Non-profit ski areas are a labor of love
By Doug Emory
Photo at right: On the trail at Echo Ridge. Photo by Doug Emory
When you think of alpine skiing in the Northwest, you might think big: big fun, big lifts, and big money—big business, in other words.
Nordic skiing has never possessed this same corporate glitz, but many cross-country areas here keep the big fun while taking the profit motive out of the picture altogether. These non-profit resorts are staffed primarily by volunteers, dedicated Nordic citizens who endure floods, fires, equipment failures, and even the greatest tragedy of all—seasons of limited snow.
Despite this, they persevere for the public good—grooming trails, leading ski patrols, and assisting at fundraisers. The list below isn’t exhaustive, but it provides a taste of the tremendous ski opportunities local public groups maintain for our backcountry enjoyment.
Galena Lodge, Idaho
Galena is a community lodge north of Ketchum, Idaho that was donated to the Blaine County Recreation District in 1994. The lodge offers both healthy meals and access to the 50-kilometer North Valley Trail system, a network equally distributed across difficulty levels.
Set right outside the lodge’s front door, the Gladiator trail is a rolling route perfect for families. By name alone, the “Psycho” trail seems like the natural choice for thrill-seekers, but lodge proprietor Erin Zell recommends two connected trails—“the Cherries”—as the best for advanced skiers.
No matter the difficulty level, all of Galena is surrounded by 10,000-foot peaks and an impressive sense of solitude. To support this extensive network of trails and services, the lodge relies on a combination of paid staff and volunteers. It pays the bills through means common to these areas including selling trail passes, collecting donations, and hosting annual events, including the Galena Loppet.
Anthony Lakes, Ore.
Much like its brethren in Blaine County, the citizens of Baker County, Ore., were so attached to their ski area they bought it. Anthony Lakes had a lengthy corporate history, but in 2010 it became county property so that it could remain in local hands.
Today the county management group leases the property from the Wallowa/Whitman National Forest from Nov. 15–April 15 annually. Perched in the state’s northwest corner, the site is far off the beaten path, but once you take the drive from Interstate 84 to the resort, you’ll agree that the locals made the right choice.
The Nordic resort itself, headquartered in a historic building erected during the Great Depression, demonstrates the local, laid-back flavor.
The 29 groomed kilometers accommodate both skate and classic skiers and break naturally into two sections. Beginners will be comfortable on loop trails around both Lily Pad and the namesake Anthony Lake. More challenging trails are found at the resort’s outer edges, with many of them pressed against twin-summitted Gunsight Peak and with an ungroomed route leading deep into the Elkhorn Mountain backcountry.
The 7,100-foot elevation at Anthony Lakes produces an abundance of snow that event manager Josie Quillan calls, “Bend powder without the crowds.” Although the resort has a relaxed, family spirit, it also provides three opportunities for those with a more competitive mindset: a sprint triathlon in December, the Elkhorn Classic ski race in January, and a March triathlon, which draws professional racers to the area.
Echo Ridge, Wash.
The Lake Chelan Nordic Club, which has grown its membership from about 20 members to over 60 today, jointly maintains the area in a cost-sharing agreement with the Wenatchee National Forest.
Echo Ridge is unique. It has a series of interconnected ridges rising to 4,000 feet and is surrounded by views not normally associated with winter in the Northwest, including vistas over vast expanses of high desert and the glistening waters of Lake Chelan.
Echo Ridge accommodates both beginning and advanced skiers, with the green loops traversing meadows and blue/black routes tracing the area’s ridges in climbs to the northwest. Over 20 trails, with 40 groomed kilometers, are open to both skate and classic skiers.
Lake Chelan Nordic Club and President Tim Agnew are brimming with enthusiasm and are continuing an ambitious membership drive, partnering with a developing Nordic center and increasing the number of fund-raising events, including the Bonfire Bash, a loppet, and a chocolate and wine-tasting event planned for winter 2013.
Leavenworth has been a ski town since 1928, and today its boundaries encompass four cross-country locales and 26 kilometers of groomed trails. Nordic skiing here brings in 60,000 visitors annually, primarily from the Seattle metro region. The ski areas, managed by the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club (LWSC), are maintained by 40 employees as well as volunteers who contribute 10,000 hours each season, helping with registration, providing demonstrations, and serving as trail hosts.
According to LWSC events manager Rebecca Darley, several factors make Leavenworth popular.
Its ski destinations are all located in town, so it’s particularly convenient for weekend visitors. Only the Ski Hill trails are of advanced difficulty, so the network—especially the most popular route at Icicle Creek—are well-suited for young Nordic enthusiasts. For those of a competitive mindset, the LWSC also offers several races each season, capped by the Bavarian Battle. This is not a Nordic competition per se, but instead a five-kilometer race through an obstacle course built into the mud left by the Ski Hill’s melting snow.
Mount Tahoma Trails Association
No group better reflects the “never-say-die” spirit of these Nordic citizens than the Mount Tahoma Trails Association, which has overcome both flood (a bridge-destroying deluge that blocked access to all south unit trails) and fire (a blaze that consumed the beautiful Snow Bowl Hut).While some would expect such tragedies to stifle the volunteer spirit, the MTTA simply picked up and carried on, rebuilding the bridge, and now sponsors “Project Phoenix,” a fund-raising effort intended to rebuild the demolished hut.
Located surrounding the small town of Ashland, Wash., just southwest of Mount Rainier, the MTTA operates the largest no-fee hut skiing system in the U.S., with over 50 miles of trails, 20 of which are groomed. The area runs on both sides of State Highway 706, with the northern half and its Copper Creek Hut most accessible to beginners. The High Hut highlights the south unit, offering trails challenging to the most advanced skiers and spectacular views of Mount Rainier from its deck.
Loup Loup Ski Bowl
When asked what changes are planned for Loup Loup, General Manager Sandy Liman has a definitive response: “The place is perfect now.” It’s hard arguing with that. The area, located at 4,000 feet on Highway 20 between Twisp and Okanagan in Central Washington, has good snow quality and a long season. As Liman notes, Loup Loup is “an unspoiled gem of a ski area in a world where resorts have become more like shopping malls.”
The non-profit Loup Loup Ski Education Foundation manages the resort, with members of its board of directors pitching in with other volunteers to maintain the 23 kilometers of groomed trails and staff fundraisers like the October Taste of Two Valleys. It boasts trails ranging from easy to challenging, with every point on the trail map sharing in the sunshine, the North Cascades views, and the unique Loup Loup sense of community.
While you might ponder what motivates the groups above to work this hard without monetary reward, two things are certain. First, we’re in their debt: the destinations they maintain represent a grand public service. Second, it’s only fitting that we reciprocate with a few dollars or a little honest labor, joining an MTTA work party, drinking a little premium Washington wine at a Leavenworth or Echo Ridge fund-raiser, or showing off our skills at the loppets and winter triathlons held at Anthony Lakes or Galena Lodge.
Remember, with citizenship comes responsibility, so don’t just enjoy—give a little back to our Nordic community, too.
Doug Emory is an avid cross-country skier and mountaineer who lives in Kenmore, Wash. He has climbed 198 different peaks, including the Cascade volcanoes from Hood to Baker. In his off-hours, he works for the community and technical college system.
Galena Lodge: www.galenalodge.com
Anthony Lakes: www.anthonylakes.com
Lake Chelan Nordic Club: www.lakechelannordic.org
Leavenworth Winter Sports Club: www.skileavenworth.com
Loup Loup: www.skitheloup.com
Mount Tahoma Trails Association: www.skimtta.com