The Noquemanon trail has been described by some as “the most beautiful trail I have ever skied on,” by others as “never dull,” and by a few as “deceptively tough.” It’s fair to say that the Noquemanon trail has many faces, ranging from gently rolling hills and flat lake crossings to testing climbs and plenty of downhills. One thing, however, remains constant: the beautifully rugged U.P. wilderness that surrounds skiers throughout the course.
48K – 38K: Al Quaal Start Line, through Al Quaal Ski Area over Deer Lake through Zhulkie Pass and onto Aid Station Two
Kilometer 48 of the UPHS Noquemanon Ski Marathon begins at the Al Quaal Recreation Area at an elevation of 1400 feet. As with many ski marathons, the Noque’s kilometers (“km”) are marked on the trail in descending order.
Two tough climbs will greet skiers on a ski trail that is 30 feet wide in the first 3K of the course on a portion of Al Quaal’s FIS and NCAA race course. Skiers will head east towards Teal Lake and then back towards the starting area where they will be cheered on by the spectators just prior to heading into the beautiful forests and the rugged hills of Al Quaal through Aid Station #1.
Two long downhills bring skiers to Deer Lake and its jagged granite bluffs. You’re quickly off the lake and into gentle pine and balsam forests through Aid Station #2 at the 39.1K mark. Shortly after this aid station, skiers will face more serious climbs: the deceptively tough “Three Steps” followed 1K later by the even tougher Zhulkie Pass (elevation 1642 feet). Several kilometers of fun ups and downs atop the Zhulkie Range end with a speedy downhill into the Noquemanon Valley (its name on the original surveyor’s maps, better known today as the Dead River Basin area). The terrain becomes milder over the following kilometers.
38K – 23.5K: Dead River Basin through Granite Point (highest point) to Start Line of mBank Half Noque
As you get closer to the Basin, you’ll come upon aid station #3 at the 29.8K mark. Leaving that party, skiers cross South Camp Road and drop onto the Basin for a 250 meter lake crossing. The rugged hills to the North provide a beautiful backdrop; beautiful, that is, until you realize that they’re up next to climb! Upon leaving the Basin at 27.9K, skiers begin a 400′ uphill climb into the hills of Granite Point.
The Granite Point area contains old growth white and red pine forests and some of the best scenery on the course. This Granite Point section has been revamped in the Fall of 2016 and most of the tight turns and difficult hills have been removed. This section used to be 7K long and is now a 3K stretch straight through to county road 510. Although most of the technical difficulties of this section have been removed, skiers will still reach the highest point on the course with an elevation of 1635 feet at the 25K mark. With 25K’s to go, skiers start to reap the rewards for their efforts as they begin the 1,000-foot “net” (key word) descent to the finish line on the shores of Lake Superior. A 1.5K long downhill cruise leads to County Road 510 – the starting area for the mBank Half Noque.
23.5K – 11K: mBank Half Noque Start through Mead Highlands (view of Lake Superior) to Forestville Aid Station
Note that the mBank Half Noque racers will be taking the “Mead bypass” which is a gentler section until they meet up with marathon skiers again at the 20K mark.
The hundreds of skiers readying for the Half Marathon and spectators lining the course, along with Aid Station #4, will reenergize skiers. Another 1K of downhill cruising after crossing 510 doesn’t hurt, either! Both Marathon and Half Marathon skiers will benefit from this decent.
For the marathon skiers, the Mead Highlands are up next and as the name suggests it’s time for some more climbing. Two notable climbs are found in this area – the first after crossing Bismark Creek at the 22K mark and the second, a full kilometer in length, near the 20K mark. The first glimpse of Lake Superior will be seen 10K (or six miles) in the distance and is found between these two climbs.
Several kilometers of downhill follow that will send skiers into the Forestville plains; a largely flat section of trail almost 5K’s in length. Aid Station #5 is then found at 19K. Crossing the powerline at 12K’s, skiers take in a spectacular view of Lake Superior and rugged Sugarloaf Mountain as well as the Superior Dome! At that point one of the longest downhill sections of the day lies ahead – the 2K descent into the Aid Station #6.
10K-Finish Line: Forestville Downhills and following the snaking Dead River with waterfall and along the railroad track to Superior Dome
A series of rolling hills takes skiers over the gorgeous Forestville ponds. The section beyond the ponds to the 5K mark are a series of turns and small hills. Between the 5K and 4K marker is Aid Station # 7. Immediately after this aid station, there’s one more short steep uphill and then down you go to river level. From here you follow the Dead River through a snaking trail and across County Road 550 and the next Dead River waterfall. After following along the river for another 1K, skiers come out on the old railroad grade that leads to the finish line 2K’s away.
For the very first time since leaving Ishpeming, skiers will emerge from the rugged UP forest and will be within the Marquette City Limits. They are now just 100 yards from Lake Superior’s shores! The umbrella shape of the Dome looms ahead, growing larger with each stride until finally you are there – the finish line and the end of the Noquemanon Trail.