‘Epic’ snow is up higher

Lower sno-parks may suffer, but Nordic Center has nice conditions

By David Jasper / The Bulletin

If you go

Getting there: Take Cascade Lakes Highway southwest from Bend about 17 miles to Mt. Bachelor’s West Village Lodge parking lot and park at the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Ski Center.

Difficulty: Trails at the Nordic Center range from beginner to advanced.

Cost: $17 full day (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.), $14 late arrival (noon to 4 p.m.), discounts for kids and seniors

Contact: www.mtbachelor.com

“It was epic! (For this year.)”

That’s the text I sent to Bulletin adventure sports reporter Mark Morical summing up a 7-kilometer cross-country ski trek with Map Guy.

As you may well know, Virginia Meissner and other area sno-parks got off to a slow start this winter due to the thin snow base in the Cascades.

However, as Map Guy and I can attest, if you’re willing to drive a little farther and pony up some cash, you can get your nordic skiing fix on at Mt. Bachelor’s Nordic Center when Meissner, Wanoga and other lower sno-parks are not up to winter standards.

With 56 kilometers of trails groomed for classic and skate skiing, it’s not a bad deal for $17. And that price drops to $14 if you’re a slow starter and decide to wait and go at noon.

As Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center notes on its Facebook page, it has one of the longest seasons in the Northwest. During the 2011-12 season, the Nordic Center was open from Nov. 23 to June 21.

Of course, this winter’s snow base is clearly a far cry from that one. Speaking of things “baseless” — ba-doom-pah — you know that tired old saying, “Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes!”? Last week’s weather almost proved it true: There was a little cold, a little warmth, a little rain, a little snow, a bunch of sun and at one point a lot of wind. Which led to a little difficulty in planning.

Early last week, Map Guy and I had a tentative plan to partake of some kind of outing Thursday. Even under normal conditions, decisions aren’t my strong suit. So, with the weather being fickle, too, I still hadn’t formed a plan by the time I got around to calling Map Guy on Wednesday.

I’d waited so long to call him he’d assumed I’d canceled, he said.

Nope, just the usual indecision. “If things dry out,” I told him, “maybe we’ll go mountain biking. Then again, it could snow, so maybe we’ll ski. Let’s maybe hike if it’s still raining.”

In other words, stay tuned.

Come Thursday morning, I checked Mt. Bachelor’s current conditions Web page to learn 3 inches of new snow had fallen overnight. In normal years, that amount would be only slightly good news, but given the dry spell we’ve endured this season, 3 inches sounded more like a dump.

It was a white-knuckle drive up in my hybrid. We cast our gazes mournfully in the direction of Virginia Meissner Sno-park as we passed it. The exposed bare ground there looked more like late June than late January, but this week’s weather could change that. Stay tuned.

As we entered the West Lodge turnoff at Mt. Bachelor, the plowed snow alongside was maybe the height of the car’s windows, and we’ve already covered the car’s humble size.

Yet there was a brilliant sparkle to the snow. It almost smelled fresh. Map Guy was practically giddy as we put on our boots and gathered our gear, even as an icy wind made us nervous.

If I felt rusty driving up, I knew I was going to be scraping even more rust off my cross-country skiing skills. I’d only tried it for the first time last season, and had only been to the Nordic Center once before. That was enough to remember the large hill behind the lodge that drops skiers down into the main network of trails.

As an employee pointed out to us after she checked our passes and heard my whimpering, it’s the steepest on the course. She also said people who’d been out already had come in raving about the spectacular conditions.

That was enough to overcome my fears and get me down the hill. One of the nicest things about classic skiing are those helpful notches that you can just scoot up to and position yourself in like a luge or a car in a Hot Wheels track.

I coasted down, letting gravity and those grooves do their thing, listening to the way skis crossing the groomed surface sounded something like a plane touching down on a runway.

We were surrounded by towering trees draped in fresh snow, providing plenty of windbreak along with scenery.

We opted to take Woody’s Way, a 7-kilometer loop that would take us down enough hills that we were having a blast until it started to dawn on us that what goes down a looped ski trail must come back up again.

At one point, we saw a guy coming uphill toward us and Map Guy asked him if we were going to be in trouble. Yes, he said, but it’s the same on all the trails. They should put in lifts, he joked.

I had just one minor mishap during our outing. It happened on a curving slope when one of my skis broke loose from the classic track. I never even fell, just came to a stop in a pillowy berm of snow next to the trail. OK, an abrupt stop, but still better than a downright fall.

We soldiered on, barely pausing for breaks or water. Eventually, we did begin working our way uphill again, the old herringbone method for getting uphill reminding me that my technique still needed work.

We ran into a former Bulletin colleague who helpfully showed us a little method for sort of dancing up the hill, keeping our skis straight and making sure the fish scales — the ribbed portion on the middle of the ski’s underside — dig into the snow properly.

The ever skeptical Map Guy was not kind about this method, which did resemble a bit of an awkward dance as he shifted his weight from left to right with a sort of bouncy, shuffling gait.

I gave it a try, though, and found it worked better than my possibly more awkward attempts at the herringbone. That’s a technique in which you turn your skis outward and attempt to waddle uphill in a ducklike manner.

At least twice that day I’d tried to ascend hills herringbone-style, only to come to a stand-still a few feet shy of the top of whatever small hill I’d been trying to summit. It’s not a good idea to stop when using the herring bone method. Imagine a wimpy hybrid stopping on a steep, slick slope and trying to get going again.

Whether by herringbone or by dorky dance, Map Guy and I made our way back up to the Nordic Center.

Map Guy kept trying to talk me into getting more value out of my $17 and go back out — he’d wait by the fire in the lodge. Map Guy is full of crazy ideas. He even suggested I head back up after eating a late lunch back in Bend.

My philosophy, however, is to leave wanting more. Seven kilometers had been plenty filling this early in the season — well, early in this particular season, anyway. And it had been kind of epic in its way.

It’s only early February, and the snow gods could still deliver more white stuff.

Stay tuned.

— Reporter: 541-383-0349, djasper@bendbulletin.com