Skate Away

Skate Away

The fastest-growing snow sport is one that's been around for 30 years.
Snow skating is a form of cross-country skiing that uses special skis and a lateral, “V-shaped” motion that resembles ice skating.

“The old ‘classic' skis are double-cambered — front to back — and that slows the ski down. The skate skis are even cambered. They have different pressure points,” says Michael Dawkins, skate ski instructor for the Southern Oregon Nordic Club.

Dawkins was the director of the ski school in Aspen, Colo., in 1979 where skate skiing was first developed. For many years it remained a fringe sport, but recently it has exploded in popularity.

When you add skate skiing to your snow resume, you can hit the trails under just about any conditions.

“When it's crummy for classic skiing, it's great for skating. The old scale patterns (on the bottom of classic skis) don't get a grip on ice, whereas skating doesn't work on soft snow like classic. It's for packed surfaces,” Dawkins explains.

For those skiers interested in a good, long workout, skate skiing can't be beat. Many of the early adopters to skate skiing in the Rogue Valley have been bicycle racers looking for an effective cross-training workout during the off-season.

“You can do incredible distances on skate skis. The 50K race in the last Olympics used skate skis; the times are faster than classic,” Dawkins says.

The most popular skate trails in the region are between Hyatt Lake, Howard Prairie and Fish Lake. This area boasts 60 miles of groomed trails. Skate skiing doesn't use the familiar parallel grooved tracks used in classic skiing. If you're interested in testing out this sport, the Ashland Outdoor Store rents skate skis.

If it's classic skiing you want, the Southern Oregon Nordic Club is bringing back a time-honored tradition this winter.

The club is planning on setting tracks for classic skiing, starting with the trail around Hyatt Lake. The track setter is a sled on metal feet. When towed by a snowmobile, it creates the familiar parallel tracks. If the tracking sled experiment works well, the SONC hopes to increase the number of miles of tracks.

The club's sled has lain dormant for more than 20 years because of damage and the lack of a snowmobile to tow it. This year, the BLM is lending a snowmobile, and club member Bob Plummer repaired the sled.

“We wanted to make enough tracks to complement our teaching programs,” Plummer says.
The SONC's sled was created by John Day.

This John Day was not the 19th century pioneer after whom the river was named, but a 20th-century skiing pioneer and Medford resident who founded the Oregon Nordic Club. Discovering skiing late in life, Day made the 1960 U.S. Olympic team as a cross-country skier at age 50, according to Dawkins.

The SONC spent part of the summer working to improve skiing in a different way: trail work. Last summer's main project was at the Lollipop trail system near Fish Lake.

“That area gets less snow than at the summit. We wanted to open up the canopy to get more snow on the ground. We pruned some trees and widened the trail,” says John Fertig, a ski instructor for the club who recently retired from the U.S. Forest Service.

If you decide to try out the improved Lollipop system, leave your dog at home — canines aren't allowed on these trails.

“Locally, you have three or four national forests, Crater Lake National Park and BLM land. All have different rules for dogs on ski trails. For the most part, dogs are not allowed,” says Fertig, who knows a local woman who tore her knee badly on a ski trail when someone else's dog collided with her.

Fertig will be leading an outing for intermediate-level skiers on the Lollipop system Dec. 19 at 9 a.m. He can be reached at 601-5687 for location and details.

The SONC also improved trails at Buck Prairie 2 last summer, and connected two Forest Service roads on the Grouse Loop near Mount Ashland.

So whether it's classic or skate skiing you're after, there are plenty of local trails to keep you busy for a long time. And judging by the winter so far, there may be plenty of snow.

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at

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