Richard Harker, of Medford, rides his snowmobile at the Great Meadow area near Lake of the Woods. - Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch

Spring snow

Colly Rosenberg's idyllic romp atop the white landscape in the Cascades is the kind of experience that would lure just about anyone to straddle a snowmobile for a day of exploring.

The Sunriver woman and family members sliced through fresh powder last weekend near Lake of the Woods — atop the best snowpack seen so far this year — exploring trails that sliced through lava fields, frosted Ponderosa pines and meadows cloaked with fresh snow.

"When it gets a little crusty on top, you can go just about anywhere," Rosenberg says.

"This snow is perfect."

Snowmobilers and skiers who have waited impatiently for winter to start are seeing spring as the best time to hit the slopes and trails in the southern Cascades, which are finally living up to their snowy reputation.

A series of March storms that have swelled rivers also dumped enough late-season snow to turn a pathetic Cascades snowpack into a spring playground for snowmobilers.

"It's spring, and we have the best snow of the year," says George Gregory, co-owner of Lake of the Woods Resort and a snowmobiler himself. "We've got the best conditions right now."

A snowpack that measured just one-third of average in early January is now 92 percent of normal in the Rogue and Umpqua basins, thanks to a spring that roared in like a lion with no wimpy bleat of a lamb in earshot.

"We'll probably have some good riding all the way through April, and maybe into May," Gregory says.

Marvin Schenck awoke Wednesday to three fresh inches of snow in the Lake of the Woods area, so he jumped into his Sno-Cat to work on grooming about 100 miles of trails from Lake of the Woods to Diamond Lake.

"We're just now starting to get out and ride," says Schenck, president of the Chiloquin Ridgeriders club. "There have been too many bare spots on the trails.

"But now it's totally awesome," Schenck says. "We can't ask for better conditions."

Trail-riders such as Rosenberg usually rely on maps from Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management offices that detail all the groomed trails from Diamond Lake around Crater Lake and down to Lake of the Woods and even Pelican Butte. Trail-riders normally start at a trailhead, drive to places like the Fish Lake Resort or Lake of the Woods Resort for lunch and then retrace their treks home.

Though Schenck is a trail groomer, he considers himself more of a "player," one who prefers trick riding.

He likes to speed through lava fields and calderas, catching air on caldera rims and powering down the slopes at 60-plus mph.

The fresh powder makes conditions ideal, he says.

"It's an incredible rush," Schenck says. "There are quite a few of us who like to do that."

For others, it's almost a need.

Richard Harker of Medford got bit by the snowmobile bug seven years ago, and it's taken him as far away as Yellowstone National Park to ride.

"It's not something you want to try unless you want to spend a lot of money," Harker says.

He rides regularly, usually on day-trips, with places like Diamond Lake on his radar most of this winter.

"Sometimes you have to follow the snow," Harker says.

This past week he's followed it to the popular Great Meadow area outside of Lake of the Woods, then forays around Brown Mountain and Fish Lake.

"We put in our 50 miles," he says.

A lack of snow kept the Great Meadow off-limits to snowmobilers until the first weekend in March, and it has since become a local favorite.

Harker finished his 50-mile days by carving through the meadow's fresh powder under an idyllic, clear sky.

The Forest Service has no hard and fast rules for when it closes trails or places like the Great Meadow, signaling an end to the snowmobiling season off, says spokeswoman Erica Hupp from the Fremont-Winema National Forest, which is home to Lake of the Woods and Big Meadow.

Snow rangers, however, inspect the area to ensure there's enough snow to protect these ecological areas and keep riders safe, Hupp says.

Schenck says most years he rides into the summer, seeking out high-elevation snow fields — once as late as July, "just to prove a point," he says.

"We've had these great dumpings (of snow), and we'll keep coming until it starts to rain," Schenck says. "The rains ruin it."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email Follow him on Twitter at

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