Cross-country skiers take what they can get

Bob Plummer was exploring the Ashland watershed last weekend and didn't like what he saw: bare ground where there should have been snow, and at 5,000 feet in elevation, to boot.

As board member and trails liaison for the Southern Oregon Nordic Club, Plummer had been telling club members for weeks to hang on just a bit longer. Snow would surely arrive.

Tuesday night's "storm" brought snow, but in a tantalizingly small amount, only 2 to 4 inches at many popular skiing spots.

"Four inches is not enough. At 8 to 10 inches, all of a sudden you can ski," says Plummer.

The beginner trails at Hyatt Lake don't have enough to fire up the grooming machine, one of Plummer's responsibilities for the club.

"We'd need at least 8 inches, then we'd only pack it and not set the track," Plummer explains. "We would have to wait for the next snow, but at least with 8 inches you'd have a smooth track."

The network of ski trails from Hyatt Lake to the Buck Prairie Sno-Park on Dead Indian Memorial Road are the most popular cross-country ski trails in the area, and Plummer's personal go-to destination for a quick Nordic outing that doesn't require much driving.

But this weekend, Plummer may head to Mount Ashland instead, based on SNOTEL reports from the recent storm: the site at Big Red Mountain — elevation 6,050 feet and not far from the chairlifts — reported 10 inches of new snow.

"During the week, I'm happy to go to Mt. A," says Plummer. "I'll avoid all the (weekend) traffic. And if it's windy, I'll ski the Bull Gap trails on the east side of the mountain, where it's more protected."

After another storm or two, Plummer will head farther afield to the Summit Sno-Park on Route 140 near Lake of the Woods.

"There's a great trail there to the Brown Mountain shelter," says Plummer. "But the trail is under trees, so it will need a lot more snow."

If you're willing to undertake the hour-and-a-half drive from Medford, skiing has been an option at Crater Lake National Park for many weeks.

"There's enough snow now that you can ski anywhere in the park," says John Fertig, a member of the Crater Lake Ski Patrol and a board member of the Nordic club.

"I was up there Sunday. It was a nice ski but windy on the rim. The East Rim Drive is more sheltered from the wind."

Because of the park's traditionally deep snowpack, Fertig recommends checking with park officials about avalanche dangers before heading into the backcountry.

Tuesday morning, says Fertig, the snow depth at park headquarters was 47 inches. "It's starting to look like December up there now," he jokes.

Fertig's favorite Crater Lake sojourns include skiing to the rim from the north entrance, and the Pumice Flat trail, which heads south from a trailhead on Route 62, less than three miles from the Annie Springs south entrance. This trail also connects to the Pacific Crest Trail, so the possibilities are limitless.

"For beginners, there's a trail from the entrance that goes through the Mazama Campground," Fertig offers. "It's the easiest ski at Crater Lake — flat and about a three-mile loop."

Though there's been plenty of snow at Crater Lake, the conditions at nearby Diamond Lake have been finicky, so skiers and snowmobilers alike have been spinning their wheels.

"Last weekend we had to cancel our annual John Day ski race there," Plummer explains. "There was enough snow even a few days earlier, but then we got hit with warm rains."

Though the Nordic club had to cancel that last outing, members are hopeful for a few more inches of powder so two outings planned for this weekend can go forward. Saturday's outing is a six- to eight-mile, novice to intermediate trek, while Sunday's plans call for a shorter novice trip.

Both trips are tentative at this point.

"We'll be watching snow conditions hour by hour," says Plummer.

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