SPOONER SUMMIT — Skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts may have seen the last of the groomed trails at Spooner Lake now that Max Jones and his wife, Patti McMullen, have announced they will no longer run the Cross Country Ski Area there.“It's been my life for 27 years,” Jones said. “And maybe it was just time after 27 winters to move on.”Jones said they had been considering leaving the business for some years, then the record dry winter along with a proposed fee increase from the Nevada State Parks Department sealed the deal.“When things are going well, this is the dream job,” he said. “But we were only open 40 days this winter. I haven't had a paycheck since October. That makes it harsh.”For nearly three decades, the pair has run the ski center in the winter and the bike center in the summer at Spooner Lake, in a state park that sits in Douglas and Washoe counties as well as Carson City.The couple will continue to run Flume Trail Bikes, a bike rental and shuttle service to Tahoe Meadows and the Flume Trail, this summer and fall from Spooner Lake. They will open it next year, along with a bike caf, at the Tunnel Creek Station in Incline Village.It will operate out of the old bunkhouse at the stables at the Ponderosa Ranch. The cafe will offer sandwiches, coffee and beer.
The couple worked as concessionaire at Spooner Lake, paying a fee to the state parks department to run the ski center. McMullen operated the front counter, handling rentals and fees while Jones operated the snow cats building and grooming trails.David Morrow, administrator of the parks department, said the future of the center is unclear.“We actually don't know,” he said. “There's some questions we need to answer before we reach a decision about what we're going to do.”Morrow said the department will solicit feedback from the community to determine whether users would like to see a continuation of the groomed ski trails or more of an open area for a variety of recreation activities during the winter.“We want to take a pretty close look at what's going on,” he said.Carson City resident Anne Macquarie said she would be disappointed to see it go. “It's been such a fixture in my life,” she said. “I practically raised my kids there.”She said she has been skiing there since she moved to Carson City 23 years ago, and both of her children learned to ski there before learning downhill.“It was a real community,” she said. “Whenever I went up there, I would always see somebody I knew.”
Jones said he hates to let people down, but with their daughter, Caitlin, graduating from Carson High School this year, it was the right time to make the transition.“It's like an extended family,” he said. “We feel bad, like we're walking out on them.”Skier Erick Studenicka said the feeling was mutual. “As Carson City skiers, we feel bad we somehow didn't support him enough,” Studenicka said. “It's like seeing a good friend move away.”He said Carson City cross country skiers will likely have to travel to North Tahoe if the center closes. And, he said, skiers will be losing an advocate in the area.Studenicka, who competes in biathlon for the Nevada National Guard, said Jones, who competed in the sport during the Olympic trials in the 1986 Sarajevo games, was always supportive. “He let us carry our rifles on our back to train,” Studenicka said. “A lot of areas are not as lenient.”In addition to skiing in the Olympic trials, Jones is also a two-time mountain bike world champion and a member of the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Morrow said the department would be hard-pressed to find someone with Jones' expertise to take over the center.
Jones is hoping there will be another solution. He's working with avid skiers to form a club that would volunteer to clear the parking lot — an expense that generally takes up about 35 percent of the ski center's profits — and groom the trails. The concessionaire would then be left to run the shop only. Jones said he would be willing to teach them how to groom, and would even do the job a couple of times a week.He said the ski club could eventually evolve into a nonprofit group responsible for the upkeep of the trails, but exempt from paying park fees.“I would hate to see this place shut down,” he said. “I want to be really involved in making it go.”He also wants to see the cabins he helped build about 14 years ago from trees cut in the forest there to remain available to rent.And, he said, he wants to stay in touch with the customers he's come to consider as friends over the years as they make the shift to the new business. “We're really kind of excited about it,” he said. “We just hope our customers here will come see us and buy a cup of coffee every once in a while.”