All the grooming resources at Jackson Ski Touring went to the race course for the J2 championships, so the trails for the rest of us suffered from less than meticulous attention today.
I was going to skate up to look at the stadium and race course, because I would rather climb on skate skis and the connecting trail from the touring center to the race venue is a nasty wall. But George reported that the nasty wall was a frozen sheet of armor plate unscratched by tilling equipment since yesterday's deluge and freeze.
I would rather ski than watch skiing, so I opted to skip the spectating and head out the Ellis. It had been skate groomed the day before. Secretly I believed it would not be, today, but I hoped. If it was double-tracked I could puke my way up the connecting trail to the South Hall and back down again. I've been slighting the hill work this year.
Unfortunately, the A-list groomers were all devoted to the race course. The surface on the Ellis and Connector were what we politely call "variable."
Beginning right on the golf course outside the lodge, the trail was somehow formed into a series of close-set waves, like pillows laid side by side. My skis bounced over these as I threaded the leisurely pods of day tourists on my way to the covered bridge and tunnel to get over the river and under Route 16.
The Riverbank Loop was double-tracked, so skating was forbidden. I had to take the inland side, which makes me feel like a salmon leaping upstream. Most people, myself included, prefer to go out the Riverbank and come back on the inner side. But on weekends skaters are required to follow the left side out to the connector to the South Hall Trail. The current runs the opposite way.
Back on the main line the surface had been tilled to several inches depth and immediately gouged and stomped into a chaotic mess by abusive skaters and waddlers who fear the set track. It was a slow trudge out to the Connector.
The Connector wasn't bad at first. I decided to climb via the new Whifferdill and descend on the Connector. The groomer had scratched a faint pattern into the lower portion of the Whifferdill, but then apparently gave up, leaving the armored crust from the previous night's rain. It was okay for climbing. It would be deadly for descent.
At the Connector I'd had enough. Two other skaters stood at the junction and agreed with my analysis. The Connector was all trenches and death cookies, but at least it was somewhat broken up. I launched down it.
Snowplowing didn't do much. It was also very hard to link turns in the ditches and chunks. I screwed down the brakes completely going into a hairpin turn and slithered gingerly around it to find a family group, Mom, Dad and Lad, herringboning up into it from below. I stopped to point out that the trail here was as good as it was going to get, and that they would have to come down what they went up, since the Whifferdill's wider course had not been tilled at all.
As we discussed this, the first skater arrived from above and had to ditch it to avoid collision. He laughed about it, fortunately, before yelling a warning to his wife coming down behind him. To break the clot, I launched again into the remaining turns to get to where the trail levels out.
The chunks continued to jolt my skis until I reached the deep sugar again. At least going downstream I could hammer on narrow V2 options to maintain a brisk pace. The gradient going upstream is often barely noticeable until one turns back southward and effortlessly shifts up a couple of gears. But the deep granules made quick maneuvers a little trickier.
Any skiing is better than no skiing. But today could have been premium with better grooming. With more trail available, skiers could have dispersed over a wider area. Today the Ellis had a bit of the ambiance of a drying waterhole in the desert, with desperate life wiggling in a pile in the shriveling shallows.