This time of year, for me, it’s all about the crust. I know it’s a time when most people are sick of winter and just want the snow to go away. I’m one of the lonely few hoping for …
This time of year, for me, it’s all about the crust.
I know it’s a time when most people are sick of winter and just want the snow to go away. I’m one of the lonely few hoping for the cold to linger just one or two more weekends so I can take advantage of the best ski conditions of the year.
If you’re a skate skier, like me, this is what you live for, and I have the best possible playground right in my backyard. From our ridge, looking west across the Lost Lake Swamp lies mile after mile of some of the best skate skiing imaginable— at least when the conditions are right.
It’s actually been quite a few years since I’ve written about skiing the swamp. That’s because the past few late winters haven’t been as cooperative when it comes to the crust. It’s always a fine line, dependent on the depth of the snowpack and the vagaries of late winter weather. You need warm weather to melt the snow, but not enough warmth that you lose too much snow. You need cold nights to set the crust up hard, but a little morning sunshine to soften the surface just enough to give your skis a little bite. Believe me, I’ve given this some thought over the years. I watch the forecast and the extended forecasts and plan my time off accordingly.
In most years, you can reliably get as much as a month of good crust skiing on the lakes. However, the best crust skiing, by far, is out in the swamp— and there the window is shorter. In many years, the window never quite arrives. For the best swamp skiing, you need an abundant snowpack like we have this year. Our short, but impressive, early March warm spell set the stage, melting the snow enough that it ensured a strong crust once the cold weather returned. And until this week it stayed cold, ensuring day after day of good skiing. Even the return of milder temperatures this week hasn’t been a problem, since it’s been cold enough at night to set the crust for another morning of good skiing.
For me, of course, the real excitement has been the chance to explore all corners of the swamp again. Most of the year, traveling in the swamp is either a slow slog across boot-sucking sphagnum or breaking trail on snowshoes through deep snow. But when the conditions are just right, Mother Nature builds a veritable sidewalk to every nook and cranny of the Lost Lake Swamp. It’s an invitation I just can’t resist.
While my treks across the swamp are usually solitary affairs, this year I’ve had company from a friend who recently moved to the area and appreciates the mystery and stark beauty of a swamp as much as I do. So now, I’m introducing her to my favorite swamp hangouts— from Chaga Island, where I gather my medicinal fungi, to Little Lost Lake, to giant beaver lodges, to deep green cedar groves.
When the conditions are right, the miles disappear almost effortlessly, with the swamp’s stunted vegetation creating an entertaining and easily-navigated obstacle course. On these late winter days, with morning sun chasing away the chill against a backdrop of blue sky and scattered cirrus, it’s close to heaven. And, because it’s way, way out in the swamp, it’s the perfect kind of social distancing.
How long it all lasts depends on the weather. For now, I’m happy to take it day-by-day, knowing that our portal to the swamp will eventually melt away. Which is why I need to wrap this up. The crust is calling.