Heavenly sets course for cross country track
Cross country skiing the flats on Heavenly Ski Resort?
For the endorphin-bound, nature-loving recreational warriors seeking peace in this world this plan is in the works.
As part of the ski area’s master plan, Heavenly wants to set tracks next season on about 100 acres beyond the gondola mid-station and surrounding the Von Schmidt Flats.
And it bought just the tool to pull it off – a $45,000 snowcat.
“This is the piece of equipment we needed to make the trail system,” said Andy Strain, Heavenly’s director of planning.
The plan includes a restaurant and lodge to be built this summer at the gondola end-point station near the Perfect Turn ski school.
The ski resort also plans to construct three new lifts in that area and eventually take out the Mighty Might chairlift.
Strain returned to the area once again on skis Thursday to prepare for next season’s big adventure, thinking outloud about the possibility of creating a rim trail to seize on Heavenly’s captivating views.
“Can you imagine being in a family and coming out here on a busy Saturday and finding this kind of peaceful landscape?” Strain asked.
The idea of weaving green- and blue-run trails in between and mapping out untracked, marked trails to encourage backcountry skiing and snowshoeing has also crossed his mind.
Glancing toward East Peak, the planner hopes to carve some more advanced trails halfway up the mountain. He roughly estimates grooming about 20 kilometers of runs out of the area. He’s open to having a warming hut built for skiers and snowshoers to take breaks in.
“Good signage will be important out here,” he said.
From the first time the staff surveyed the area to carry out its gondola-related plans, Strain said he thought cross country skiing and snowshoeing were the perfect activities for the rolling terrain at 9,200 feet.
“It became very clear early that this is going to be an ideal place for cross country skiing,” he said.
“It’s not a Royal Gorge,” he said referring to North America’s largest cross country resort near Soda Springs with 360 km of groomed trails. “But certainly you figure, for cross country skiers, it’s a great way to get out – particularly when you see the views.”
There’s also the advantage of skiing early and late in the season because the snow conditions are more forgiving, he mentioned.
“The snow doesn’t last at the Bijou Meadow forever,” he said.
The snow provided a little give Thursday, fluctuating between the hard-packed crust to patches of corn snow in the spotty open spaces. In the wooded terrain, Strain quizzed himself on the variety of trees, picking out mountain hemlocks, lodgepole and white bark pines. The pattern of the animal tracks darting through the trees was more baffling to him.
A skier or snowshoer may spot a little wildlife like a pine martin along the way, he said.
Like the price rates, the exact layout of the trails is undetermined at this time, but Strain already has a head start.
“From our standpoint, it’s still in the infancy as far as the outline of the trails,” he said.
Ultimately, Strain hopes to incorporate long-time Heavenly ski patroller Martin Hollay’s expertise – which was used in 1960 to create the west shore’s cross country ski route during the Olympic Games.
South Tahoe High School graduate Cory Martin created a trail map last year as part of his senior project. Strain was Martin’s mentor.
With an undergraduate degree in environmental planning and a masters in landscape architecture, the planning director applied for the necessary permits for the gondola projects from the U.S. Forest Service, California Water Quality Control Board, El Dorado County and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in September 1998. They were all approved as a bundle six months later.
“The stage was set early for this cornerstone of the resort and redevelopment. The baseline environmental studies were already done by the time we got to the project,” he said. “The idea is to make it more of a sightseeing experience and create more of a destination resort.”
Cross country skiing and snowshoeing trails were consistent with a theme of the master plan in that they allow the resort to “tread lightly on the land.”
To make the experience more convenient for the traveler, Heavenly would like to rent skis and snowshoes, sell maps and provide instruction at a cross country ski center next to the gondola end-point station.
The idea seemed attractive to an alpine skier passing by, studying the narrow skis.
“I’d like to do that. I’ll try to do that next year. It’s the kind of fun I like, instead of fighting with (alpine skiers),” Houston resident J.D. Forns said.
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