skating away January drought

Even a first-time skate skier can glide easily by the Tetons.

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.

Fat paws: an increasingly common sight in Teton park.

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.


Posted under Food, Sports, Weather

1 Comment so far

  1. js January 9, 2012 1:50 pm

    Here’s an update from the park:

    Grand Teton National Park to Offer Free Entry for MLK Weekend

    Grand Teton National Park — along with the 397 units of the national park system — will waive entrance fees during the coming Martin Luther King holiday weekend (January 14-16) as part of a nationwide initiative to encourage families and individuals to visit and experience the many natural, cultural and historic wonders of their national parks across America. The entry fee for a private, non-commercial vehicle to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks normally costs $25 for seven days.

    Besides waiving entrance fees during this coming January weekend, Grand Teton will also allow free entry on 14 additional days throughout 2012. The other fee free dates for the year include:

    • April 21 to 29 (National Park Week)
    • June 9 (Get Outdoors Day)
    • September 29 (National Public Lands Day)
    • November 10 to 12 (Veterans Day weekend

    Weekend visitors to Grand Teton can enjoy winter activities from cross-country skiing, skate skiing and snowshoeing to wildlife viewing and scenic photography. A popular winter trail that spans the unplowed Teton Park Road from Taggart Lake parking area to Signal Mountain Lodge was last groomed on Dec. 22; however, it will not be groomed again until additional snow accumulates to allow for safe operation of the groomer.

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