Big plans, little snow

(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner)
Amber Mounday (front) and Ken Duncan cross-country ski at North Fork Park.
Story by Jeff DeMoss
Standard-Examiner staff
January 4, 2012
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LIBERTY — Unfortunately, a lack of snowfall means the cancellation this year of what many consider the biggest day in the Top of Utah for cross-country skiing.

However, when the snow eventually does come, the volunteers who run the Nordic skiing operations at North Fork Park say they’ll be ready.

Winter Trails Day is a nationwide celebration of trails that gives places like North Fork Park a chance to show off its top-notch system of groomed winter tracks for skiers, with additional trails designated for snowshoeing. But one of the driest Decembers in recent memory and unseasonably warm temperatures in recent weeks have combined to put the kibosh on this year’s celebration.

The annual event, originally scheduled for Saturday, is organized primarily by Ogden Nordic, the group that maintains North Fork Park during the winter, and the local nonprofit Weber Pathways. Private businesses also contribute to the cause.

Jim White, director of the master skiing program at Ogden Nordic, said current conditions present a potential safety hazard that has left organizers with no choice but to cancel this year’s event. The snowpack is very icy and even dangerous in some spots, White said.

“Skiing, like so many other sports, is a weather permitting activity and I think everybody understands that,” he said. “To my knowledge this is the first time in more than 10 years of grooming that we have not had good snowpack in the beginning of January at North Fork Park.”

He said it’s not possible to reschedule Winter Trails Day for another day this winter because of the rigorous and lengthy planning process. There is currently no forecast for snow in the area over the next several days at a minimum.

“The WTD event relies on many volunteers including numerous local businesses and organizations, Weber State students, cross country ski instructors, Nordic Center volunteers, and others,” he said. “Planning for this event starts in the late summer and lining up lots of busy volunteers is difficult even when you start early.”

A similar event scheduled for Salt Lake City’s Mountain Dell Golf Course on Saturday was also canceled.

Last year’s event drew more than 200 people and gave the park a chance to show off its new digs — a Nordic Center complete with equipment rentals and free hot beverages for paying visitors (the park charges $5 a day to cover grooming costs and other operational expenses. Season passes range from free for kids 12 and under to $175 for an unlimited family pass).

While the cancellation is disappointing, White said North Fork Park hosts many other events, including several races in the Wasatch Citizen series and a string of western marathon races that most instructors compete in.

Other upcoming events include a Wednesday night race series, one additional clinic, moonlight glides, and open skiing that everybody in the community is welcome to participate in.

Beside these upcoming events, Ogden Nordic continues a relationship started last year with the Ogden Valley Winter Sports Foundation, which trains and field local youth ski teams at competitions around the western states. The foundation has had great success in downhill competition in the past, and the two groups continue working to revive a competitive cross-country ski program.

The center also runs free programs called Chicks on Sticks (girls) and Nordic Dogzz (boys) for kids in grades three through six. The programs are designed for kids to have fun, learn to cross-country ski, and develop team camaraderie. Ski gear is available free of charge (first come, first served). These programs were scheduled to start every Friday beginning this week from 4-5:30 p.m. at North Fork Park, but snow conditions have complicated those plans as well.

Cross-country skiing is part of the Nordic skiing sport family, which also includes ski jumping, and a combination sport of cross-country skiing and ski jumping called Nordic combined.

As a sport, cross-country skiing is one of the most difficult endurance sports, as its motions use every major muscle group and it, along with running, rowing and swimming, is one of the sports that burn the most calories per hour.

For those who can’t wait to get out and burn off some holiday excess, there is another option further south. Soldier Hollow in Heber Valley is still planning a Winter Trails Day celebration. Nordic events were held at Soldier Hollow during the 2002 Winter Olympics, and the resort is consistently rated as one of the premier Nordic ski resorts in the country.

Snowbasin has a network of Nordic trails, and people who go to higher elevations can still find good places to make tracks, but just about every ski-related enterprise in the state is hurting right now.

As for North Fork Park, the snow can’t come soon enough — but the volunteers who make the place tick will be ready when it does.

After all, it has to snow eventually, right?

For more information on Ogden Nordic programs and events at North Fork Park, visit www.ogdennordic.com.

Jeff DeMoss

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OGDEN NATURE CENTER

The Ogden Nature Center is located at 966 W. 12th St. in Ogden. For more information, visit www.ogdennaturecenter.org or call 801-621-7595.

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