Trail Happenings January 2010
NORDIC SKIING IN THE LA SAL MOUNTAINS
by Kirstin Peterson
Winter in Moab offers a wonderful chance to see the red rock country covered with snow however most of the snow in the low desert isn’t deep enough to offer good ski conditions. When looking for skiing, consider trying our local groomed Nordic trail system in the La Sal Mountains for your next winter adventure!
LUNA (Lower Utah Nordic Alliance) is a group of dedicated volunteers who work with the Manti-La Sal Forest Service to provide a groomed Nordic track system. Once enough snow has fallen to create a base, LUNA volunteers use snowmobiles to pull grooming equipment. The “groomer” creates a Nordic track wide enough for skate skiing and a set of parallel tracks on the side for classic skiers.
The track starts the Geyser Pass Road winter trailhead at 9600 feet and goes up into even higher elevations and thinner air. There are sections of the track that are suitable for all levels of skiers. Most of the track is “shared use” and there are a variety of winter recreationists enjoying the mountains including snowmobiles, backcountry skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, sledding parties, and many canine companions. We ask everyone to please be courteous to other users, move right to allow others to safely pass and keep yourself under control in regards to downhill speeds.
The Meadow Loop is the easiest and closest track to the parking lot. Ski just a short distance uphill from the trailhead, follow the track left, then wind through some aspen and into a beautiful open meadow with Haystack Mountain in the background. The terrain is rolling and the .8 mile (1.2 km) loop will soon rejoin the main track. This is fun in either direction and is the perfect place to work on your form, get your lungs used to the high elevation, and possibly be the final destination for beginners.
Gold Basin, a 5 mile (8km) out and back excursion from the trailhead, is an intermediate track. It leaves the main Geyser Pass Road on the right at the intersection with the Gold Basin Road. This track is rolling and more uphill on the way out. It offers a peaceful ski through pines and aspens with occasional views down toward the red rock desert below. Backcountry skiers use Gold Basin to access many of the popular runs above the track. The track ends at the point that motorized travel is prohibited.
For the ambitious and fit skier, Geyser Pass and the La Sal Loppet Loop branch off from the top of the pass and offer a challenging and beautiful Nordic skiing experience. The Lasaloppet, a fun ski event started by McKay Edwards, marked the first true grooming of a big meadow loop. From the Gold Basin intersection, Geyser Pass is approximately 2 miles further and most of it uphill. Geyser Pass tops out at 10,600 ft and the La Sal Loppet Loop begins on the right along the road towards Dark Canyon. After approximately .5 miles look for the track to go left off the main road and wind around through open meadows to a point offering wide ranging views into Colorado and the stunning San Miguel and Wilson mountains near Telluride in the distance. This 1.8 mile (3 km) rolling loop continues through the trees emerging on the east side of the Geyser Pass Road, and then take a left up a short hill back to return to the pass. Total distance is 8.6 miles (13.2 km) from trailhead. From here is it mostly downhill to return to your vehicle so be sure to have a warmer wind protective layer for the descent.
Directions to trailhead: From Moab head south on Hwy 191 to the La Sal Mountain Loop Rd. Turn left off the Highway and then right onto the Loop Road for about 13 miles to a well marked turn onto Geyser Pass Rd. Drive 3.5 miles to the trailhead. The road is plowed fairly regularly but call 435-259-7155 or check http://utahavalanchecenter.org/advisory/moab for current conditions and the latest on road clearing. Snow tires and/or 4wd are recommended. Be prepared for winter mountain conditions including wind and bring appropriate warm clothing, water, and food. There are no services other than a toilet at the trailhead.
Trail Mix, the Grand County Non Motorized Trails Advisory Committee, includes skiing as part of the “Mix”. Kirstin Peterson, the author of this article, is an active member of Trail Mix and Trail Mix is a financial contributor to the ski grooming program. If you are interested in volunteering to be a ski groomer, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Everyone is welcome to attend Trail Mix meetings held the second Tues. of each month 12-2 at the Grand Center, 500W. 182 N. to join hikers, bikers, skiers, and equestrians in our effort to develop and maintain non motorized trails. Contact Sandy Freethey at email@example.com for more information.