For a change, Echo-to-Kirkwood race looks vulnerable |

For a change, Echo-to-Kirkwood race looks vulnerable

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

Snow isn’t in the forecast for Saturday and temperatures could climb into the mid-50s.

For participants of the Echo-to-Kirkwood Race and Tour, it’s an opportunity to catch the 13-mile backcountry ski and snowshoe event with its guard down. Already, 194 people have registered for the two- to four-hour adventure.

During the event’s 30-year history, conditions have varied from whiteouts to the perfect recipe for hypothermia — chilly rain at 8,000 feet.

“I’ve lost the course because of a complete whiteout where I couldn’t see 20 feet in front of me,” said Kirkwood Cross Country Center Manager Debbi Waldear of her intense experience in the late 1980s. “It was pretty scary (and at the same time) pretty exciting. You just had to slow down and keep going.”

The El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol came aboard 14 years ago, making even the harshest conditions safe. Fifteen aid stations, each staffed by two patrolmen, and three cookie stations are interspersed along the route. That added protection during what can be a volatile month weatherwise attracts skiers who probably wouldn’t do it on their own.

“It differs a great deal from other classic ski competitions because it has a backcountry element to it,” said Monte Hendricks, a senior patrolman for the EDNSP. “That’s why we call it a race and tour because we have a lot of people who don’t necessarily approach it as a race. They don’t want to compete, but it gives them an opportunity to cover that much territory and feel safe.”

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Although the snowpack is significantly less than in previous years, up to 5 feet of snow remains on the ground across the Sierra crest. Entrants looking for machine-groomed trails won’t find them. The course is distinctively marked by flags and tracks.

“It’s so scenic,” said Waldear, a frequent winner of the race. “It gives you the opportunity to see that ridge line and the spectacular views in a safe environment.”

Participants depart from Echo Summit Sno Park, climbing as much as 1,300 feet. They also must glide across meadows and pass through dense woods before making a finish-line descent to Kirkwood Touring Center.

Day-of-the-race registration is welcome at the snow park. The cost is $35. Racing and touring begins at 10 a.m. Late registrants have missed out on a convenient shuttle bus service, but for $5 a day-use parking permit can be purchased from a concessionaire or the patrol.

Skiers are encouraged to wear climbing skins and dress in layers. They must provide their own equipment.

Hendricks can always count on one thing on race day — his spirits rising.

“It’s real happy people who are doing this event. They are having so much fun and it really gets infectious and gets all of us excited,” Hendricks said.

For more information, contact race director Walt Thompson at (530) 647-1825 or visit