By Jim Stanford on January 9, 2012
Continuing our series on alternatives for a dry winter, now that the lakes are snowed over, another option has emerged for keeping active: skate skiing.
This is shaping up to be a season when a pair of skinny skis will come in handy. And one of the best venues for nordic exploring is Grand Teton National Park.
The inner Teton Park Road is groomed periodically for cross-country skiing, classic and skate. While investigating whether conditions were smooth last weekend, I came across a helpful phone number that has managed to elude me over the years: 307-739-3399, the visitor center desk. In this age of annoying automated menus, it’s a relief to be able to speak with someone.
Although the road was supposed to be groomed, the park staffer warned that it was pretty rough, based on his experience. That’s to be expected; after all, the park is a wild place and not a nordic center.
And thanks to the rain that fell before New Year’s, a hard crust has formed over much of the snow in the valley, so skate skiers can cruise wherever they like — a phenomenon that usually doesn’t happen till spring.
We skated on the flats east and west of the road, linking up patches of crust. Even in places where a few inches of fresh snow had drifted, the gliding was silky. While I am loath to use a golf analogy in the context of Teton park, the terrain resembled a patchwork of fairways, where we took pains to stay on the hard snow and avoid the softer “rough.” Every now and then the sound of the skis would become very loud, signaling breakable crust underfoot.
To be set free, able to cover a lot of ground, fast, across a vast landscape was every bit as thrilling as schussing down a steep chute. The surface of the snow sparkled as far as the eyes could see, interrupted in places by critter tracks, including an impressive set of wolf prints. High above, the wind blew snow off the summit of the Grand Teton.
There are some winters, like last year, when alpine skiers won’t take out the skinny skis till the Pole Pedal Paddle. If this dry weather persists, the nordic times in the PPP are likely to be a little faster this year.
The best part of skiing in Teton park, of course, is the session afterward at Dornan’s, where we watched the alpenglow on the peaks while washing down a pizza with Guinness and malbec. Most winter adventures in the park are just a roundabout way of getting to Dornan’s.