When the going gets tough during these trying times, the skiers go Nordic.
With the closure of the state’s downhill ski areas, many winter activity enthusiasts are turning to cross country skiing as a Nordic revival sweeps Telluride and the surrounding areas.
Include AT — alpine touring — in the movement as scores of Telluride-area skiers opt for climbing skins and human-powered ascents of the ski slopes and beyond.
“With people off work and out of schools, we’re glad to be able to do something for them,” said Bill de Alva, board member of the Telluride Nordic Association and trail grooming coordinator. “Cross country skiing can be a valuable outlet.”
With a pronounced emphasis on social distancing and responsible individual behavior in light of the cCOVID-19 pandemic, de Alva said the Telluride Nordic Association will continue to groom trails through the first week of April.
The association normally grooms until the closure of the Telluride Ski Resort. Even though the ski area has closed early, he said, for now at least — barring any official edict otherwise — the plan is for Nordic grooming to continue.
The Telluride Nordic Association offices in Town Park are closed for the season.
“Our plan is to finish out the season (grooming) until the first week of April,” de Alva said. “We’re standing by that.”
Subject to change, of course, depending on state and county recommendations.
“Folks are very appreciative to have the (cross country) option,” he said, again emphasizing sound social distancing — no group gatherings on the trails. “Friends and families like to go skiing together,” de Alva said. “It’s really important that people keep 6 feet away from other,” he emphasized.
A failure to do so is not only extremely unhealthy during a pandemic, “it could jeopardize our continued grooming.”
The result would be that all that winter recreationists would lose the benefit of much-needed ability to enjoy these well-maintained, pristine outdoor spaces before winter ends. The Telluride Nordic Association is grooming the Priest Lake and Trout Lake trails.
“Grooming of Town Park trails will continue until the end of (March) or until snow cover is gone,” according to the Telluride Nordic Association website (telluridenordic .com).
Grooming has ended on the Valley Floor and Mountain Village trails.
Grooming at Priest Lake and Trout Lake may be adjusted for snow conditions and new snowfall. The trails are groomed for skate-skiing and classic skiing.
The Priest Lake network is located 12 miles south of Telluride along Highway 145.
The popular Trout Lake trail network follows the historic railroad grade from Trout Lake up to the summit of Lizard Head Pass.
Cross-country skiing on the groomed trails is free; donations for the nonprofit Nordic association are encouraged at the trailheads.
Dog-friendly trails are located in the Trout Lake complex, as well as Priest Lake.
“All of Trout Lake (is) designated for responsible dog use,” de Alva said, adding that a substantial portion of Priest Lake also is designated for skiers with dogs.
He said that with the seasonal settling of the snowpack, cross-country skiing outside the groomed areas also is available this spring.
“The crust skiing is starting to take off,” de Alva said, shortly before the arrival of the most recent snowfall.
That settled snowpack allows even more cross-country skiing options, he said.
He urged skiers to be courteous and thoughtful in terms of the limited parking available at Priest Lake, as well as Trout Lake — again stressing proper social distancing.
The Nordic association issues daily tweets updating local skiers on snow conditions and grooming plans. (A “Grooming Plan” for Tuesday — the latest available as of press time Wednesday — called for “A basic loop on Priest Lake Nordic Trails (to) be established this morning. Then, Trout Lake Trails will be groomed mid-morning, followed by finishing the remaining cross-country trails at Priest Lake mid-afternoon.”
A tweet the day earlier noted, “Conditions are very good with more snow in the forecast.”
The Grand Mesa Nordic Council, which grooms trails on the Grand Mesa east of Grand Junction and northeast of Delta and Montrose, suspended seasonal grooming operations earlier this week. The council, a community-supported nonprofit, grooms and maintains 50 kilometers of cross-country trails at three complexes on the Grand Mesa.
The Skyway, County Line and Ward trails systems traditionally are groomed for classic and skate skiing (the U.S. Forest Service, which provides permanent restroom facilities at Skyway and County Line, closed those restrooms earlier this week).
Nevertheless, for the foreseeable future, although trails won’t be regularly groomed, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing, should continue to be good on the Mesa. (At press time, snow was predicted for Friday.) The Grand Mesa Nordic Council operates under a U.S. Forest Service special-use permit in the Grand Mesa National Forest. Off-road parking is provided; a separate off-road parking area also is available on Grand Mesa for snowmobile staging.
The cross-country ski areas and snowmobile areas are segregated with designated areas for each.
TELLURIDE SKI AND SNOWBOARD CLUB
The Telluride-area Nordic trails also have been popular this spring with younger skiers from the Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club (TSSC), which had its competitive seasons cut short by the pandemic.
“A lot of our (skiers) have been out on the Nordic trails,” said longtime TSSC Director Justin Chandler. “Our Nordic coaches have been out … and helping get the kids out there.”
He also emphasized the importance of safe social distancing and safe skiing practices in connection with the recommendations for dealing with the pandemic.
Chandler said TSSC scrambled to shut down the winter programs when the scheduled championship events were canceled at the onset of the outbreak.
“We’re usually focusing on championship events at this time of year,” he said.
Instead, TSSC rushed to get skiers home from their national championship sites in places like Sun Valley, Idaho, (mogul team) and Snowbird, Utah, (big mountain team).
“This year again we had lots of qualifiers for the USASA Nationals,” Chandler said. USASA is the United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association. “And this year everyone who qualified wanted to go.”
But this season, the TSSC program directors had to immediately focus on returning their athletes to Telluride, and then dealing with entry refunds, travel refunds and reverse logistics.
“Our directors really stepped up to manage that stuff,” Chandler said.
He said the championship cancellations came at the end of a great season for the club — in all disciplines.
The ski club also has cleared out its Telluride clubhouse, which is undergoing a deep clean.
The outbreak and subsequent lifestyle adjustments are particularly difficult for a community like Telluride, according to Chandler.
“People here are so used to getting together … for everything,” he said. “We all get together to celebrate events and share. Everyone here turns out for (celebrations, street dances, festivals and the like).”
This year, however, that has had to change, he said.
“It is difficult for this community because we are so used to getting together,” Chandler said. “But now everybody is on board (with the changes and social distancing).”
He said it is difficult as well because so many working folks had their working seasons cut short — ski instructors, ski patrollers, wait staffers, bartenders, ski shop employees, etc.
“It’s going to be brutal here for a bit,” Chandler said.
He was quick to add that Telluride does have something to celebrate in light of the canceled celebrations.
Just last week, the Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club was notified by USSA (United States Ski and Snowboard Association) that the club has been awarded a bronze-level certification — a prestigious honor usually reserved for larger ski clubs.
The award recognizes service in all winter disciplines in terms of athlete development, participation percentages and community support.
TSSC was due to be recognized for its bronze-level certification at the end-of-season awards program in Park City, Utah, originally set for this week. That awards ceremony, obviously, has been canceled.
Instead, a virtual online awards program is being planned.
“No other club with a town this size has won the designation,” Chandler said. “It’s a tribute to everyone — our athletes, parents, volunteers, staff … the whole community.”
USSA encouraged the Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club to immediately pursue silver- and gold-level certifications.
“This (certification) should give everybody here something to be proud of during this dark time,” Chandler said.
The Telluride Nordic Association posts a list of trails and daily grooming information at telluridenordic.com. The information is also available via Twitter @TNAGroomer. Grooming has ended for the season on the Valley Floor and Mountain Village trails, but at press time, Priest and Trout Lake trails were still being groomed. The plan was continue grooming until April 5. Grooming may be reduced, according to the TNA’s website, “during extended periods without new snow.”