Away from the Grind

Cross Country Skiing at Happy Jack Ski Trails

by Roger Ludwig

“Shooshhh, shooshhh, shooshhh,” the snow whispers to the skis. “Shooshhh, shooshhh, shooshhh….”

A gentle compress of snow hovers on each fir’s flat needles, as if to cool the overheated exertion of a summer’s growth.

This forest, dry and rocky and ignored in summer, has been enchanted, spell bound. The sun, gazing soft and low from the southern horizon, casts countless long blue shadows, holding all enthrall. Only an occasional jay breaks the silence, a grey squirrel arcs across the quiet.

Finding a rhythm, cross country skiers breathe deeply. Inhalation of the crisp air brings exhilaration.

They have discovered that the crimped down, cramped out, wind-scoured days of a grim Cheyenne winter hold a precious treasure. While others are merely enduring the bleak, broke days of January, February and March, soldiering on until spring, these lucky few have found a reason to smile. They’ll be on Pole Mountain again this weekend.

With long, north facing terraces covered in pines, Pole Mountain captures and holds the snowfall. “The snow this year has been great,” reported Ellen Axtmann, coordinator of the Medicine Bow Nordic Association (MBNA). “We are having the best snow year we have had in years!” (2010)

The MBNA, with approximately 200 members, maintains and grooms an interconnected network of trails. Nine miles of them are broad swaths looping through the forest, machine packed for the graceful movements of skate skiers. Along the edge are compressed tracks for classic Nordic skiing. Well marked, they are signed for location and difficulty.

In addition many more miles of narrow trail are well packed by the classic skiers themselves. These offer more solitude, more variety and a genuine feel of back country. Some are well marked, some are not signed at all. Maps and up to date trail conditions are found at http://mbna.pbworks.com/Grooming-Information.

The Forest Service maintains three trailheads which provide parking and toilets, with day permits at $5 per vehicle. There is no cost to use the trails but membership in the MBNA is welcomed at $15 per person or $30 per family for the season.

Tie City trailhead, off Happy Jack Road near the summit, is the access point for the groomed trails and lessons. The Happy Jack Winter Recreation area, also off Happy Jack, and the Summit Trailhead on Blair Road east of the summit rest area provide access to the backcountry trails. These two parking areas are best accessed by four-wheel drive. The roads to them are steep and snow packed.

There are few grand vistas as most of the trails are wisely placed where trees provide shelter from the wind. Entering the forest from the often howling parking areas can be like going through a door into a serene, new world.

“Let’s face it, Wyoming can have a long and brutal winter!  Cross country skiing is an excellent way to embrace winter, get outside in all conditions, and enjoy yourself.  It is an all-around aerobic activity that involves both upper and lower body muscle groups and you can participate at all levels, from getting out for a ‘stroll’ on your skis to racing at an Olympic level,” according to Axtell.

The Happy Jack Ski Trails have been popular with Laramie residents for years. More recently many people form Northern Colorado have been coming through Cheyenne to ski. Cheyenne residents have been slow to take advantage of them, perhaps because ski rentals had not been available.

Trail etiquette asks that users use only skis on the trails. Walking, running and snowshoeing damages the snow pack. One snowshoe trail is marked from the Tie City Trailhead. While dogs are allowed on most trails, they should be under voice command or leash. Users ask that those with dogs politely clean up after them.

To really enjoy your time, be aware that the dry air will quickly dehydrate a skier. Drink lots of water and once an hour have a snack. Using lotion on your face will help protect skin. On a sunny day be prepared with sunscreen. Layered clothing with a windbreaker allows a person to keep cool and avoid getting lathered up.

Beginners enjoy the broad flats near the Tie City Trailhead or quiet striding along Pole Creek at the Happy Jack Trailhead. The Crow Creek area has the best views but the trails are steep, narrow, twisting and icy. They are better left to intermediate and advanced skiers.

Cross Country Ski Rentals

Rock on Wheels
900 E. Lincolnway
Phone 637-0020.
Classic waxless skis, poles and boots for children, teens and adults.
For current rates and hours see:  http://www.rockonwheels.net     Hit “rentals” tab, then “winter”

F.E. Warren Force Support: Outdoor Recreation Services
6205 15th Cavalry Avenue
Phone 773-2988
Classic waxless skis, poles and boots for children, teens and adults.
For military families and retirees only.
Hours: M-T, 10 to 4; W-Th, 9 to 5; Fri. 10 to 6. Closed weekends.

Lessons:

The Medicine Bow Nordic Association sponsors classes for all ages.   For details go to http://mbna.pbworks.com/.

Comments

Colleen

Feb 8, 2010

Wow! Looks like you guys had a blast! I should get my kids out there…Good point about the long and brutal winters, we should be showing our kids that its better to get out and enjoy what we’ve got rather than complaining about the cold all day. I was doing a bit of searching and I wonder if you have any advice on traveling to this place in Idaho? http://www.grandtarghee.com/winter/nordic/index.php

Reply

Roger Ludwig

Mar 9, 2010

Colleen – Thanks for the comment. And sorry, I’ve never been to Grand Targhee so don’t have any personal knowledge.

Roger

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Michael S

Feb 15, 2011

Was there on Friday (chickened out due to forecast of 70+ mph winds on Saturday). Trails in great shape, lots of skiers and skaters. Unfortunately lots of large dogs whose owners failed to announce their presence coming up from behind!

Reply

Roger Ludwig

Feb 15, 2011

Conditions are perfect this year with the best grooming (2010-2011). I made it up on Saturday. The trees do such a good job blocking the wind once a person muscles their way from the parking lot onto the trail. The only wind I ran into was down on the Pole Creek trail, an out of the way section near the Happy Jack Snowsports area. I’ve had wind hit me on the Summit Loop also but the rest is wonderfully protected. Dogs are an issue at times. On some trails dogs are prohibited. You’d have to check the maps. Glad you made it up.

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