Singletrack Fever! Loppet City Heaven!
[I got this idea during a lovely all day ski tour on the Shinglemill Pathway in north MI.]
I think it would be great to hold a series of Loppets on famous Michigan hiking trails. Some trails aren't suitable for skiing, but many are. This would be doing what my recent "XC Singletrack" essay suggests: it's classic skiing on narrow singletrack trails. Our day on the narrow Shinglemill trail verified that singletrack XC is a blast!
After skiing we were pleasantly exhausted, but before dinner we stopped and visited with Dick Fultz and Bob Smith at the Cross Country Ski Shop. (They had nice hippy-style bluegrass music playing on the shop's sound-system. I think my senses were heightened after such a stellar day outdoors. It sounded even better than usual.) We told them about the Loppet idea. Dick said his local favorite ski trails in the Grayling area aren't the groomed areas but the famous Mason Tract hiking trail along the South Branch of the Au Sable, and the Ogemaw trail near West Branch. I'm sure there are many other great trails like these around the state---which are mostly ignored by sport-skiers.
Dick is a top racer who is having a great season but he said I would've been proud of him because last week he did a 22-mile ski on the Mason Tract trail on his wood skis and considered it his best outing of the year. Well, maybe next time we can put the word out and some friends could join him.
Lesson: Ski events don't only have to be at resorts! They don't have to require fancy grooming! Wonderful trails deserve more publicity!
The Shinglemill Pathway was basically snowshoed-in along with some ski-action. The poling was soft but, really, it was great for classic ski-touring. Every now and then the trail went a ways on snowmobile trail, so we'd skate along. Skating would be fine in my Loppets: skate where it's nice to; classic where that's best (it might be fun to include a wide-open frozen lake crossing, too).
I'd think that putting on a Loppet could be pretty easy. I'd put up a website announcement that I was going to ski a certain trail of a certain distance on a certain day starting at a certain time and provide a map to print out and say that anyone else was welcome to join me and start their stopwatch if they liked (or not). It would be self-supported. What I would do, ideally, is arrange to have one or two people go out on snowshoes and do an out'n'back on the trail and tramp it in. With two shoers you could get a poling lane included. Then maybe have someone ski the course the day before, to get a track put in. If others are shoeing and skiing it in the meantime, all the better. I would suggest that people use touring skis and poles with big baskets. I'd provide how-to info for repairing broken poles along the trail (sapling plug) and suggest a basic safety/food/drink package that everyone should carry. If it became more popular we could include a buddy-system and/or make sure there was a snowmobile and cellphone around. (We were zipping down twisty hills with trees very close at hand.)
People could tour such an event and sightsee, or race it and get all the ski-skills challenges they could ask for. We'd have the tourists start at the back. We'd use the "track" rule where if someone wants to pass, the person in front has to step aside for a moment.
The Shinglemill Pathway loop is about 10 miles long. It has every kind of terrain, with no bad turns at all! There are obstacles, but not when you're at speed. It's super fun! There's even a parks HQ lodge adjacent to the trail, with a big parking lot. We could have a bonfire and weenieroast afterward. A big pot of chili.