Two cross-country skiers cruised down the trail and came to an abrupt stop.

“Well, this is different, skiing on actual snow … almost,” one said to the other.

Indeed, the ski season at Virgina Meissner Sno-park started unusually late this winter. The area was open briefly in early December, but then it remained essentially bare until the moderate snowstorm of 10 days ago.

Skiers last week came out in droves to finally get a chance to glide along snowy trails at Meissner — located about halfway to Mt. Bachelor ski area from Bend.

But if they failed to visit the sno-park in the last week or so, nordic skiers might have missed their chance for groomed trails, at least for a while. The foot of snow that fell earlier this month is now nearly gone, according to Shawn McFadden, operations manager for Meissner Nordic club.

“The (Meissner) board decided we would not groom again unless conditions change, and pretty much that means more snow,” McFadden said Monday.

But enough snow still covers the trails at Meissner to allow for skiing this week.

“If it doesn’t get too warm, it actually isn’t bad for skiing,” McFadden said.

Last week, conditions were ideal as skiers took to the trails. On a midweek day, I made the 15-minute drive to the sno-park from Bend, hoping to get in my first cross-country ski session of the season.

The parking lot was mostly full as others also took advantage of the recent snowfall on a bright, sunny day.

I made my way along the Tangent Loop in the classic ski tracks, as faster skate skiers surged past me every so often. (Classic skiers slide their skis forward and back in set tracks, while skate skiers do not use tracks and shift their weight from one ski to the other as they skate.)

As in hiking or mountain biking, the farther you go from the trailhead when cross-country skiing, the more solitude you have. After a short while, I was completely alone and all I could hear was the “sssshhhh” sound of my skis gliding along the firm classic ski tracks.

After a mile or so, I made a right turn to ski toward the Meissner Shelter. Stopping there is always a treat, as superb views abound both eastward and westward. To the east, one can see Central Oregon’s vast High Desert and the snow-dusted Ochoco Mountains in the distance. To the west, the white peaks of South Sister, Broken Top and North Sister dominate the horizon.

After a much-needed rest of 10 minutes or so, I returned to the trail and continued gliding along Tangent Loop. I made my way on to the Snowbush Trail, taking a fast downhill into a long climb back up and around the shelter for a satisfying loop.

As I climbed up the Manzanita Trail on the lower-elevation west end of Meissner Sno-park, I noticed several patches of dirt and bushes pushing up through the snow.

Those patches have no doubt become even more bare since my visit because of these unseasonably warm January days.

Last week, McFadden and other Meissner Nordic board members were discussing how they should approach their grooming schedule. The club decided to stick with its normal schedule until this week. Grooming is typically scheduled every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at Meissner — provided there is sufficient snow.

“There’s a pent-up demand (for cross-country skiing),” McFadden said. “So we were discussing (last week), should we groom every day? But we don’t think this snow will last until the next storm, and the more you groom, the more you kind of wear out the snow and it turns to ice.”

As the snow became thinner and thinner in recent days, Meissner officials switched to snowmobile grooming on Monday to conserve as much snow as possible. Now, the club will not groom until more snow falls; no snow is in the forecast for the next several days.

This past Saturday, despite the lack of snow, Meissner hosted its annual Learn to Ski day and a high school race. Skiing remains good on higher-elevation trails at Meissner, but the Sno-Cat grooming machine cannot access those areas because of patches of dirt. Skiers starting from Swampy Lakes Sno-park, southwest of Meissner, can reach those trails.

“The north side of Tangent Loop is actually pretty good, but we can’t get to it,” McFadden said. “We’re back to where we need about a foot (of new snow) again to get the (Sno-Cat) out.”

McFadden added that dirt patches at Meissner continue to expand, and tree stumps are visible, protruding out of the trails in the entry area near the parking lot.

“We just need more snow,” McFadden said. “We were lucky to make it through the weekend. To continue grooming just doesn’t make sense. But there will be people skiing.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,