Building and grooming a Nordic track
February 23, 2016
Park City is home to some great Nordic skiing, from the scenic Farm at White Pine to the 2002 Olympic track at Soldier Hollow, to the wilderness trails maintained by the Mountain Trails Foundation and Basin Recreation. More than 100 kilometers of maintained track are available to locals and visitors alike.
New to the Summit County Nordic scene is Jeremy Ranch Golf and Country Club, which started its Nordic program two winters ago. However, since only Soldier Hollow has snowmaking capabilities among the local tracks, the lack of snow kept Jeremy Ranch from having a full winter schedule until this year.
"Two years ago, we tried grooming for a couple weeks," Jeremy Ranch Golf Pro Jake Hanley said. "Last year, it lasted for about a month due to the warm conditions. This year, it’s really taken off."
When the club decided to get back into the Nordic business, it teamed up with a local legend, five-time Nordic combined Olympian Billy Demong, to help lay out the track.
"It came about during a youth soccer game," Hanley said. "My son was playing with another gentleman’s son, Kris Cheney Seymour, who was Billy’s [Nordic] coach. Kris said, ‘Well, you know Billy and I were working on a project back in New York where we transformed a golf course into a Nordic track with a Nordic center. We talked about it some more over coffee. I’d known Billy already over the years through some mutual friends. Since then, he’s laid out a great track utilizing his knowledge."
The track features 14 kilometers of skiable terrain, which is maintained and groomed daily. Hanley said one of the club’s biggest focuses is making sure guests can ski on top-notch terrain while still keeping the Arnold Palmer signature golf course looking sharp for the summer season.
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"The track is set up in the rough and on cart paths," he said. "We stayed away from the fairways as much as possible and off of the tee boxes and greens. We tried to keep it in taller grass or on the path."
Though last winter’s Nordic season was cut short due to a lack of snow, Hanley said the golf course crew noticed only slight damage. They expect more of the same this year.
"There was really very minimal damage," he said. "There was some ice compaction on our 10th fairway and over on our sixth fairway, but you couldn’t tell by June. It’s pretty low-impact, so kudos to Billy for laying out a track that way. To be able to make a good track and utilize the terrain as well as he did and then have a low impact to the golf course, too — that’s impressive."
Hanley said the Nordic crew alters its grooming practices based on weather conditions.
"If we have a clear night, we’ll groom the night before and it usually takes a couple hours to complete the entire track," he said. "If we have snow overnight or during the day, we’ll groom in the morning and then, once the snow kind of breaks, we’ll groom again in the afternoon. We try to groom where it’ll have the least amount of impact on the skier but still have it set up the best for the conditions."
Finding the perfect balance between grooming too much and not enough is difficult, Mountain Trails Executive Director Charlie Sturgis said.
"It’s more complicated than most people give it credit for," he said. "Every time you groom, you’re going to lose some snow. When we decide to use a drag in a snowmobile or whatever else versus a snowcat, it changes the amount of snow we might lose that day. I like to use the comparison of taking two ice cubes, smashing one and leaving the other on the counter and seeing which melts first. The solid block melts slower. Any time we break up the snow, it’s going to melt faster."
For a group like Mountain Trails, which doesn’t charge for access to the city-owned trails like the Rail Trail and the Round Valley loops, Sturgis said there are a variety of factors that come into play when choosing which trails to groom on a particular day.
"We do get a small city grant for our operations, so we don’t hold back because of costs," he said. "The public supports what we do and they’re really good about it, too. If we can do a better job, we’re going to do it. But we consider things, like are we out there just burning up fuel and contributing to global warming? Should we continue to heat the world up because we want corduroy? If it’s currently skiable and safe, should we reset it? Those are some of the thoughts we have."
Because the tracks Mountain Trails grooms are free to the public, he said they don’t have the same grooming demands as pay-to-ski areas like Jeremy Ranch, White Pine and Soldier Hollow.
"[They have] an obligation to groom since they collect fees," Sturgis said. "We don’t have that same obligation, nor do we have the manpower and machines to do everything every day. We just need to maintain skiable terrain as long as possible."
That job has been easier this winter, as ample snow has led to great conditions. Both Hanley and Sturgis agree that this winter has been good for grooming operations so far.
"Everyone thinks we’re heroes this year, but this is the easy stuff," Sturgis said.
Whether skiing at Jeremy Ranch on skier-only trails or sharing some Mountain Trails track with walkers, snow bikers and dogs, Sturgis said it’s important to take care of the vast Summit County trail system.
"It’s about maintaining the aesthetics of the groom," he said. "The aesthetic value of corduroy to skate skiers is not unlike the perfect green to the golfer or the perfect khaki trail to the biker."
When it comes to sharing the trails, Sturgis said common sense and even the smallest amount of kindness go a long way.
"I’m going to go back to the simplest rule — 10 seconds of kindness, that’s all it takes," he said. "It all takes 10 seconds — that’s all we’re talking about. You’re showing respect for another person’s feelings and being a good neighbor."
Though Mountain Trails and other groups are providing ongoing education to the community about proper trail etiquette, Sturgis said there are always going to be people who disobey the basic rules. But, he added, there’s no reason to let a poop bag on the side of the trail ruin a beautiful day on the trails.
"If it’s really bothering you, do what you do with litter — pick it up and take it to the trash can," he said. "Don’t let the three percent [of rule breakers] ruin your day. It’s a really small percentage of people. We’re never going to get 100 percent compliance, but if you’re out on the trails, you’re having a way better experience than a lot of people."
After all, Sturgis said, there aren’t many places in the world where people have access to so many cross-country skiing options.
"You have almost 100 kilometers of track set up around the Summit County area," he said. "We have this incredible amenity we should embrace and enjoy every day and do everything we can to try to preserve it."
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