The Gunflint Trail hasn’t escaped the effects of El Nino this fall. There was snow and then there wasn’t. There was more snow and then that gently melted away too. Now we’re back to snow cover and it appears it’s here to stay. In fact, 14 + inches of snowfall is forecasted to fall between now and Christmas Day.
But if I’m being honest, I don’t pay too much attention to the snow accumulation this time of year. Instead, I’m focused on the lake, trying to tell if this is the year it will freeze into a smooth, thick, mirror-like surface and if at long last, I’ll finally be able to test out the new blades I installed on my hockey skates back in spring 2014. I spend a lot of time staring out the window, trying to use mental telepathy to will it to freeze over perfectly.
As a child, much of my winters were spent on outdoor skating rinks, more often than not at hockey practice. I spent a fair amount of time at indoor arenas when we traveled for hockey tournaments. But it’s the rare, precious moment that’s been spent skating on frozen lakes.
It takes a lot for lake ice to freeze up just right for skating. We need a series of still, below freezing days and nights and under no circumstances can it snow significantly while the ice forms.
It’s a tall order: no wind, no precipitation, and consistent freezing temps.
It happened once while we lived on Seagull Lake, back in December 2011. For a magical week, we swirled across the lake’s glossy surface, chasing hockey pucks, and putting real mileage on our skates as we skated the full mile from our dock to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness sign.
Once when I was very little, probably back in January 1992, the harbor in Grand Marais froze over, just for one glorious weekend. I remember spending that Sunday skating from the Lake Superior Trading Post all the way across to the Angry Trout Cafe and back again. By the time I took the bus into school the next morning, the wind had broken up the ice and pushed it on top of itself on the harbor beach.
That’s how skating on lakes goes in these parts. You must seize the moment as soon as it presents itself because it just takes one slight shift in the wind, one snow squall to put the kibosh on the whole thing.
But because Round Lake doesn’t have a ton of surface area, it’s one of the first lakes to freeze over on the Gunflint Trail and it tends to have more skate-able days than the other larger lakes. I thought maybe we had a shot. But not this year.
This year we got a week of whitecaps on Round Lake before Round Lake finally froze over on the Thanksgiving night. Then we got some snow. Then the temperatures hovered above freezing day and in day out for a week straight. Even though it’s been frozen over for more than two weeks, no one except a brave otter and fox have ventured across the ice. It just seems too uncertain.
Skating lessons or waiting lessons?
Maybe next year.