And so it begins — the season of snow sports.
Winter, with all of its recreation options, is why I live here.
On Sunday, my husband and I kicked off the winter season on Mt. Bachelor's vast system of groomed nordic ski trails. They weren't the greatest conditions I've ever experienced, but the trails were workable, and certainly the best option around at this point in the season. We had no regrets about spending our time and money on the excursion.
Deciding where to take an outing this time of year can be baffling. I debated my destination the whole holiday weekend. Since Sunday morning offered some sunshine and glimpses of blue sky, it was tempting to hike along a river and look for waterfowl, or drive east for a sunny stroll in the High Desert.
But the decision was cinched when someone invited our 7-year-old daughter over for a playdate, and my husband and I had an opportunity for a date. Skate skiing is one of the few sports we are compatible at, and unlike other options, it's not something we can do with the kid.
And I really wanted to get on my freshly waxed skate skis.
We loaded up the Subaru and headed up Century Drive.
In the interest of research, we pulled first into the Virginia Meissner Sno-park, the closest to town and my favorite place to skate ski. But the lower elevation trail system didn't look good from the parking lot. The snow was thin, lumpy and wet. Classic skiing was probably doable, but why bother? (Meissner Nordic Community Ski Trails' Facebook page said the target date to start grooming trails is Saturday “if the snow fairies cooperate." You can keep watch at www.meissnernordic.org.)
We skipped Wanoga Sno-park, since it's basically at the same elevation. Besides, I'd save that off-leash, dog-friendly trail system for a day with the pooch. (Edison Sno-Park, toward Sunriver, is also dog-friendly, but was too far off the path to check out Sunday.) We peeked at the Swampy Lakes Sno-park, which had a bit more snow than Meissner, and looked potentially classic ski worthy.
But we were psyched for the best possible experience, not a second-rate day.
Early season, the best bet is to go high, and that means Mt. Bachelor's Nordic Center, a premier system that includes 56 kilometers (that's a lot) of well-groomed trails. On Sunday morning, Mt. Bachelor's website (www.mtbachelor.com — the Nordic Ski Center info is found under “The Mountain" drop-down menu) said: “One to two inch dust on top of crust at the start of the shift. ... Semi firm with some sponge underneath. Surface is broken up with some ditching, but otherwise flat, grippable and entirely skiable. ... Surface will settle as the day wears on."
Good enough for me. And a lot of other people. Clusters of smiling skiers gathered around the little cross- country ski lodge, where we paid for day passes ($17 for an adult on weekends and holidays; $14 midweek).
As my husband and I pointed our skis down the initial incline from the lodge toward the trail corridor that divides the easiest trails to the right and the intermediate trails to the left, I felt a flurry of butterflies. The conditions were a little unforgiving — some ice marbles rolling under my skis and a hard-packed base that would hurt if I fell. My body tensed into a sturdy snowplow until the grade mellowed out and I could resurrect some skate-glide motor skills.
We looped around Woody's Way (7 kilometers) and then Easy Back (6 kilometers). I thought Woody's Way was groomed better, but everything was well-covered with snow. Rougher conditions threw me off rhythm while skiing along Easy Back. However, conditions may have changed since then.
After skiing those two loop trails in the woods, we headed toward the groomed oval track. Sketchy branches protruded from the trails that connected to the oval, but that was the first sign of a thin snowpack we'd seen.
Skiers of all levels were scattered around the skating oval, a big flat stretch where beginners can shuffle with uncertainty and more experienced skiers can focus on improving their form. From the oval, which sits next to Dutchman Flat, the Three Sisters and Broken Top loom marvelously large. Fully exposed to sunshine here, the trail was softer and skiers got warm enough to discard their jackets alongside the track.
On the drive home, we were already looking forward to the next opportunity to get back on those trails and to hit some we didn't get to that day. Over dinner, we reiterated how excited we both were to have launched the season that lies ahead.
There will be isolated backcountry skiing into quiet, woodsy frozen lakes, and peaceful tours into all the various woodstove-heated shelters nestled in the forest. There will be heart-pounding, playlist-powered workouts all over Meissner's groomed trails. We will downhill ski and snowboard on Mt. Bachelor, with and without the 7-year-old. There will be Christmas tree-cutting and ice skating and sledding and hot chocolate and hot toddies.
And then, come spring, when the season is winding down and the lower elevation trails have melted out, we'll find ourselves excited to be skate skiing again on Mt. Bachelor's trail network, which will probably be the best option for a season closer.