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Cross country offers freedom, exercise, solitude

Tim Parsons
Nevada Appeal News Service
Published Caption: Mike Smith smiles as he skis uphill with ease at Kirkwood Cross Country Ski Center recently.
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There are plenty of things to enjoy with cross country skiing.

“It’s a great way to travel in the winter environment,” said Debbi Waldear, who, as an eight-time world masters champion and winner of great American Ski Race, travels faster than just about anybody.

Waldear has for 30 years been the director of the Kirkwood Cross Country and Snowshoe Center, which has 21 trails that meander 80 kilometers for beginner, intermediate and advanced Nordic trekers, the most of any Tahoe resort other than Soda Springs.

Kirkwood’s views are equally singular.

Mark Twain said the view of Lake Tahoe was the “fairest picture the whole earth affords.” It would be interesting to hear his description of Coyote Pass. At about elevation 8,500 feet on a clear day, Nordic skiers who reach Coyote Pass can look west and see Mount Diablo in the San Francisco Bay Area. To the north, Desolation Wilderness’ Pyramid Peak in the Crystal Range is in view, and to the south are Kirkwood’s famed Red Cliffs.

While most cross country trails are groomed atop existing roads, Kirkwood’s course is designed with the natural terrain, which requires a 5-to-6-foot base. Fortunately, the resort is touted as getting more snow than any other North American ski resort.

The final trails to get enough snowpack to be groomed each year are the advanced Agony and Ecstasy runs which connect the high-country Schneider area and the lower trails nearer the Kirkwood center. While Schneider offers the most widespread views, the lower trails aren’t too shabby. A jaunt on the High Trail Extension overlooks Kirkwood Lake.

While on the lower trails, watch for animal tracks. Evidence of beaver, red fox, coyote, bear, bald eagle and even herons can be found in fresh snow.

My favorite days at Kirkwood are when I have friends with a second car. After leaving one vehicle at the Kirkwood center, skiers drive two miles east to the Schneider Trailhead and park at the Caples Lake Maintenance Station. From there intermediate skiers can ascend to myriad trails including the Sierra Vista, a good spot to have lunch and enjoy the view. Advanced skiers can climb an extra two kilometers on Coyote Pass.

Now the fun really happens when you ski to Ecstasy, the connecting trail where you can race. Downhill ski experience is a plus for new cross country skiers. But without the edges to turn on, this is definitely a new way to go. Taking a lesson makes a great difference. My first few times down Ecstasy were rough. But after a lesson and more experience, I’ve become decent enough to avoid taking spills on most days.

Upon finishing Ecstasy there are smaller hills and more trails to explore before reaching Kirkwood center and the second car.

About 20 percent of the folks on the trails are on snowshoes. They enjoy the safety factor of groomed trails and maps. And there’s certainly not much of a learning curve on snowshoes.

Cross Highway 88 to reach the meadow at the base of Kirkwood Mountain Village. A loop on the flat course is five kilometers. Dogs are welcome on the outer loop, but they need to be on a leash. When a working team of canines from the Running Creek Sled Dogs approaches, make sure to secure your domestic pet 10 feet off the trail.

Snowshoe events

Reservations required. Call (209) 258-7248

* Soup and Show guided snowshoe hike with hot soup and bread lunch – Jan. 24, Feb. 21, March 21 and April 11

* Full Moon Treks guided walk under light of the moon – Jan. 30 and Feb. 27

* Sunset Snowshoe Walks with the alpenglow on the red cliffs to the east – Feb. 27 and March 16

Ski Skate Clinic

Conducted by eight-time world master Nordic champion Debbi Waldear – Feb. 7 and March 14