TELLURIDE – Nordic skiing, like road biking and trail running, has an addictive component to it. Once it’s got hold of you, it’s difficult to shake.
There is, first, the science of it. Prolonged exercise has long been known to have profound effects on the brain – most notably, through the release of endorphins that can generate that euphoric rush often referred to as “runner’s high.”
Then there’s the zen of Nordic skiing, the meditative monotony of the pole-glide-pole-glide-pole-glide cadence, the Alice In Wonderland effect of following winding paths through old-growth forests and sparkling, low-sun meadows.
Locals (and visiting Nordic ski addicts) have had much to be grateful for in an otherwise dismal snow winter thus far in the San Juans, thanks to a wonderful assortment of self-propelled Nordic-skiing locales. Although the trails of the beloved Valley Floor aren’t quite up to snuff due to the lack of snow, the shortfall has compelled classic and skate skiers to explore farther afield. And lucky for them, the Telluride Nordic Association (the local hub for all things Nordic-related, and the entity that manages the majority of public Nordic trails in the area) recently expanded the Trout Lake/Lizard Head trail system.
The expansion has added yet another dimension to the Telluride area’s already extensive Nordic menu. And, in a low-snow year, more people seem to be discovering, or rediscovering the skinny skis.
Midnite Scholtes is the Program Director for the Telluride Nordic Association. He says he’s seen a major uptick in Nordic skiing around Telluride in the last few years. The creation of the Valley Floor trail system, following the town’s purchase of the former Neal Blue property, definitely upped local interest, he says. Beyond the Valley Floor, the non-profit TNA has expanded its Nordic offerings, with trail systems at Town Park, Priest Lake, and Trout Lake/Lizard Head Pass.
“The Valley floor really spurred lot of interest in the sport,” Scholtes says, “but now that the Valley Floor isn’t really going, people are finding out how awesome Trout and Priest are.”
In fact, the region’s higher-altitudes currently have some of the best Nordic skiing in the country, Scholtes reports, with other popular Nordic destinations like Vail, Aspen, and Crested Butte unable to open much of their Nordic ski terrain.
Meanwhile, TNA has added to its groomed terrain, with a collection of new trails at the top of Lizard Head Pass that connect to the established Trout Lake Railroad Grade section. Called “Tom’s Loop” after longtime TNA supporter and Nordic enthusiast Tom Treder, the new terrain atop Lizard Head Pass has seen lots of traffic since the trails opened in November.
“It’s been a nice addendum to Trout Lake, with the extra loop it’s really diversified the Railroad Grade and enhanced the whole experience up there,” Scholtes says.
As TNA Board Member Ivar Eidsmo explains, a mission of the Telluride Nordic Center is to help make Telluride a complete resort town, one that offers conventional lift-accessed alpine skiing and a diverse selection of other sports and activities – like Nordic skiing.
“The effort of the Telluride Nordic Association is to assure that Nordic skiing is an amenity for the community as well as for the people who come here to visit,” he says, noting that since the organization exists almost exclusively through grants and donations, it’s important that users contribute to that effort. The TNA grooms trails daily, staffs the Nordic Center in Telluride, and puts on numerous clinics and events each winter – all of which require funds that should, ideally, come from the trail systems’ users.
“We consider this sport to be a source of revenue for our community, helping us to build a whole and complete resort town,” he says, adding that to do so TNA seeks annual funding from local governments as well as individual donors. To that end, he urges anyone who uses Telluride’s Nordic trails to contribute to TNA, either with donations or through an annual membership. (Visit their website www.telluridetrails.org for more information.)
This Saturday, TNA is hosting a full-day clinic, with instruction in classic skiing in the morning (10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.) and skate skiing in the afternoon (1- 3:30 p.m.) Each session costs $25, or $40 for both. Rental equipment is available for $5.
“We’re trying to get more people interested in Nordic skiing, without crippling their wallets,” Scholtes says of the Saturday clinic, as well as TNA’s calendar of ongoing clinics.
The organization also puts on the annual Butch Cassidy Chase, the preeminent Nordic ski race of the winter season. The event is scheduled for Saturday, February 18, at Priest Lake. For more information on upcoming classes, clinics, or events, visit TNA’s website.