps as a kid and tossing stones into the tree’s cavity decades ago.   It’s common to see families stopped at the base of the steps, peering into the arched crevice. Hundreds of pictures have been taken over the years of what had clearly become an “animal hotel.” Newcomers to our area would stand at the base of the tree, heads tilted back, gazing upward, and ask “What is this kind of tree?”  And of course, it was almost impossible to take a photo of the Main Lodge entrance without including the large old pine, and as a result it was a tree that played a featured role in many family vacation snapshots.

So it was with great reluctance that we discussed the recommendation from the local tree expert encouraging us to take this great pine down, before it fell down. Large old trees come crashing down all the time in our world.  Most of the time they just make a nasty mess, they don’t hurt anything.  But this one was a different story.  It was angled right towards the lodge.  If it fell, would we get lucky?  What if it fell on a guest?  Or someone in our family? Or the dog? Bob envisioned various schemes for anchoring the pine, all of which seemed to  involve fairly audacious and foolhardy feats of daring.   Ultimately the right choice was to cut it down.  No, actually the right choice was to have somebody else cut it down.

On Friday McMillan Tree Service of Grand Marais removed our big tree. You can watch a video that Alex Carlson took of the tree falling here. As you can see from the pictures, there was nothing imprudent or incautious about how professionals approached this project.  It was a big job.  Each piece crashed to the ground with an earthshaking boom, leaving no doubt in the minds of observers that if the tree had fallen on the lodge everything would have been thoroughly demolished.

5.16.14 white pine boom truck alex 5.16.14 white pine boom truck 2









The center of the tree truly was rotten. And it contained rocks.  Lots and lots of rocks, plus many other astonishing small items.  Cigarette butts were perhaps the most shocking. We agonized about the tree falling over, but it never occurred to us that we should also worry about some dimwit setting fire to it with a cigarette butt.

The front of the Main Lodge looks a little naked without its distinguished big white pine.  The lodge is surrounded by dozens of other white pines of the same age and size, but the tree’s location next to the steps and the tree trunk’s notable cavities and crevices made it a more memorable white pine.  It was hard to say goodbye, and it will be missed.

Do you have a picture that includes our favorite white pine?  Please share!

All that's left of the tree

The Gunflint Trail celebrates the “Two Line Opener”– all in good fun

Cook County, MN Celebrates “Two-Line Opener”

COOK COUNTY, Minn. (May 9, 2014)— Unfazed by lingering ice, the fishing mecca of Cook County in northeastern Minnesota is gearing up for a two-line opener.

“Talk about the best of both worlds,” says Bob Baker, owner and fishing guide at Gunflint Pines Resort. “How often do you get to enjoy the multi-line possibilities of ice fishing from the comfort of a canoe?”

The Minnesota DNR confirms that, as long as you possess the proper permits and dangle your hooks through a hole in the ice (not in a patch of open water), you are free to ice fish from a canoe rather than a shack.

“The ice is breaking up on Swamper Lake,” says Bob McCloughan, owner of Bearskin Lodge on the Gunflint Trail and board chair of the Cook County Visitors Bureau.

“Swamper usually clears first. The larger lakes should be fully open in two weeks. In the meantime, you know what we say here: ‘Two lines are better than one.’”

Cook County lures anglers year-round with unmatched Lake Superior and Boundary Waters access – and a track record of big, gullible fish.

State record-setters caught in Cook County include steelhead, Chinook salmon, walleye and lake trout.

Encounter Cook County, Minnesota

“Way North of Ordinary” Cook County, Minn. includes the communities of Lutsen, Tofte, Schroeder, Grand Marais, the Gunflint Trail and Grand Portage. Visit Cook County to encounter Minnesota’s tallest mountains, grandest wilderness and greatest lakeshore.


Canoe going onto ice

Ice portageIce fishing

Fishing canoe