Chasing the Big Dump

Chasing the Big Dump

A group of Southern Oregon Nordic Club members had a fabulous bluebird day Friday of cross-country skiing around Mount Shasta, but by Saturday morning it became quite clear that whoever did their snow dance the previous night really needed to chill.

Almost two feet of fresh snow fell overnight, shrouding Mt. Shasta City under a white coat that might as well been a straight jacket.

"It was to the point it was blocking vehicles from getting out of the motel parking lots," laments club member Tom Dube. "The roads were plowed, so you could get to the ski area. But you couldn't get out of the parking lot, so we stayed at the motel."

Cross-country skiers usually spend their winters chasing snow. This year, the snow is chasing them.

The Big Dump of snow so far this month has become the best of times and the worst of times for Southern Oregon's Nordic skiing faithful, who are battling access problems and yo-yoing trail conditions as they try to take advantage of what should be their best season in years.

Snow-caused closures to Highway 62, the shuttering of Crater Lake National Park Tuesday and the don't-drive-if-you-don't-have-to message from Oregon State Police have combined to keep skiers from accessing trails this week.

And by the time they get there, the rain and warming weather forecast for the region could turn fresh powder into ice overnight, possibly transforming once-promising conditions into no-fun zones for a majority of skiers not fond of icy conditions.

After years of drought and long snowless stretches that send Nordic-lovers to higher and higher elevations, this year's ever-changing weather patterns are making good cross-country skiing days real moving targets.

"We now have too much of a good thing," says Dube, 61, of Jacksonville. "We went from not enough snow to having way too much all at once. 

"It's a good thing, really, but we have to wait for this to settle out," he says. "There could be some really nice weather, and all this snow could become trash. We don't know."

That's why good cross-country skiers like Edgar Hee of Medford are also good surfers. He trolls the internet for one- to three-day weather forecasts, clicks on Tripcheck to view road conditions and checks the club website at www.onc.org/sonc/ for grooming news, because conditions always change.

"It is winter," says Hee, 70.

It's rarely good to head to the trails in the midst of a storm, yet right at the end of one can bring great skiing, Hee says. He also knows that snowplows work first on clearing roads and sometimes don't get the Sno-Park locations until a day later.

"Knowing all of that gives you the ability not to be disappointed," Hee says.

Rather than break trail through fresh snow, Hee lets those who love crossing virgin snow do the drudgery of what he calls "snowshoeing on skis."

"Unless you like stomping in snow, I like to wait long enough so someone else does it for me," Hee says. "To each his own."

The main adage of winter sports, however, is that more snow is better than no snow, so good things may come for those who have waited this week to play in the snow.

"You get a good dump and you're good to go for a week or so unless it rains," Hee says.

A case in point was the club's annual outing to Shasta Nordic last week, where Hee skied the fantastic Friday but traded his skis for wine and cheese after the heavy Saturday snow and returned to Medford amid Sunday's rain that kept the mountain's Nordic center closed.

"You had the whole set of extremes from a great blue-sky day to a massive amount of snow to rain," Hee says. "You have to watch the weather report and go with the flow." 

The Nordic club has a lesson and ski outing planned for Saturday. Maybe it's at Buck Prairie. Maybe not. Dube, the club's outings scheduler, says it might not be until today when snow conditions can allow him to make that call.

"It's a week-by-week — sometimes day-by-day — thing," Dube says. "You can't guarantee anything."

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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