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By McKenzie Kraemer
Nordic skiing has been a staple in the mountains around McCall since the Finnish and Scandinavian settlers first homesteaded here in the 1880s. Work didn’t stop because of deep snow. Families used cross-country skis to traverse the landscape, trappers and mailmen relied on them in the backcountry and children often built homemade skis to play or get to town.
While the equipment has made leaps and bounds since the 1880s, the exhilaration of flying along on “skinny skis” remains the same. Not only is Nordic skiing a workout, it is an easy way to enjoy the peace and solitude of a winter forest.
There are two main types of cross-country skiing: classic and skate. Most beginners can jump on a pair of classic skis and “kick and glide” to explore a groomed trail or venture out across a snowy field in no time. Skate skiing takes a bit more practice, but a few lessons can set you on the right track.
And finding that track is easy in McCall. This area is home to five cross-country ski areas offering world-class terrain. Each trail system has a wealth of options for a quick and easy outing or a longer, endurance-testing loop.
We asked Kurt Wolf, the City of McCall Parks and Recreation Director, for a few tips on where to find the best Nordic skiing in the area. Not only is Wolf the go-to guy when it comes to all things recreation, he is also an avid Nordic skier, decorated competitor and board member for the McCall Remastered Race held annually in McCall.
While Tamarack Resort may be best known in the winter for its alpine skiing and snowboarding, the extensive Nordic trail system is something you don’t want to miss. Starting from the Osprey Meadows Nordic Center you can explore meadow, aspen grove or forest by ski, fat bike or snowshoe. All trails are dog friendly and are open from dawn until dusk every day. Daily passes and season passes are available at the Nordic Center.
Quick and Easy: Pelican
“There are so many great combination loops you can make off of the Pelican trail,” says Wolf. Head south from the Nordic Center to find long, easy, semi-flat skiing. While there are a few short climbs along this route, the terrain is rolling with minimal climbing required.
Endurance: Pelican – Redtail – Merlin Loop
Run the full gamut of Nordic terrain with this sweeping loop. Cruise the meadow along Pelican then connect the loop by climbing to Redtail and Merlin. “This loop has the best of both worlds,” says Wolf. “It has some great longer climbs with sporty, fast descents.”
When the weather warms up and Nordic conditions are soft, switch out your skis for a pair of snowshoes and explore the snowshoe trails at Tamarack Resort.
This Nordic gem is a local favorite. Bear Basin offers the highest elevation Nordic skiing in the McCall area which means trails are typically skiable earlier and later into the season. The trailhead is located off of Highway 55 just before cresting the hill near the Little Ski Hill and offers and ample parking lot with a warming hut where you can purchase daily or season passes. “It isn’t unusual to pull into the parking lot and see a line of cars,” says Wolf. “But don’t let the number of cars deter you. Once you get on the trails, everyone spreads out and it feels like you have the place to yourself.” The terrain at Bear Basin is attractive to both beginners and experts alike. While you can find smooth rolling trails for a lesson or quick outing, it is also a favorite training location for competitors. “Bear Basin is a terrific place to find interval loops or tempo skis for a long-distance day,” says Wolf. “A skier can link a 25k loop together without skiing the same trail twice.”
Quick and Easy: Just Right
As the name implies, Just Right is about as good as it gets for an easy loop with your four-legged friend. This trail also provides a great opportunity to add in some distance or figure-eight through the meadows if you want to extend the route.
Endurance: Lyle’s Loop
To really experience Bear Basin, head out from the trailhead and link all of the outer loops together. This route skis well in either direction and offers scenic views of the Seven Devils Mountains culminating with a sweeping panorama on Lyle’s Loop.
The endless loops and variable terrain can make it easy to get yourself turned around. Bring a map or a GPS app just in case, especially if you are new to skiing Bear Basin.
The world-class mountain biking trails at Jug Mountain Ranch are transformed each winter into a cross-country haven. “These trails are laid out really well and take full advantage of the beautiful scenery,” says Wolf. “This is my favorite terrain to ski a hard interval or short tempo.” Jug Mountain Ranch offers skiers an opportunity to make short, steep climbs that transition into fast descents and sweeping turns. But don’t let the elevation intimidate. “Every trail evens out at just the right time, and skis smooth and slower in the end,” says Wolf. “That makes the trails great for anyone just getting into the sport or hesitant to carry too much speed into a corner or off of a climb.” After an outing on the trails, warm up at the Clubhouse or stick around for dinner and drinks at Supper Club. A day or season pass is required to access the Nordic trails at Jug Mountain Ranch.
Quick and Easy: Fenceline – Harper’s Loop – Lower Hoot – Gully
From the Clubhouse, head out on Fenceline and connect with Harper’s Loop and Lower Hoot. To keep it short and sweet, take Gully back to the Clubhouse or extend your ski by adding some short climbs with Up & Over and Harper’s Cutoff.
Endurance: Reservoir Loop
Take South Boundary to the Upper Jug Reservoir and ski the reservoir loop. On the way back down to the Clubhouse, choose to take South Boundary for a gentler descent. For an exciting ride to the bottom, both Mainline and Around the Mountain are the way to go.
Fat bikes are popular at Jug Mountain Ranch. While some trails are specifically groomed for fat bikers only, several trails are shared between bikers and skiers. Be aware of other users on the mixed-use trails.
The 1,000-acre peninsula into Payette Lake at Ponderosa State Park offers some of the most family-friendly Nordic trails around. “The trails are scenic, fun, and challenging if you want them to be,” says Wolf. “Plus, Ponderosa has some of the most consistent grooming from the experienced, full-time staff.” Ponderosa is also home to many of the local, national and international Nordic ski events hosted in McCall, including the World Masters race held in 2008.
Quick and Easy: Easy Does It Loop
This loop is perhaps the best beginner route you could ask for with a few great views of Payette Lake. To avoid downhills, ski this trail clockwise from the Activity Center.
Endurance: Re-Mastered Race Route
This loop covers just about every trail used during the 2008 World Masters and runs from top to bottom along the peninsula. Starting from the Activity Center, take Northern Lights and wind your way up to Thread the Needle before heading back down Fox Run. For a detailed map of this championship route, visit mccallnordic.com.
Dogs are not allowed on trails at Ponderosa, with the exception of Rover’s Round-A-Bout. This trail is a flat, shorter loop and a great way to get in some skiing with your best doggie buddy.
The Activity Barn offers a great 5k loop for anyone looking for a quick adventure in the fresh winter air. There is no fee to ski the trail. The Activity Barn loop also connects into the North Valley Rail Trail which runs south to Heinrich Lane. The rail trail is maintained by Valley County Pathways and there is no fee to use this trail. Originally a Union Pacific railroad track, the line was retired in 1979. It now provides a scenic, multi-use pathway. The North Valley Rail Trail is a wide, gently rolling route perfect for first-timers or pros after a sun-filled ski. Dogs welcome!
When it is warm, the Activity Barn and the North Valley Rail Trail are a great choice. The open, sunny trails are less susceptible to the damage and debris that melting snow dripping from trees causes along more forested routes.
For trail maps, daily rates and season pass information on all five Nordic areas around McCall, please visit mccallnordic.com.
In the springtime, snow conditions align for a magical cross-country experience known as crust-cruising. If the days are warm and the nights are cold, the snow crusts over and enables skiers venture just about anywhere on the valley floor…no trail needed!