Snow lovers, here's your early Christmas present. Winter storms have dumped tons of the white stuff across northern Michigan, making for what some are calling the best early-season snowmobiling in years.
The National Weather Service is reporting snow depths of 18 to 24 inches in an area ranging from Alpena to Atlanta, north to Cheboygan, including Rogers City. Snow depths were slightly lower near Harrisville, at eight to 11 inches. A little more fell Monday, with snow likely tonight and almost certain for Christmas day, according to forecasts. With well below freezing temperatures, and predictions showing they'll stay that way, the snow should stick around into the new year.
"It's much better. I think we got more snow now than we had all winter last year," Alpena Snowdrifters trail coordinator Bob Eller said.
More snow already has fallen on Alpena than normal for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service. So far, 25 inches have fallen, compared to the average total of 21.3 for Dec. 23. To the west, Gaylord's current snowfall total of 86.4 inches is nearly double the average of 46.3.
Alpena County trails are in good condition, Eller said. He groomed some on Monday, and all 90 miles of trails the club maintains have been groomed a few times this winter.
While there's plenty of snow, it's so cold that it isn't packing well, Eller said. The snow is "dry," since it's staying in its crystalline state. Groomers won't work on Christmas day, but will be back at it on Thursday.
Cross country skiers and snowshoers are taking advantage of the snow as well. Ron Anderson grooms Norway Ridge and Chippewa Hills pathways for Thunder Bay Trails Association, which also maintains a path through Alpena Golf Club, and said conditions couldn't be better.
"For the past couple years we had next to nothing for snow, we couldn't groom," he said. "We had green Christmases. Now with this kind of snow ... people that love winter, this is what you long for."
While the powdery snow is harder for snowmobilers, avid skiers and snowshoers love it, Anderson said. He also went to Black Mountain Forest Recreation Area, north of Onaway near Black Lake, and conditions there are "more than excellent."
In Presque Isle County, trail groomers reported a three-inch base on trails as of Friday, with even more falling since then, according to Michigan Snowmobile Association reports. Conditions are fair, and the report indicates that more wet snow is needed.
Around Glennie in Alcona County, trails are good to improving, Alcona County Parks and Recreation Commission groomer Carl Boyd said. He maintains 50 of the 90 miles of trail in the county, and said groomers have been out at least three times so far.
"The first eight inches of snow were so fluffy it wouldn't pack, but it's looking better all the time," he said.
Near Canada Creek Ranch in Montmorency County, trails needed grooming on Sunday but should be in good shape for the holidays, John Jones said. He helps maintain the trails in the fall, and went for a ride that day. Conditions are good, and the ranch's snowmobile club reported trails in other parts of the county are fair to good as well.
"We're excellent. It's been terrible the last three, four years," he said. "We usually take a group out of Canada Creek to Mackinaw City, and we have not been able to make that trip in about three years. It looks like we might be able to."
Anderson, Boyd and Eller agreed. Boyd said he's been living in the area since the 1970s, and has only seen a handful of winters where snowmobiling was so good, so early. He called it one of the best holidays for sledding in 10 years.
"For this time of year, it's kind of a bonus before Christmas," he said.