The winter season of 2021-2022 was the second season of winter operations for the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge since new ownership took over in the fall of 2018 (and the 4th winter since the Lodge opened in 1934). The golf course-side cabins were available for guests to rent (13 structures, 16 keys) and the lodge building was available for guests. The dining services offered rustic worldly foods with menu items from across the globe and changed weekly as part of our initiative to keep things fresh. Every winter day the fireplace was stoked and guests congregated around the warm fire to share their plans and adventures.
The 2021-22 winter season was an exciting time for the winter outdoor activities crew. The Keweenaw Peninsula was blessed with 325” of snow. This was quite a significant difference from the 178” the Peninsula had received the year before. It was also a cold winter. For the first three months of our winter season the temperature barely went above 32 degrees. This was a big factor because a lot of the snow that fell kept piling up and there were none of the usual meltdowns that happen on the Keweenaw Peninsula.
The Lodge tracks weather on property through a weather station that we installed on Hole 1 of the golf course. This weather station is part of the Ambient Weather Network and lets us track the current weather and collect weather data to look at bigger trends.
The winter season for the outdoor activities at the Lodge is set from December 15th through April 15th, similar to our set summer season with the golf course (which is open from June 1st to October 15th). Having set seasons allows the KML team and guests the time to plan and prepare for each season of outdoor activities.
During the winter season we groom 10km of cross-country ski trails and a 2 mile snowshoe trail. These are trails that were originally designed by Steve Rowe around 2007 and 2008, and were open the winters of 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. Since it was just our second season of winter operations we did not want to add any new trails and we wanted to stay focused on learning the nuances of grooming what we have.
This season we welcomed a new team member, Gary Wurtz, dedicated to grooming during the winter season. His responsibility was to make sure the trails were groomed at least 5 days a week. Having a dedicated groomer was put in place to ensure we improved the skiability of the trails each and every single day of winter season operations.
The large amounts of snow pushed the team and created challenges with our grooming gear, which meant we did not achieve the best skiable trails during the winter season. We use a John Deere Gator with tracks that tows both a 6.5 foot roller, which is used to capture and pack the snow and then we run a 60” Ginzu Groomer to lay classic tracks or to groom a trail flat.
On February 20th the tracks on our John Deere Gator broke because of repeatedly hitting stumps that are buried on the sides of our trails. This was a setback and a learning lesson for our team. We were unable to groom our trails again until March 18th (26 days of downtime). When we did get the Gator back we resumed grooming but we missed a crucial part of the winter season (this affected our winter lodging bookings).
Being a very remote resort has its challenges, and one of the lessons we learned from this occurrence is redundancy. We learned that we need multiple Gators with tracks in case one breaks down. We also realized how important it is for us to prepare the trails in the off season. We are currently looking into purchasing a stump grinder to remove some of the obstacles that caused the damage.
The team was able to groom for the rest of March and into April. Unfortunately we struggled with some electrical issues on our track setter. We could groom the trails flat but did not lay classic tracks at times. With a lot of snow on the ground we wanted to see how long we could groom our trails and test how long of a winter season we could have in an above average snow season. And to put salt into our wounds, we discovered that a small lake was forming below the snow’s surface as temps were rising. This unfortunately was discovered when the groomer was grooming the North Eastern Loop and the Gator and Ginzu broke through the packed trail and became submerged in a shallow lake that had formed. We had to replace the motor in the Gator, along with many other parts in the machine. Argh!!!
Even though the winter operations team was flustered with grooming the cross-country ski trails a majority of the season, we managed to create some special experiences for people snowshoeing and using our Altai Skis. We were able to keep the Snowshoe Trail packed throughout the year and open for our guests to enjoy until April 23rd. We did over 120 snowshoe rentals and continued with the program for lodging guests being able to use snowshoes for free.
As part of working with the International Dark Sky Association on having the property designated as the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park, we launched an educational series of moonlit snowshoe hikes. On January 15th, February 17th, and March 19th, Tom Oliver, our Events and Education Lead (and experienced naturalist) led groups of adventurous snowshoers around our trails by moonlight. Each one of these nights brought a unique group of individuals together to experience the Lodge’s property in a way that has never been done before. People left with a sense of accomplishment and an experience they will remember for years to come.
Our love of snowshoeing created another annual event put on by the KML Team. On February 12th The Snowshoe Hare was launched. This free event celebrates snowshoeing on the Keweenaw. The broad list of activities provided something for everyone. In the morning a snowshoe race was held on our Perimeter Trail, this was followed by a mindful meditative hike by Dayna Browning, a certified Koru Mindfulness instructor and wellness advocate. In the afternoon there was an educational presentation by naturalist Tom Oliver. To round out the Snowshoe theme, the Little Cabin Café offered rabbit sausage soup, as a lunch special, to help warm snowshoers coming in from the cold. In the evening the dining services team offered Hasenpfeffer (marinated, slow-cooked rabbit), served with broccoli and jeweled rice (food that fit the Lodge’s rustic worldly food niche). And another moonlit snowshoe was conducted in the evening. WOW – that was a fun, joyous and adventuresome day of snowshoeing!
Altai Skis ski rentals remained popular with guests. These unique skis are very approachable for adults and kids and let people explore powder snow off-trail across our golf course and beyond. Over 70 people enjoyed trying these for the first time, many people were delighted by their versatility and functionality.
And yes dogs are allowed on our trails! We saw many people skijoring around the Perimeter Loop. This loop is groomed flat allowing skate skiers and skijorers to test their skills on this hilly trail. Many travelers stayed in the cabins with their dogs last winter. Some came for the second annual Dawg Daze event. This event put on by the Events and Outdoor Activities teams helps support the Copper Country Humane Society. The main activities of the event are a skijoring race around the Perimeter Trail and costume contest for dogs and humans. For 2022, the KML teams added a furriest dog contest and best trick. Even though there was a major ice storm the night before, and the roads were dangerous to travel, people and their dogs had a fun filled day.
The winter season of 2021-2022 was filled with many learning lessons for the Outdoor Activities Team at the Lodge. Growth happens from both successes and failures, and this season was filled with both. We learned that we have to prep our trails better for winter operations and that we need redundancy in many of our essential pieces of winter equipment. We also realized we have to “slow it down” when grooming and treat the equipment and landscape with the respect it deserves (this goes for everything at the Lodge, as we are a historic place). The yin and yang of life suggests that with the bad comes the good, and there were also many great memories of people celebrating an amazing snow filled winter (having 325 inches of snow something to treasure). Guests from across the region came with their families to enjoy the Mountain Lodge’s winter trails. People from age 1 to 80 years old put on their hats and gloves and embraced and celebrated this snowy Keweenaw winter. In fact, Calumet, 33 miles from the Lodge, was listed as the snowiest town in the Country.
All of us on the Outdoor Activities team would again agree that the most rewarding part of this winter was seeing the smiles on the faces of people as they experienced the Lodge and the surrounding forest with their family and friends.
Chris Guibert: I have a strong passion for all things outdoors and have worked as a tour guide and professional photographer for the last twenty five years. As the Lead of Outdoor Activities at the Mountain Lodge I want make sure you and your family have a great experience while staying and playing. Please feel free to ask me any questions about the trails, regional activities and local secrets.