More room to groom | ParkRecord.com

More room to groom

Christopher Kamrani, Of the Record staff

Charlie Sturgis knows a community-wide vision held by many is well on its way to fruition.

The executive director of the Mountain Trails Foundation has seen trails in Park City evolve from mining-era paths to an estimated 60-to-70 kilometers of cross-country skiing track.

Back when Mountain Trails was established in 1993, Sturgis recalls the sort of underground tactics that nordic skiers had to resort to.

"We had 14 miles of trails probably in town. Most of it probably wasn’t legal. It was hand-cut, it was recovered mining trails," Sturgis said. "If we found an old track through the woods from the mining days, we’d go through and clear it out; we didn’t have any permission to do that."

Now the sport and the track are burgeoning.

Combined with White Pine Touring’s trails, the local tracks are well on their way to becoming some of the most impressive and scenic in the country.

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With an estimated 25-to-30 kilometers of track in the Round Valley area alone, Mountain Trails is seeing the benefits of growth in the sport, but sees a desperate need for people to get involved and help further the cause.

"What we really want to have happen now is the level of the membership increase to the level of usership," Sturgis said. "Right now we have a membership of 300 people, and I would guess you could argue that we have a user group of 15,000 or 20,000 people."

Isaac Wilson, the director of the Nordic Center at White Pine, sees the benefit of the sport, and has witnessed the growth first hand.

Wilson, who has been with White Pine for the past eight or nine years, said he saw cross-country skiing explode when the nation’s economy began its wicked slide a couple years ago.

"We’ve seen our business grow leaps and bounds," Wilson said. "We’ve been a great complement for Park City."

White Pine offers 20 kilometers of cross-country ski track within the city limits.

Wilson pointed out that the beauty of nordic skiing is that it doesn’t necessarily rely on large amounts of snow.

"Less snow is sometimes better," he said. "We want to provide for visitors of Park City when the snow isn’t very good. We haven’t had a bad year in about eight years."

Wilson hopes to dispel any notions that cross-country skiing is a specifically a sport for experts.

"That’s what’s hard to convince other people of," Wilson said. "It’s only as hard as you make it out to be. At the end of the day, it’s not that super stressful. Our biggest struggle is effort."

Sturgis and Mountain Trails have seen the evolution of the Round Valley track over several years and, last year, received a Sno-Cat donated by the city. White Pine helped groom and set track.

"Now we can go out and set 20 kilometers of track comfortably," Sturgis said.

A lot of work on the trails is done by snowmobile, but the addition of a Sno-Cat has been essential to working fast and preparing tracks suitable for cross-country skiers.

White Pine and Mountain Trails are technically competitors, but both organizations are fighting for the same cause to advance the amount of nordic skiing in Summit County.

Mountain Trails is bringing a ski marathon to Park City on Feb. 19, 2011. Sturgis mentioned it’s the first ski marathon in the state in 10 years and it will feature three different races: a 5K, half marathon, and marathon.

"We want it to be a classy event," he said.

Wilson and Sturgis know that it will take time to compete with the likes of Sun Valley, Vail and Aspen in terms of cross-country skiing, but know with the ever-expanding tracks and, hopefully, community support, Park City could be on the fast track to being a top-tier destination for nordic skiing.

"The plan is to grow it to be a big draw," Wilson said. "It’s a nice, sustainable, low-impact sport. As it grows, maybe Canyons will want to get involved, maybe Jeremy Ranch. Who knows."

Sturgis echoed Wilson’s thoughts; he sees the interest in cross-country skiing within the community and even from tourists.

"We weren’t seeing this in the 1990s, or 2000s," he said. "We’re not finished with the potential. There’s more to be done."

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