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MEISSNER SNO-PARK — The sun on my back and the slushy snow beneath my skis on a cross-country outing earlier this week were stark reminders that the end of ski season is rapidly approaching.

Cross-country skiers have lots of time left this spring to enjoy trails at the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center, but just 10 days left to get out on the groomed trails at Meissner Sno-park, about 12 miles west of Bend.

Plans call for some trails at Meissner to be groomed through March 31, giving Oregon spring breakers a chance for nordic skiing close to Bend.

Due to a dearth of snow earlier this year at Meissner, trails have been accessible for skiers only off and on. But plentiful snowfall in late February and well into March has provided ideal ski conditions over the past few weeks.

Some of that snow is starting to melt quickly, though more snow is in the forecast for this Friday and Saturday in the Bend area.

“Last week was really warm and we lost a lot of snow,” said Larry Katz, operations manager for Meissner Nordic, the nonprofit that grooms up to 40 kilometers of trails at the popular sno-park each winter. “It’s getting a little sketchy in places. If we don’t get any significant snow in the next few days we’ll sort of limp through to the end of March.”

But if the next storm brings sufficient snow, trails could be groomed every day next week for spring break, according to Katz. Meissner Nordic’s contract with Deschutes National Forest allows it to groom trails through March 31.

On a sunny, mild Monday I made the trip to Meissner for a ski outing on the last official day of winter. The low snowpack was noticeable right away from the Meissner Lodge at the parking lot, but the snow was deep enough for groomed classic tracks.

I took the Tangent Loop on my classic skis and the tracks were a bit icy, making for a fast and smooth ski to the Meissner Shelter. From the shelter, I took in the views of Broken Top to the west and Bend to the east. After a short rest I linked up to the Larkspur Trail, which led me to the Snowbush Trail.

After a long uphill I arrived back at the intersection with Tangent, then made a left to head back to Meissner Sno-park. The 5-mile outing was enough to get a decent workout but not completely crushing physically.

During freeze-thaw cycles, which are typical this time of year, Katz recommended waiting until about midmorning to ski, especially for classic skiers who seek to venture off the groomed trails.

“The off-trail skiing, because we’ve had so much freeze and thaw, is getting a little dicey with frozen tracks and stuff,” Katz said. “There’s certainly enough snow, it’s just the quality of the trail without running a grooming machine over it can be a little tough. If you wait till midmorning, 11 or so, when it starts to soften up, you can get some good skiing.”

For the best groomed trails, Katz advised skiers to try the Tangent Loop, the trail to the Cinder Pit, and the Bitterbrush Loop. Skiers can make a round trip of 10 miles from Meissner Sno-park to the Cinder Pit and back.

Swampy Lakes Sno-park, just a few miles up Century Drive from Meissner, also offers nordic ski trails. Most of the trails at Swampy are ungroomed, though, so they are better suited for classic skiers.

Classic skiing is usually done with the skis in set tracks and the skier employing a kick-and-glide motion. Skate skiing is typically performed on a wide-open groomed trail and involves a V-step and glide motion.

Meissner is at about 5,400 feet in elevation, and Swampy Lakes Sno-park is at 5,800 feet. That 400 feet makes a big difference this time of year. After skiing at Meissner on Monday, I made the quick drive up Century Drive to Swampy Lakes and noticed significantly more snow. Trails emanating from Meissner connect to Swampy Lakes.

“When snow conditions were really low, we told people to start from Swampy and avoid the rocks down below,” Katz said. “Earlier this year, we had 3 feet at our highest elevation and only a foot down at the Meissner Lodge.”

At Bachelor, whose nordic area tops out at 6,400 feet, cross-country skiers will likely be able to enjoy the trails through April and into May. But skiers still have a week and a half to head up to Meissner for some end-of-the-season fun on groomed trails.

“There’s plenty of variety for people these last few days,” Katz said, “before they pull out their mountain bikes.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,