2018-02-10 / News

Mark Chambers Keeps Watchful Eyes Over Mackinac Island’s Ski Trails

By Stephanie Fortino


Fort Holmes is one of the many Island landmarks only accessible by ski, snowshoe, or foot during the winter. As of Wednesday, January 17, the snow was thin at the highest point of the Island, but ski club volunteer groomer Mark Chambers (pictured on the snowmobile) made a pass to pack down the snow. Lake Huron is visible in the distance to the right. Fort Holmes is one of the many Island landmarks only accessible by ski, snowshoe, or foot during the winter. As of Wednesday, January 17, the snow was thin at the highest point of the Island, but ski club volunteer groomer Mark Chambers (pictured on the snowmobile) made a pass to pack down the snow. Lake Huron is visible in the distance to the right. About half the roads on the east side of the Island are closed during the winter, and between 22 and 24 miles of trails are groomed for cross-country skiers to enjoy.

Members of the Mackinac Island Ski Club keep watch over the trails. Mark Chambers makes grooming trips as needed, looping around to pack the snow along North Bicycle Trail, South Bicycle Trail, Lesley Avenue, and the Mackinac Island Carriage Tours route to Arch Rock, Fort Holmes, and Point Lookout. A portion of Scott’s Cave Road from British Landing Road to Silver Birches is open to snowmobiles this year, allowing emergency vehicle access to Silver Birches, where construction is ongoing.


This ridged texture, described as corduroy, is perfect for groomed ski trails. This ridged texture, described as corduroy, is perfect for groomed ski trails. Mr. Chambers had the trails all the way to British Landing in good condition for skiing right before the thaw on January 11, when the temperature rached a record-breaking 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Virtually all the snow melted that day, but a storm the following weekend dropped just enough snow to recover the trails. As the depth increases, Mr. Chambers grooms tracks for the skiers.

Frequent thaws plagued skiing last year, he said.

Mackinac Island State Park and the ski club work closely to get the trails ready. The snowmobile and the groomer it pulls were purchased by the Mackinac Island Ski Club, and the state park provides the fuel and assistance if Mr. Chambers get stranded while out grooming, said Sue Topham, state park manager.


After making a pass down Rifle Range Trail, which offers hills that are great for skiing, volunteer ski trail groomer Mark Chambers drives the snowmobile toward Rifle Range Road at the base of Fort Holmes. After making a pass down Rifle Range Trail, which offers hills that are great for skiing, volunteer ski trail groomer Mark Chambers drives the snowmobile toward Rifle Range Road at the base of Fort Holmes. The park hosts a few well-attended ski events. At the Twilight Turtle Trek Saturday, January 6, about 25 people showed up, including a couple from lower Michigan who flew over and stayed overnight just to participate. Another Twilight Turtle Trek is planned Saturday, March 3, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The events begin with a bonfire and hot cocoa at Greaney Grove, at the corner of Arch Rock Road and Huron Road. The two-mile-long ski trail loop will be lit by lanterns. The event is free of charge.

Towed behind the ski club’s yellow and black snowmobile is a large device outfitted with flaps, ridges, and even picks when the trails are icy. The groomer is powered by hydraulics to move up and down, depending on the depth of the snow. The ski club also has a narrower groomer that is used to groom smaller trails.

Skiing is a favorite pastime, and Mr. Chambers notes people can ski just about anywhere because of how the roads are plowed. To accommodate snowmobiles in the areas where they are permitted, state park plow trucks leave a good base of snow on the roads, which also benefits the skiers and can still accommodate horses and emergency vehicles.

Once skiers go beyond the barricades that section off the groomed trails, however, they are greeted by more than 20 miles of maintained paths and loops where no snowmobiles are allowed. This makes skiing safe, Mrs. Topham said.

“You can go out and not run into people, “ she said. “You can hear noises and the snowmobiles, of course, but enjoy the natural beauty of the Island.”

“It feels like you’re on your own private ski area,” Mr. Chambers added.

When grooming the trails, Mr. Chambers usually makes two passes, once to pack it down and smooth it, the second to set the track. He often grooms trails at night because the colder temperatures allow the tracks to set up better.

Mr. Chambers drives slowly, about 10 miles an hour, to make sure the surface is smooth. He’s on the lookout for twigs and branches as he goes along, and remove them as he finds them.

Mr. Chambers started grooming the ski trails in the early 1990s when Carl Nold was director of Mackinac State Historic Parks. Using a homemade groomer built of a wooden box with a set of old downhill skis attached to the bottom, he only laid a track for a few winters. When Anneke and Matt Myers started the Mackinac Island Ski Club, they took over caring for the ski trails. Then Mr. Cham- bers started grooming again after longtime volunteer groomer Dave “Tonto” Johnson passed away in 2012.

Rifle Range Trail at the base of Fort Holmes offers great skiing, Mr. Chambers said, with many hills that make the run interesting. Morning Snack Trail on the way to Fort Holmes is another good skiing trail, as it ties into a network of other trails in the vicinity and has saddlebacks with downhill runs.

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