CB Nordic looks to make magic out of millimeters
By Aimee Eaton
Nordic skiing is taking a hit around Crested Butte this winter as warm temperatures and little snowfall are limiting trail openings and forcing local non-profit organization Crested Butte Nordic to make tough decisions regarding grooming and trail maintenance.
The cross country season kicked off in November with Crested Butte Nordic’s Thanksgiving Camp, which included skiing opportunities at Lily Lake and on Ruthie’s Run /The Bench above the Nordic Center in town. According to Crested Butte Nordic’s executive director Christie Hicks, the event was a huge success with good attendance and good skiing. Since then, however, things have been up and down.
“While the low snow has definitely frayed some nerves, our programs are still growing,” said Hicks. “Our youth programs have reached record levels with 108 students signed up for after-school programs so far. Both our youth and masters programs have been taking advantage of whatever snow we can hold onto, both on The Bench and in the practice area. Our Learn to Skate Ski for Free courses have been a big hit.”
In an effort to bolster the skiable area and to help provide an area for lessons and practice, the Nordic Center has gotten creative.
“In early December our operations manager, Kevin Krill, set up a home snow-making device that kept the practice area covered,” said Hicks. “This relatively small machine was hooked up to a pressure washer and compressor, run through a hose that we connected to the utility sink in our cat barn. Very fancy snow-making around here.”
Along with the practice area, groomers ran on The Bench through December, and the Christmas storm allowed for the opening of some of the Westside trails, including Mike’s Mile, Pooches’ Paradise and Kapusion. Unfortunately, those openings were brief and the new year saw the closing of Pooches and the cessation of grooming on the Westside trails.
This week it was reported that rough natural conditions exist on all remaining open Westside trails.
“The Westside conditions are deteriorating rapidly,” said Hicks. “We just had to close Pooches’ Paradise close to town because conditions are just too rough. Parts of Mike’s Mile are skiing okay, but there is not enough snow to continue grooming until we receive more snow.
“We are asking the public to please respect our trails and refrain from walking or biking, even on closed trails. This will help us preserve what little snow we have left, in hopes of getting things open when we do get a little more snow.”
Not surprisingly, the skiing conditions have likely impacted skier visits, with ticket sales in December down between 7 percent and 13 percent from last year. Hicks noted, however, that early season pass sales were strong and there are “still great benefits to being a season pass holder,” including free rentals (resuming this weekend) and Learn to Skate for Free classes every Wednesday in January.
The first Citizen’s Series Race will be held Saturday, January 6 on The Bench and the following weekend Crested Butte Nordic will host a Junior National Qualifier for a few hundred racers under 20 years old.
“The Bench really is still skiing great, and anyone looking to get a good skate or classic ski should head up there,” said Hicks. “That area was engineered to hold snow in years like this, and it is incredible that we can continue to have such fun skiing and run our programs up there even when other trails are rough.”
Hicks added that shovel crews will be mobilized in the days ahead to help fill in some bare spots that are appearing in “the stadium,” the open area where events held on The Bench start from, but otherwise the track used for race events should hold, especially if this weekend’s forecast snowfall delivers.
“Right now, a little goes a long way in terms of what we can make happen,” Hicks said.
With current conditions, Crested Butte Nordic will need about six inches of snow to be able to groom again on the Westside trails that have already opened, and a foot or more to get any new trails open.
“We have five kilometers of good, groomable trails open right now, and another five kilometers to ten kilometers of packed trails open on the Westside that we can’t continue to groom but will leave open for scenic enjoyment. Those looking to skate or enjoy good classic tracks should head to the Bench/Ruthie’s Run. Those looking for a nice walk or tour in the sunshine can still head out Mike’s Mile,” said Hicks. “Trail passes are still required on all open trails, and we kindly ask that folks respect all closures until we get more snow.”