EVERY NOW AND then, it’s a good thing to go back to the future.

Last weekend, in order to get a job done, I found it was time to go back to the future. I didn’t have Michael J. Fox to help me out, but when all was said and done, I got the job done. Now, I’m hoping that by this weekend, I’ll be back to the standard time zone in good old 2018.

This all has to do with grooming Razorback Ridges ski trails, which is something I have been doing for 37 years, but couldn’t do last week until I went “Back to the Future.”

Going way back, back to when I established the beginnings of Razorback Ridges, it would take a couple of years to give the trails a name, I groomed several miles of logging tote roads located just across the town road from my house with a beat-up old snowmobile pulling a twin-sized bed spring. I had nothing to set tracks with, but I was happy enjoying my newly-found winter sport of cross-country skiing.

Fortunately for me I had several good friends in the cross-country community who knew considerably more than I about skiing, grooming and building things.

One of those friends was Wes Doak, a former Woodruff resident, who back in those days, was considered the father of cross-country skiing in our part of the North Woods.

Doak taught me much of what I knew then about skiing, but as it turned out, his most valuable contribution to my little piece of cross-country was a plan for a track setter: a piece of grooming apparatus imperative for anyone trying to set tracks for really good, quality skiing.

Enter into the picture another of my good friends, Doug Drew, who had been cross-country skiing for years. Most important, Drew was a builder who could build anything. Doak’s diagram for building a track setter was only a piece of paper for me, a person who is one of the reasons God invented carpenters, but for Drew it was a blueprint for building.

In short order, Drew turned the blueprint into a working track setter and just like that, my little trail system took a giant leap forward, for at least Drew, me and our small group of cross-country skiing friends.

A year later, we struck on the idea of creating a ski trail system for the general public, not just our friends, who by that time were often parking in my driveway to ski from my front door.

The first thing we had to do was get official Department of Natural Resources approval for using the logging roads on state property, something I had never seen any need for up to that point. With the help and support of then-Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest Superintendent Dennis Leith, we soon had a land use agreement in hand.

We formed a club, enlisted the Sayner-Star Lake Chamber of Commerce to pay for liability insurance, and were off and running. Two years later, I convinced my fellow Sayner-Star Lake Lions Club members to take on the trails as a community project and the rest is history.

We began to grow in leaps and bounds in terms of miles of trails and number of loops, and within a few years, were able to graduate from having Drew and Joan McKay opening their summertime ice cream building to us as a warming building to having a trailhead building of our own.

Along with providing a warm place for skiers to change into ski clothes, wax skis, use a real bathroom and enjoy the snacks they brought with them in comfort we, the Lions Club, added a groomer shed to house a succession of improved grooming machines.

The new warming building was made possible by a gift to the Lions Club of 2 acres of land by Alvin, Melvin Jr. and Gordon Long, sons of a Sayner pioneer couple, Mel and Emma Long, who owned 40 acres of land at the start of the trail system.

As the years went by, we continued to map out new loops, added snowshoe trails and made a skating rink adjacent to the building. Of course, the expanded trail system, which included lanes for skating and classic styles of skiing, required even better grooming equipment. 

The groomer we have been using for more than 15 years is an ASV, rubber-tracked diesel vehicle which has served us well, along with the Yellowstone Ginzu drag we bought at the same time. I have grown accustomed to grooming while sitting in the heated cab of a machine with cruise control, hydrostatic turning and hydraulic controls.

No more sitting on a snowmobile for up to six or seven hours on the trail with temperatures on the south side of zero, pulling a small drag requiring at least three trips around every loop to do the job properly. No power steering, no heat and oftentimes, a lot of pulling and tugging on a heavy snowmobile that tended to get stuck more than once during every grooming trip trying to pull more snow than it was capable of pulling are a thing of the past.

But guess what? With our comfortable heated groomer blowing a water pump, I have been forced to go back to the future. Fortunately, we were wise enough to keep the old Alpine and drag for emergency backup and last weekend, after installing a new battery, I was astride a snowmobile, grooming for seven hours in below zero temperatures. Only once did I get stuck and even that one time, it took a minimum of pushing, pulling and cussing to get moving again.

In a way, it was fun reliving the old days, seeing how ungroomed trails became well-groomed lanes for skaters and classic skiers, and feeling the warmth that came just from knowing that when you have to, you can always go back to the future to get the job done.

Now, Jimmy — our Lions Club resident mechanic — get that ASV going. One weekend of back to the future was enough.