Outside with Charlie: Cross country skiing

By From page B2 | March 28, 2012


The ski resorts are absolutely thrilled with the new snow that’s fallen. In conversations with Sierra-at-Tahoe’s Steven Hemphill, PR Director, the news is simple: continued good conditions, and a season that has gained some additional time.

Back-country skiers are finally finding enough snow to make it worth their time. For those of us who stick primarily to the more forgiving flat to rolling terrain, it means that the area’s we frequent don’t have so many bushes and rocks showing.

There are three main groups of cross country skiers. The first group go to the groomed resorts.

Their skiing is done in well maintained tracks, or on groomed skating lanes. There is a lodge, professional instruction, and a warming hut or two out on the trails. Kirkwood Cross Country, Tahoe Cross Country, Northstar, Royal Gorge all offer this type of experience.

The second group, of which I and my wife are solid members of, head to the back-country, minus the groomed trails, lodges and warming huts. We ski in places like Loon Lake and the Chipmunk and Orion Trails, other spots in the Crystal Basin, Hope Valley, Martin Meadow, Woods Lake, Forestdale Creek, Grassy Lake, Baldwin Beach and the shore of Lake Tahoe.

We like gently rolling, wide open, long glides, and flat touring areas. Ski touring is our forte, on gentle terrain, with emphasis on “gentle.”

The third group are the telemark skiers. Any kind of terrain is okay with them and it takes some degree of skill and experience to do what they do.

What is common for the last two types of back-country travelers is this: they are simply out in the forest, meadows, and mountains, on their own.

Depending on who is doing the skiing, the day can be skied away, not too far from the car. Hope Valley is one place like this. It’s a big valley, but it is wide open and a perfect place for beginners and those of us of a certain age to explore.

Going deeper into the woods, perhaps up to Elephant Back, out to the Van Vleck bunkhouse, or in to Woods Lake, takes longer, covers a lot more terrain, and definitely puts the car and the highway out of sight once the kicking and gliding begins.

Anyone heading out to the back-country, regardless of the terrain, has to understand that they are completely responsible for their own safety. While you may on occasion see someone from the El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol or the Tahoe Nordic Ski Patrol while skiing out there, it’s not common. It’s more likely that it will be just you and your partner. Heading out un-prepared or under-prepared is, to put it as kindly as possible, is just plain stupid.

The most important thing to be aware of is what the avalanche conditions are. The Sierra Avalanche Center has a website ( that gives avalanche conditions and advisories every day of snow season. Avalanches are relatively common and are completely uncontrollable. All of them are dangerous.

Back-country skiers should always let someone know where they are headed and when they expect to return. Along with carrying the food, water and other gear needed, a good knowledge of what the avalanche and snow conditions are amounts to good common sense.

No matter where you ski, ski safely. Get outside!

Charlie Ferris

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