LET IT SNOW
appeared in Methow Valley News Winter Guide 2019-2020
Picture a vast glittering white blanket, with smooth stretches, steep folds, and a few rolling bumps. Now add a shimmering river, frosted pines, majestic cottonwoods. A network of pathways spider across the blanket, running through fields, over hill and dale. Sprinkle in a couple of cozy huts and a charming town at either end of the blanket, and you’ve got the Methow Valley trails system spread out before you, just waiting for you to clip on your skis and insert yourself into the picture.
Widely celebrated as the largest Nordic ski trails system in North America, this 200-kilometer network of skate platforms and classic tracks is one of the Methow Valley’s biggest lures. Managed and maintained by Methow Trails, the trails system is the result of the vision of a group of skiing friends in the 1970s, whose foresight and tireless efforts to secure right-of-ways on public and private lands gives residents and visitors alike thousands of person-hours of enjoyment and exercise each year.
There are five major trailheads for access to Nordic skiing in the Methow Valley; three of the main areas are linked.
The Methow Trails system comprises three main areas, all connected by the 30-kilometer Methow Community Trail, which stretches from Winthrop to Mazama with spurs up to Sun Mountain and out to Wilson Ranch and Early Winters Creek. The Sun Mountain and Rendezvous areas are the highest and thus tend to be open earliest (often by Thanksgiving) and stay groomed the longest (through April 1 in good snow years).
METHOW COMMUNITY TRAIL
The 30K Methow Community Trail (MCT) is the most easily accessed section of trail in the system. Ski moderate terrain through sunny fields or undertake a fun point-to-point ski with some hill climbing in between Mazama and Winthrop. The self-service waxing hut at the Spring Creek Ranch trailhead is insulated and heated.
The Sun Mountain trails offer varied terrain, with everything from sustained hill climbs to some relatively flat loops. A newly-roofed warming hut at the Chickadee Trailhead makes starting in this area quite comfortable and an illustrated “StorySki” makes it an appealing place to take the kids.
If you like hills, you’ll want to hit the Rendezvous, accessible from Cub Creek, Mazama, and the Gunn Ranch Road. This area has a backcountry feel, even when you’re no more than a few kilometers from a trailhead.
The Loup Loup Pass area offers a small but worthwhile Nordic option: South Summit. Located 12 miles east of Twisp, South Summit features 50K of trails with some dog-friendly options. Trail passes are not required but a Sno-Park permit, available at the Loup Loup ticket office, is. The Bear Mountain Nordic Trails at the Loup are operating when the luge is not, on Wednesdays and Fridays except during holiday weeks.
Methow Trails hosts numerous events this year, ranging from races as competitive as the Ski to the Sun Marathon & Relay to those as wild and wacky as the Doggy Dash, where costumed humans and canines battle it out in the six-legged race. Check Methow Trails’ events page for details.
Methow Valley Nordic presents several events, including the Methow Valley Ski Camp at Sun Mountain in December and the Lee Adams Tour of the Methow, which gives skiers the choice of 20K, 30K, 50K and 80K stretches of trail in a non-competitive environment. Visit Methow Valley Nordic’s events page for details. Cascade Endurance offers an annual women’s ski clinic.
WHEN TO GO
From the moment the snow flies until the day it all melts. Methow Trails begins rolling trails with the first snowfall and can groom with heavy equipment as soon as there are 6 inches on the ground. Depending on conditions in the spring, they often groom through April 1. Nordic trails in the Loup Loup area are typically groomed on Thursdays and Fridays.
Some of the best skiing conditions can be found after President’s Day weekend, which is when many visitors stop traveling to the valley. Sunny skies, comfortable temperatures, fast conditions.
Methow Trails routes are open from dawn ’til dusk and no one will frown upon an occasional night ski as long as you stay out of the way of the groomers and stay off the freshly groomed trails.
• Canadian visitors to the Methow Trails system ski at par (Canadian dollars are on par with U.S. dollars).
• 10-day punch cards offer more flexibility than a 3-day pass (which must be used on consecutive days) and more affordability than a full annual pass. Punch cards must be redeemed from any ticket vendor and are valid for two years.
• On Saturdays a free ski shuttle transports skiers to the Brown’s Farm and Mazama trailheads from the Spring Creek Ranch trailhead in Winthrop, allowing skiers to ski point-to-point along the Community Trail. Five warming huts along the way offer a cozy place to stop for a snack.
• The Rendezvous Huts offers a European-style front-country skiing experience, accessed from the Cub Creek, Gunn Ranch and Mazama trailheads. Ski all day, cozy up to the wood stove with a book for the evening. Make your reservations early.
• “StorySki” panels illustrated by author/artist Erik Brooks blend literacy with activity and usher young skiers down the trail. Located at Chickadee, Spring Creek Ranch, and Mazama trailheads.