Sunday, May 3, 2009

Spring Weekend at Ski Brule

We traveled to Ski Brule near Iron River, Michigan the weekend of April 17-19 to close out the Midwestern ski season. I have taken Faith for a weekend in April four of the last five years. We only missed 2007 when she was recovering from a successful heart cathederization. Our first trip was in 2005 (article on page 14). This year, Jennifer and Zach joined us for the first time.

We picked Faith up from school around noon on Friday and headed north, stopping in Madison for dinner. We arrived after the lodging office had closed and retrieved our condo keys in an envelop they left for us. I was disappointed to find that they had given us a unit on the 3rd floor of the Pioneer Lodge, instead of the one I had reserved on the 2nd floor (which is on the same level as the two outdoor hot tubs). However, we were pleased to find they had upgraded us to a larger unit, so all was forgiven.

Saturday morning brought sunny skies and warm weather. The whole family skied in the morning. Zach was able to ski on his own across some of the flatter terrain on the top of the hill, but needed support from the leash on the pitch. His favorite run was Sunrise, which passed the horse pen and included only a short section that was too steep for him. We tried taking him "off lead" once on the steeper Log Jam, but after a fall-away turn sucked him into the exposed dirt on the left side of the slope, he insisted on the leash thereafter. Ideally we would have made the trip a week earlier when snow cover was more substantial and the easier Homestead side of the hill was still open, but Easter fell on that weekend this year, so we made the best of the 5 open runs and 1 chairlift and 1 rope tow that were still turning.

Faith takes a break with the horses

Zach makes a turn without help from the leash

Jennifer and Zach enjoy the sunshine

Zach took a one-hour lesson with Arlen after lunch, while Faith and I skied on our own. Arlen didn't really provide much instruction to Zach, opting mostly to walk alongside him and hold his hand on the bunny slope. However, Zach was starting to get a little crabby with us towards the end of the morning and the presence of the unfamiliar authority figure at least forced him to pay attention and try. At least that's what I tell myself as reassurance that $45 plus tip wasn't just as well flushed down the commode. In fairness, Arlen was a gentle teacher who quickly established a good raport with Zach.

Zach with Arlen

Nap time was soon calling, so Jennifer and the kids called it a day after Zach's lesson concluded while I ripped several runs at full speed in the afternoon sun. It was the best skiing of the weekend. I found that it is much easier to stay dry when crossing the small ponds at the bottom of the hill at high speed, as you can get out of the way by the time the water sprays up behind you. One of these days, I will have to try a pond skimming exhibition. I have been saving an old, beat-up pair of boots in my office closet for just that purpose.

Faith and Zach in the bear chair inside the Brule Saloon

We hit the base of Whitewater for snow tubing after the lifts had closed. We walked up the slope for our first of 5 runs, but the guys came to our rescue with the snowmobile shortly thereafter. The kids thought that was really cool. Then we went into town for Italian at Alice's. It may not sound Italian, but it's pretty darn good.

Zach hangs on as Jennifer screams down the tubing run

Faith shows her approval of snow tubing

The clouds rolled in on Sunday, bringing rain and colder temperatures. We had come a long way and still had the morning, so we made the most of it. I took the kids, one at a time, for about an hour each on what would be Ski Brule's last day of operation for the 2008-09 season. As Zach and I walked over, we met another father and son from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in the same boat. It was about 9:15 and the lifts were still not turning. The lift employees were biding their time in one of the buildings at the base. When they saw us walk over, they came out and started the Big Bear lift. The rope tow had already been dismantled for the season. Zach and I made about 4 runs and then I took him back to Jennifer at the condo and headed out with Faith. We did about 7 runs before the rain penetrated our gloves, at which point it was about time to start packing for home.

As soon as we started taking off our skis, the lifts stopped and the crew started cleaning up. I think Faith and I officially made the last chair of the season! One other snowboarder joined us briefly during the morning, making 6 patrons in total for the day. My kids and I made up exactly half. It was a great time nonetheless.

I drove the crew back to Madison, where I caught a plane for Seattle for a couple days of work and another day of skiing. Jennifer was a good sport to bring the kids back the rest of the way home to St. Joseph. Though our Midwestern season is done, we will head to Colorado for Memorial Day weekend and Arapahoe Basin's Festival of the Brewpubs as we did last year. This time, Zach will join us and we will also make some time for horseback riding. It should be another great adventure.

More photos from the day

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