The Best Ski Route at Stinchfield
By Howard Balzout
Stinchfield Woods Trail Map • Stinchfield hiking map
Stinchfield Woods is one of southeast Michigan's most popular cross country ski destinations, but few have a map of it, much less an idea of where to find the best route.
The most common place to stage for runs at Stinchfield is at the nearby office building [Kids Land Care as of Feb. 2010] parking lot on the south side of N. Territorial Road just west of Dexter-Pinckney Road. It is technically private property, and to my knowledge no permission has been granted to rest your hunk of steel there, but everyone does. I've never heard of anyone getting towed, but don't call me if your rig is gone when you return. The animal hospital road and lot, also nearby, is definitely not advised.
From the lot, one must cross busy N. Territorial, so please look both ways several times. I prefer to carry my skis across and set up rather than skiing across (much safer). From there, ski along the west side of the field next to the animal hospital driveway to the northwest corner of the field. Then cut along the edge or on the road to the gate and around it. Skiers will note that stretch of the driveway was graded this year, making it wider than in the past.
As one approaches the old gravel pit, one can go left (west) and skirt the south side or right along the east side. I prefer the former, going both ways, but the view looking south from the top of the pit is impressive, so if conditions allow, it's worth the climb. The trip down on that side is hairy and not recommended. The two options meet again later on.
Heading west the trail makes a 90º right turn and heads up a wide, steep hill. Once at the top the vast trail network is at your disposal, none of which is marked, many of which (being old firebreaks) run directly north/south east/west. Take the first right and head due east on an up-and-down straight run to another 90º left turn to head north. This next climb is pretty steep and somewhat narrow; the alternative is to take the second right from the main trail on a pretty but mostly flat run to arrive at the same place: the top of the Stinchfield "Monster Hill".
The Monster is a straight run and wide, but very steep and very, very long. In fact, one cannot even see the bottom from the top, which is one of the marks of a monster hill. There's a short drop, a small ledge and then the big drop. One can take it slowly and cautiously by braking some, most or all of the way down, or one can use the Balzout approach and go for it. It's your call, and your consequences.
At the bottom, there's another 90º turn right; if you're really good, you can spray snow at high speed, turn, and just keep on going. Continue eastward for another nice but straight downhill, another 90º left turn and up another challenging uphill. The best winding, wooded, narrow run is to the right, not dangerous but much fun. The only downside to this route is that it takes one to the property's eastern boundary along Dexter-Pinckney Rd., where the snow is not always as good, and behind a couple houses. Once past them, take a hard left for a long but easy climb up an old two-track to a trail junction.
At the four corners, go left on another up-and-down run that, while mostly straight, has some twists to make it fun. At the top, there's another trail junction; go right there and head to the access road. One must either ski on or next to this road for a bit, but usually there's a parallel track set on the west side not far past the caretaker's house. Take that to the second trail junction (heading westerly) and then the first left for a gradual downhill that leads to a steep and straight downhill. Cross over the access road and continue ahead.
Follow south over a couple small hills and head right at the junction. This next stretch starts slowly but then has a gradual downhill that one can ride a long ways. Stay left for another long gradual run, make a sharp right at the bottom (if you're good you can just keep going) and finally up a gradual run back to the main trail. That first hill climbed is now a fast downhill run into the trees; good skiers will see how far they can get before striding. Then it's down the driveway and back to the parking lot.
How many miles is this route? I don't know, does it matter? And how long should it take? A good skier in decent shape doing this route in good conditions without stopping much can run it in a little over an hour. When there's good enough snow to run the best trails in Michigan, you should be blowing off work and school and everything else anyway.
There are many other good runs at Stinchfield, but remember that Peach Mountain is a glacial kame (a mostly conical feature sort of like a Cascade range volcano in shape), so if you go down toward one of the bordering public roads, you'll have to go up again. But then that pumps more of that delicious winter air through your being!
Howard Balzout hangs in Bob Treemore's 'hood, and, despite his folksy, devil-may-care manner, wants to remind readers to ski within the limits of their ability.