Change is Good in the World of SE Michigan XC Skiing...
I have bikers tell me they don't want to get into XC skiing, or at least that they're hesitating, because we have so few good ski days.
"It's only good for a couple days over at the groomed trail. Then it gets skied in so much that it's icy and that's it for the season. I just can't justify the expense."
Well...I've gotten out for about 50 ski-outings this season so far. All of them good, as far as I'm concerned. (Except a few too many track-packing slogs.)
The thing is that our weather is indeed shaky. So you have to grab the action as you can and in whatever way that works.
What's key is if you can get out for a lunchhour break. And if you can ski within a few minutes of where you are. If you have a singletrack mentality I daresay that this usually isn't too tough of a requirement, if you're living in snow country to begin with. There's usually a nice park or field'n'woodlot within a few miles of anywhere. You don't need grooming to ski-in your own nice trail. But sometimes grooming does have what's needed.
I almost think that here in SE MI we have the slimmest grooming in all of snow-country. We have one regularly groomed area within a couple hours. (We have a couple places that groom a bit on the few weekends that are timed with sufficient fresh snowfall.) Most snow-country places probably have grooming a bit closer.
Anyway, our good skiing can come and go within a few hours. Then it's bad, then back again in a day or two. It adds up to a lot of skiing if you can choose to go out before work, during lunch, or afterhours.
Of course, we do tend to have several 2-week chunks of reliably good snow. But the rest can be sketchy. But it's still GOOD, if you can grab it.
I find that you also need a couple sets of skis. A nowax will do ya most of the time. But waxable does deliver heaven during the prime days -- sometimes it comes by hardwax, sometimes by klister. Then skating is great for the crust season. So I'd swear by 3 sets, really. Toss in a pair of Nordic ice-skates and you're good to go. ...And a pair of rollerskis to get you jonesin' in the autumn -- and to have you fit enough for the INSTANT that sufficient snow is on the ground.
I also find that some days the ungroomed skied-in low-traffic trails are best. But if we get a big dump, then a groomed area is best until the singletrack gets skied-in. If it's crust-time, I grab the skaters.
So that in sketchy regions you have to be flexible and be ready to opt for various times of day, or various places like a sunny field or a shady forest or a remote trail or a groomed area or a crusty lake or maybe even the base of a snow-making alpine slope. Or maybe even opt for the Nordic ice-skates if the snow disappears altogether awhile and it's still cold and local river/lake-ice is good. You might even want to be ready to head out into the rain (it's a warm wet). Certainly a headlamp is a great investment for the night option.
It's not too complicated. You keep your eyes open and head to wherever is good. Somewhere usually is.
I don't plan far ahead or do many paid-entry events or make many big drive-time plans. The weather just doesn't cooperate. It's not predictable enough. I think that about HALF of the regular Michigan Cup races got canceled this winter! I've heard that the snow up north has been often worse than it is down here. Ya never know! ...It's good to stay flexible if you want to maximize your skiing. You might think that being willing to drive in whatever direction is the key to the most good skiing. That IS a good card to hold, but the biggest key might be a willingness to grab what's closest to you at the time when it's good and in the way that works. Keep all your options open, anyway. If you do, there will always be a way.
Change is the constant.
It's a good thing.