A weekend's worth of heavy snow accumulation means further grooming on local Nordic ski trails come Monday. Maybe by then the young Northland skiers marooned in West Yellowstone, Mont., by the east-to-west moving blizzard will have made their way home.
Three coach buses filled with more than 95 prep skiers were delayed from starting their trip home on Friday, said Duluth East High School Nordic ski team coach Bonnie Fuller-Kask. The veteran bus drivers simply didn't want to get caught in a blizzard, she told the News Tribune in a phone interview Friday.
"This is probably my 21st year doing this trip and it's the first time we've ever gotten off schedule like this," Fuller-Kask said, before addressing the welfare of the skiers. "They are really happy. They've got huge smiles. Think of it: They're getting snowed-in with all their buddies and they're able to ski all day."
West Yellowstone is 1,080 miles west of Duluth, mostly along Interstate 94. Each year, Fuller-Kask lines up the weeklong training sessions, attracting prep skiers from East and throughout the Northland, including skiers this season from Duluth Marshall, Ely, Mesabi East, Proctor-Hermantown and even Washburn (Minneapolis).
The trip always covers Thanksgiving break. The skiers get a chance to pile up early season kilometers and see their endurance tested by altitude, some 6,600 feet above sea level. Fuller-Kask even brings along young adult racers to help with technique and coaching. This year's trip left Nov. 22 and had expected to be home by Saturday.
Fuller-Kask said reports of up to 18 inches or more of snow in parts of the Northland were met with glee. Skiers will be able to arrive home and get right back to trails lush with snow.
"We're all really excited to hear the forecast," she said. "We're all thrilled. This is just absolutely perfect for them."
The Kelly Inn in West Yellowstone comped an extra night for skiers. It's a testament, Fuller-Kask said, to the well-behaved nature of the group.
"The kids are amazing and very respectful," she said. "It's why we're invited back every year."
The ski coach and the Minnesota Coaches bus drivers were going to convene Saturday morning over strategy.
John Graham, manager at Snowflake Nordic Ski Center (4348 Rice Lake Road), said the fresh round of snow will curb what had been a busy start to the season after last week's first serious snowfall.
"We wound up with 50 people skiing on Thanksgiving and have been super busy all day with people coming and going (Friday)," he said.
Graham figured to be back manicuring the trails on Sunday.
"We're going to be getting a lot more snow than we really want," he said. "Sunday's going to be a hard day of trying to get the trails reopened."
Heavy snow brings falling branches and trees, he said, forcing groomers to pack the snow, groom it and use chainsaws to remove debris.
"First thing, we'll get the smaller 5K trail open and after that we'll start on the 8K," he said. "We're not anticipating any skiers on Saturday."