Contributed by Steve Meurett
I had an interesting conversation with an older gentleman recently who had just finished up a fat bike ride on our packed singletrack trails at Levis Mound. He talked of his early days skiing at Levis at a time when there were few trails, no facilities and no grooming. The good old days? He asked when I started volunteering here and if I’d skied some of the old treacherous goat trails we had at that time (I had) and how I came to work there.
My involvement in the Clark County owned Levis Mound Trail System (it didn’t really have a name back then-“Levis” was all), started in about 1984, the year of the Sarajevo Winter Olympics. I’d managed to catch some televised cross country ski races (a rarity even today) which fired me up and got me out the door on some old classical skis. Ungroomed, but covered with snow, I hit the Levis trails skiing in drifted tracks left behind by another skier. Although I’d skied as a kid, mostly on Lake Wausau and 9 Mile “Swamp” on old wood skis, this was the beginning of a more passionate relationship with the sport.
A few other local friends also had a love of skiing, so we checked with the forestry department which had an ancient Artic Cat we could use to drag a bedspring around. The county was glad to have volunteers jump in to groom, so within a few years we had a blue smoke belching Ski-Doo Alpine to do the work. There is a real art to getting those twin track single ski beasts to turn. We also learned-don’t get them stuck! A track setter was manufactured by a local company and later, our bedspring drag morphed into ladder type drags and finally a commercially made “Trail Tenderizer” by Tidd Tech. The Alpine was replaced with a much better steering Alpine II, and later by a half track ASV “Track Truck.”
The most significant development at Levis Mound was the change of location of the trailhead. A mile north of Hiway 95 was an old dump site with plenty of room to expand in the future to include parking, a pole shed for equipment and a warming chalet with bathrooms. For the volunteer groomers, just having a storage shed was a lifesaver, no more loading equipment, driving to the trail, unloading, grooming and then reverse that order-doubling our time at every outing. We added other equipment to our arsenal, a roller, another drag and a back-up Skandic snowmobile.
I titled this post “The Joy of Grooming,” which may be a misnomer of sorts. There have been plenty of not-so-joyful moments out on the trail. Those usually involved getting stuck on the steep climbs on the advanced trails, equipment breaking or just the plain death of one of the machines out on the trail and a long walk back in the dark for help. But overall, even with those trials, I do love grooming. There is a beauty to pressing in the perfect set of pure white tracks and corduroy and enjoying that ribbon of perfect trail until the first skier comes along to mess it up. Usually I get to be that first skier.
Grooming gets into your blood, and there have been plenty of times I’ve driven down to the trail at 3:30 or 4:00am to groom when maybe it’d didn’t need a lot of touch up. I enjoy sipping coffee on the drive, watching (with some trepidation) as the temperature gauge in my truck keeps dropping and being the first person on the trail that day. There is something refreshing and soothing about being out in the crisp darkness, alone with your thoughts, cruising along at 10 mph turning snow into a white skiing perfection. It’s almost an art form in a way, for at times, I’ll re-groom the same section of trail over and over to get it “just right.” It’s amazing how a small berm of snow or tracks that have a wiggle in them just won’t do, and need to be addressed. The newest machines in our Levis fleet are now tracked ATVs, and while not warm, provide a quieter, more comfortable ride and operate easily-more reasons to spend those 3 1/2 hours on trail doing a grooming job.
A lot has changed at Levis Mound and my home trails where I also groom (I guess I can’t get enough on-snow time on the big ski system) but not the delight of just being outdoors. There is, and always will be fretting about a coming warm streak, rain, or ice, and the rare dumps of snow which also present a obsticles to the groomer. But, I’ll gladly tackle it every time for there is that challenge to see if by some learned skill or past experience, I can pull off a more than suitable ski surface-that is the real joy of grooming.