It was Christmas in January.
I tossed and turned listening to the weather roiling outside, rain pounding, wind blowing and fondly anticipated the primo cross-country skiing sure to be produced by the ruckus: wide-open trails, desolate save for the glowing lights showcasing the perfect grooming.
Jumping out of bed the next day, a peek out the window confirmed that the double deluge of downpours and temps soaring into the 50s re-opened some of Milwaukee’s best ski trails. Now, with the fresh grooming, and 90 PSI in my V-2 Roller Skis, I can ski right from my back door step.
Right down the street, in Wauwatosa, sit 13 square miles of black asphalt corduroy bathed by 6,060 light poles. Weaving together a couple trails, I’m greeted with smooth pavement over most of Milwaukee County’s road and trail ways. It’s almost too much for a cross country skier to absorb with clearly marked “trails,” lighting, and police protection. Suck it Snow Country. This is another perfect cross country ski season right here in Wauwatosa!
Since picking up the sport in 1995, I’ve come to enjoy the FauxSki season. Sure you can make a case that shooting pop-a-shot buckets at a Chuck-E-Cheese does not an NBA player make, but roller skiing mimics most of the movements of the real thing. And, faced with an unpredictable weather outlook, it has occupied a (regrettably growing) period between skiable snow and spring.
Frantic reports spoke of deteriorating snow conditions on most trail systems, in the three weeks following the only snow of the season. I only watched for the “best” report: roadways clear of ice.
My route varies based on the whims of the day: a long flat route via the Glacial Drumlin Trail, or “hills” around Miller Park. My asphalt and concrete trails are empty at 4:30 a.m. In Wauwatosa, it hasn’t been uncommon to see deer meandering between the Menomonee River and local neighborhoods, at this hour. The constellations brush against the silhouette of the hills in Curry Park, as I cruise down the Menomonee River Parkway.
Nice as it is to carve the urban carpet, and as a peace offering to the snow gods, the numbers don’t come near to matching the real thing. The benchmark, the Birkie, delivers an elevated 3,500 feet of climbing wallop. My Saturday morning, 20-mile ski (on-snow Metric conversion = 32 kilometers), including a couple 100-foot climbs in an Elm Grove neighborhood, produced a tepid 450 feet of climbing.
Midwesterners know how to adapt and make the best of any situation. With only 90 PSI and a healthy imagination, any day can be a perfect snow day.
Epilogue: The day after finishing this post, 2 inches of freezing rain entombed all 3,638 miles of Milwaukee County roadway.
Steve Smith, 46, works a day job in marketing at Rockwell Automation and moonlights as a Nordic skier and Master’s Category 3 racer for the Cafe Hollander race team. As a father of three, and backed by a forgiving wife, he supports a limited racing calendar throughout the year. His racing career began 33 years ago on the BMX tracks of Central Illinois.