Smile-generating early snow in the Telluride area is fueling more than the traditional ski-area machine this season.
As the snow has fallen down, interest in cross-country skiing has gone up with a corresponding spike in groomed Nordic opportunities.
From skate-skiing along the maintained trails of the Valley Floor to the classic vistas of the Trout Lake trail at the top of Lizard Head Pass, Nordic skiing is kicking and gliding along with the cooperation of Mother Nature.
There’s also the traditional favorite — the Nordic trails at Priest Lake — regularly groomed once again by the nonprofit Telluride Nordic Association.
For a nearby change of skiing scenery, the groomed Nordic trails at Ironton Park outside Ouray are attracting its share of skiing-hot springs duathletes.
“It has been a good start to the season. We had Priest Lake groomed mid-December, which is rare that we can (groom) that early,” said Bill de Alva, a board member of the Telluride Nordic Association and one of the grooming drivers. “But that was also with a tremendous amount of shoveling. After every single storm, we’ve been out here shoveling. That’s what it takes to get this place (Priest Lake) open even in a good year.”
He said the Telluride Nordic Association provides the grooming for the cross-country ski trails at Priest Lake, 12 miles south of Telluride along Highway 145. The association also grooms the popular Trout Lake trail that follows the historic railroad grade from Trout Lake up to the summit of Lizard Head Pass (or vice versa).
Grooming is generally done to accommodate skate-skiing, as well as classic, with classic lanes set to the side of the groomed trails.
The Telluride Nordic Association also operates the Telluride Nordic Center, located in the Unruh House in Telluride Town Park.
De Alva said with the early snowfall, groomers were able to use the PistenBully snowcat and not just snowmobiles for grooming. But, he said, the early snowcat grooming came with a price — more shoveling.
“It’s a 1-to-10 ratio,” he said. “One minute in the snowcat to 10 minutes shoveling.”
Storms with wind tend to drift the new snow, forcing the shovel crews to manually move the snow onto the trails in front of the snowcat.
The machine then spreads around the white gold and leaves fresh corduroy along with pristine classic tracks.
While the cross-country skiing numbers are tough to gauge out on the Telluride Nordic Association trails, de Alva said the Telluride Nordic Center has seen a major surge in activity this season.
The Nordic Center offers ski rentals and instruction, along with special clinics and other events. A full Nordic ski shop also is on site with immediate access to the Town Park trails, which are groomed by Telluride Parks and Recreation.
“I will say that the numbers from the Nordic Center are out of the ballpark (this season),” de Alva said. “It’s been remarkable. The numbers from the Nordic Center have been outstanding.”
He said he expects more skiers at Priest Lake and Trout Lake as the season progresses and word spreads of the groomed Nordic opportunities on Lizard Head Pass.
The terrain, the grooming and the quiet setting combine to lure Nordic skiers like Corinne Platt of Ophir, who has been skiing the trails at Priest Lake for years.
“The grooming is awesome here,” Platt said this week, as she headed out on a mid-week tour. “I raised my 10-year-old daughter skiing out here.”
Platt also helps coach the junior Nordic skiers of the Telluride Ski & Snowboard Club who often train on the loop trails at Priest Lake.
“We meet up here on Saturdays. The terrain is great because you’ve got the hills and the flats. You’ve got uphill, downhill. It’s perfect for kids,” she said.
She said the Trout Lake trail skiing is always the best early season location, adding the trails in the Valley Floor have been excellent this season, too.
“I skied there two days ago. It was phenomenal,” she said. “People really use the trails in the Valley Floor. You can pop out there on your lunch break and ski for an hour. That’s the great thing about Nordic skiing, right?”
The convenience and access of the groomed trails enhance the Nordic experience for locals and visitors, according to de Alva.
He said that the Telluride Nordic Association also does cooperative grooming with the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village.
The Town of Telluride handles the grooming for 15 kilometers of Valley Floor trails, where skate-skiers and classic gliders are a common sight.
Mountain Village grooms and maintains a network of trails in and around Mountain Village. The Mountain Village trails are multi-use trails to accommodate skiers, snowshoers and snowbikes. The trails are free to use; same with the Telluride Nordic Association trails. Donations are encouraged at the trailheads. Memberships and donations provide the bulk of the budget for the nonprofit Nordic group. The Telluride Foundation, Town of Telluride and the San Miguel County Open Space program also provide support for the free community cross-country skiing.
In addition, Telluride Ski Resort offers groomed cross-country skiing on trails at the Topaten Nordic area at the top of Chair 10.
Dog-friendly trails are located in the Trout Lake complex, as well as Priest Lake.
Dog and dog-owner issues have returned with the return of the snow this year, de Alva said.
“We do have a designated dog loop here at Priest Lake,” de Alva said. “And really, it’s a safety issue here. We’ve got a lot of steep hills, short-sight distances.”
The terrain challenges can be complicated with a dog in the wrong places at the wrong time on long leashes, he added.
“There have been reports of multiple collisions with dogs out here this season,” de Alva said, encouraging a cooperative spirit for safety’s sake.
“All of Trout Lake is designated for responsible dog use,” he said, adding that a substantial portion of Priest Lake also is designated for skiers with dogs.
The bountiful early snow this season also has boosted cross-country skiing in neighboring San Juan locations like Ouray.
The groomed Ironton Park trails are located south of Ouray along Highway 550. Trails are groomed for classic and skate-skiing.
The Nordic skiing is free. The ensuing dip in the hot springs is not.