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Nordic skiing heats up

Ryan Slabaugh

But imagine if, with all this snow, construction crews kept the mountain closed.

For those who prefer the flat-track workouts of Nordic skiing, this was a reality. While the Vail Nordic Center had the capability to open 100 percent in early November, two projects tore up sections of the track and limited the available trails by about half.

“We’ve never had such great snow and such a bad track,” said Nordic skier Dawes Wilson, who’s been a part of the Vail Nordic Club for 15 years. “The general lack of concern, or lack of attention, to the Nordic trail, is familiar. Downhill and Nordic skiing are really separate. Downhill skiing is a profit-making enterprise. (Nordic skiing) is a public entity.”



The snowfall this week has repaired much of the damage and, as Vail Recreation Department director Pete Pieters says, “everything is hunky dory.” The recreation department supplies free track-maintenance to the club, which, in turn, offers its services free to the public.

So as the early-season anger might have passed, it has left avid Nordic skiers curious on how and why their early-season opportunities were so limited.



For those living on Sunburst Drive, which borders the Nordic course, the construction was heaven-sent. On several occasions last winter, the houses and accompanying heated driveways ran out of gas. In response, Xcel Energy spent all summer applying for permits and this fall, not expecting the three-feet of snow, planned to dig. In doing so, they fixed the gas problem and left three high school teams and the public battling for time on three kilometers of track.

The other project left Nordic-center manager John Foster calling it “the ultimate abuse.” In an attempt to fix an East-Vail manhole at a time when river runoff is at its yearly low point, Eagle River Water and Sanitation’s sub-contractor plowed the fresh snow off a large portion of the bike path to bring in equipment. The only problem was, they couldn’t fix it and now it’s been rescheduled for the spring.

“There were some unforeseen conditions,” ERWS’s Lynn Schorr said. “To tell the truth, we didn’t know the Nordic center was going to open so early. In this case, what we were trying to accomplish was doing this as late in the fall as we could. Even in an emergency, the bike path is our only access to the sewer lines.”



While Vail’s 17 kilometer track is now fully open, the Nordic center is wondering how the staff and skiers can avoid, in the future, being caught by surprise. Even Pieters, who works closely with the Town of Vail, only found out about the project the day it started. It left the hopeful skiers disheartened and, while the construction may seem necessary, the timing reminded the Nordic skiers on their place in the valley.

But along came a hero. Brian McCartney, vice president of Vail Mountain Operations and avid Nordic skier, heard of the center’s early-season issues. McCartney employed a full-sized mountain grooming cat last week to move snow back onto the plowed trail, even using a police escort down the frontage road.

“He was a savior,” Foster said. “We got it to the point where we can access other trails, or at least some of the other trails.”

This all brings up the question, if the initial path was plowed, why didn’t the center just create a new trail on a different part of the course? While many courses in Colorado allow trails on fairways and rough, the Vail Golf Club does not.

“The problem is, it creates severe damage on the golf course when you drive the cats on the grass,” Pieters said. “We have a different surface than most courses. A few years ago, we ran a path down the 18th fairway, and we couldn’t get the stripe out until July 15.”

For now, everything is back to normal. The long-time Nordic skiers, though, say time-and-time again that they are tired of Vail protecting the golf course and not supporting the Nordic skiers.

“I know golf pays the bills,” Wilson said, “but I think if you’re going to do something, do it well.”

When the snow melts in the spring, both construction projects will resume. The manhole will be fixed and the piles of dirt left by the gas project will be cleaned up with appropriate landscape. Schorr said they would not interfere anymore this Nordic season and next fall, hoped a dirt-pusher wouldn’t be distracting a foursome in plaid pants.

“We’ll try to time it in that window of before-golf and after-winter,” Schorr said. “For now, I hope that we just get some snow soon.”

For more information on the Nordic center, call 476-8366.

Ryan Slabaugh is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555 ext. 608 or at rslabaugh@vaildaily.com.


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