Back in the early 1970s when the cross-country skiing really began to make an impact on America's winter sports scene, the only way to ski was to make your own tracks. Skiers made them anywhere there was enough snow to open skiing along marked hiking trails. Machine groomed trails were, well, not even considered.
That is until Johannes von Trapp of the Sound of Music family fame saw some groomed trails in Norway and brought the idea to the states. Eventually he began setting snowmobile-groomed tracks to his Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. These early groomers were a bit rough but it didn't take long for the groomed grooves idea to catch on and the sport to become highly machine reliant.
Today, the majority of cross-country skiing nationwide is done on groomed trails at public ski areas and private ski centers. The days of making your own trails are pretty well over—unless you read on.
There are plenty of un-groomed options for cross-country skiers who like to: A) Get away from the crowds. B) Make their own tracks and C) Aren't infatuated with, or feel the need to own, high-tech (read expensive) skate or classic gear.
Like all cross-country skiing, the touring experience depends on snow coverage. And if we are to believe the weather experts, there will be ample cover across our region this winter.
So if you are in a touring state of mind and the snow coverage lives up to pre-season hype, here are some truly local make-your-own-tracks ski touring possibilities.
When the snow covers Pine Mountain, it opens up some incredible ski touring possibilities. It's pretty simple here. Drive in as far as you can on the Pine Mountain Observatory access road from Hwy 20 (about 25 miles east of Bend) and then tour along either marked forest roads. Or head out in any direction you like, creating your own loop or out-and-back tour.
Note that the backcountry skiing can also first-rate here with a nice combination of old growth and glade skiing on north-facing slopes that can hold deep powder stashes.
Yes there are marked ski trails in the Ochocos, but there's also vast a vast expanse of open and forested terrain on public lands that begged to be skied. You can find plenty of skiing off the Ochoco Ranger Station Road just out of Prineville or beyond that along Hwy. 26 on the way over to Dayville.
For a truly unique Central Oregon experience, ski the Maury Mountains just south of the Ochocos and just north of Brothers off Highway 20. Probably a dozen people tour the Maury in a given decade.
Newberry Crater National Monument
From both the Six Mile Sno-Park and Ten Mile Sno-Park it's possible to make a long loop trip on marked trail up to Paulina Falls and back. There are loads of optional unmarked opportunities of this loop. Best of all, skier traffic is always light and the snow quality is often far superior to the mountains closer to Bend.
Talk about room to move, there's plenty of that on the 30,000-acre forest where most of the skiing is on old forest roads linked by short sections of singletrack trail.
There are times when the Maston gets enough snow for some nice easy touring. Park at the trailhead and ski out the powerline road and follow it for an out-and-back tour, or ski the existing mountain bike trail east from its junction with the powerline road. After a mile or so, head left (north) on one of the old access roads and create a loop trip.
No, not the park proper, rather the upper part accessed from the parking lot at/near the Shevlin Commons and Three Pines development. The skiing here takes place along old forest access roads and is perfect for people looking to get in a quick ski close to home.
Between the Inn of The Seventh Mountain and the first chain-up area, there are all sorts of off-track possibilities. Ones that are hardly ever explored but hold a lot of pleasant surprises like rock bound canyons.
Back when now old school touring was in favor, Ski Magazine did an annual survey of readers and the first question always asked people what they liked about cross-country skiing. Invariably the most often cited reason was (by a wide margin), “to be outside in nature in winter.”
And that remains the singular reason to go ski touring, being able to make your own tracks in new-fallen snow and not see a soul for hours on end.