With little precipitation predicted, Nordic venues hope to keep snow white
December 30, 2017
Nordic skiers are rejoicing in the season's first window of good skiing. With most venues offering at least some courses, skiers have broad options for the first time this season. But with forecasts predicting little additional snow and warmer high temperatures, it could be a short-lived jubilee rather than a christening of enduring ski conditions.
One key part of the cross-country skiing scene is still largely out of commission – Soldier Hollow. The facility is known for its excellent grooming, but using a cat-track is impossible for most of its trail system. Currently the park has a well-groomed 1K track, along with 20K of patchy, snowmobile-rolled paths. The timeline for grooming the rest of the trails is dependent upon the weather, said Soldier Hollow employee Xander Burkemo.
Meanwhile, White Pine's 3K and 5K tracks are open and in good condition, which is drawing droves of cross-country skiers, said Patrick Coffey, a worker at the Nordic center.
"Overnight temps are keeping things in great shape," he said. "The tracks aren't picking up a ton of moisture and (groomers) are heading out and patching things with shovels."
He said the groomers have been able to "work miracles" to get the tracks open given the snow conditions, but those waiting for the 12K farm trail to open will have to hold on a little longer.
"We have packed it but it is closed," Coffey said. "There's a lot of dangerous stuff out there that's just beneath the snow, so we've packed it and are waiting for snow."
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Similarly, trails around the perimeter of Round Valley are groomed and open, including Silver Quinn, Matt's Flatt, Two Pine and Round Valley Express, but the heart of the valley remains thinly covered and won't be groomed until more snow falls.
"Conditions for cross-country skiing are actually reasonable given the amount of snow," said Charlie Sturgis, executive director of the Mountain Trails Foundation, which grooms the area.
But maintaining the existing trail system, rather than grooming new trails, is a priority – a straightforward but, at times, challenging goal.
"As I like to say about the world of cross-country skiing, all you have to do is keep the white side up," Sturgis said.
By that, he means keeping the trails free of dark patches that soak up the sun's rays and create holes in the track.
"Any kind of dark, whether it be mud from tires, dog poop, chewed up sticks — all of that facilitates melting," he said.
This is the big concern for skiers and groomers, because little relief is predicted for existing snow and what's fallen will likely deteriorate over the upcoming weeks.
"If it gets warm for a couple days and doesn't freeze at night, then people will break through in the daytime when it's warm," said Dave Hanscomb, Wasatch Citizens Series race director and member of The Utah Nordic Alliance. "It acts like a cancer for the snow — it sucks up the heat from the sun and spreads it. It's not like it's going to melt the whole track, but there are going to be some continuous bad spots."
So, before the patches start poking through, Sturgis said he recommends getting out and enjoying what's available.
"I'm optimistic we'll make it to the weekend but after that it'll be sketchy then," he said. "Ski cautiously and have fun."