Welcome to the Owl’s Nest
Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center accommodates couples and solos in studio lodge
The Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony at Lapland on Tuesday to celebrate the opening of the Owl’s Nest. With a wood stove, kitchen, a bed, a couch and dining table all overlooking a peaceful pond, the studio cabin has everything for one or two people to unplug and enjoy the tranquillity of nature.
“Really we just wanted to find ways to slightly expand the business without changing the character. One of the things that we saw that was missing was a good lodging option for solo travelers and couples,” said Paul Zahray, who with his wife Kathy, owns and operates Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center.
The Owl’s Nest had previously served as part of the resort’s restaurant area before being repurposed as a lodging unit, but the building served other functions even before that.
“This building has a lot of history. It started as an icehouse,” Paul said.
The vacation center, which is open year round but has its prime season in the winter, now features 11 lodging units that range in maximum occupancy from 10 all the way down to two. All told, the resort is equipped to hold anywhere from 50 to 70 guests.
“In theory [we can house] about 70 [guests],” Paul said. “Fifty to 60 is a comfortable number. And we do rent the entire place for reunions and weddings and things like that. So for those groups we say 50 or 60 is comfortable for overnight guests.”
In the spring, summer and fall, lodging guests have access to the resort’s private beach on Woods Lake, along with canoes and kayaks. But winter is when things start to heat up at Lapland. With almost 24 miles of groomed cross-country skiing trails including a section on the lake, 7.5 miles of ungroomed snowshoe trails, and ice skating on both the pond and the lake when conditions permit, the vacation center is a veritable haven for winter activity. Lapland offers both day passes and season passes for cross country skiers and all of the lodging units are open for booking. Lapland also features a warming room for skiers with a sauna and cafeteria.
With a staff of roughly 30 people in the winter season — including certified ski instructors, a trail crew, housekeeping, food service, and those who run the servicing, retail, and rental shop — Lapland comes alive in the winter months. They also have on hand a volunteer ski service for emergencies.
“We are very fortunate to have an active volunteer ski patrol,” Paul said. “They are trained both on medical/advanced first aid and transporting people out of the area. Several of them –although it’s not required to be on patrol — are emergency room physicians.”
The resort was founded in 1978 by Olavi Hirvonen, a Finnish cross-country skier who with his parents, moved to the United States in 1949. Hirvonen participated in the 1960 Olympic games in Squaw Valley, California before settling in Benson with the intention of establishing a cross-country ski resort. Kathy said that Hirvonen stumbled upon the location after the death of his son Esa, who he believes led him to the spot. Hirvonen and his wife then owned and operated the vacation center until 2014, building and maintaining extensive cross-country ski trails, before selling the resort to its current owners. Paul and Kathy Zahray took over Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center in the winter of 2014, but they’d been frequenters of Lapland long before they decided to make it their own. The Zahray’s moved to New Jersey in the 1990s.
“One of the things that came up was where do we go cross country-skiing? We found this place. We tried it, we liked it,” Paul said.
In their four years of operating the center, the Zahrays say that for the most part things have been great.
“Overall, we’ve loved it,” Paul said. “There’s a lot of small unexpected challenges. But the community, both the staff and our customer base, is so supportive and welcoming that it really makes it worth it.”
One of the unexpected challenges is dealing with snow conditions.
“Our season is when Mother Nature gives us the snow,” Kathy said.
But with daily snow reports and state-of-the-art trail grooming equipment, Lapland is prepared to make the most of the season.
“We typically have over 100 skiing days per season. We work off natural snow here,” Paul said.
The Zahray’s goal now is to increase local awareness and interest in the resort. Besides being open to the public, Lapland hosts high school races and occasionally features special events including guided nighttime snowshoeing tours and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
“We typically do some evening moonlight snowshoe tours where a guided group comes from the lodge and comes down [to the lake] and has a campfire. It’s fun to watch people roast marshmallows and make smores in the winter,” Paul said.
Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center is located at 139 Lapland Lake Road in Northville. For more information, lodging details and notifications about special events, visit their website at www.laplandlake.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/laplandlake.