Nordic Club members explore nature in its full winter glory.
When an icy fog closes in around her, Kellie Barry often heads for the hills.
There she's likely to encounter blue skies, and she's sure to find miles of snow to satisfy the 48-year-old's thirst for cross-country skiing.
Barry is part of the 105-member Southern Oregon Chapter of the Oregon Nordic Club. Between weekday or week-end outings, club members cram in races, clinics and skiing rendezvous from Northern California to Southern Oregon and beyond.
"Sometime's it's like a mini-vacation just getting out of town for the day," says Barry, a caregiver at Rogue Valley Manor who started cross-country skiing five years ago. Now she's a Nordic Club board member who helps plan trips into the wilderness.
She started into the sport after inquiring about the club at its Ashland Ski Swap booth. She soon was taking her first lesson under the watchful eye of 90-year-old club member Dan Bulkley of Phoenix, who was then 85.
"People had always been talking about skiing being dangerous, yet here was Dan teaching us how to do it. At 85," Barry says. "It was neat."
After five years, she considers herself an intermediate skier, although some of her friends and fellow club members tell her she's advanced. She tries to ski a couple of times each week.
"I just really like the 'high' of the exercise. It's an added benefit of something that's good for you," she says.
The local chapter of the Oregon Nordic Club was founded in 1968. Its offerings range from beginner to expert and its white, winter playground spans from Buck Prairie east of Ashland to the foothills of Mount Shasta, from Mount Ashland to Diamond Lake.
Nordic skiing includes ski touring, telemark backcountry skiing, cross-country track skiing and racing, and snowshoeing.
The majority of activities for the local club centers on touring, either through the backcountry or on groomed trails.
The club's Web site (http://southernonc.tripod.com/) includes backcountry field reports and updates on local weather and skiing conditions, along with entry forms for races and a downloadable newsletter listing ski outings, meetings and clinics.
Apart from comfortable, moisture-fighting clothes, beginners need only a pair of skis, boots, poles and bindings to get started.
"It's definitely less expensive than downhill skiing," says 77-year-old club member Marjorie Bulkley of Phoenix, Dan's wife.
Dan Bulkley says the club is user-friendly because "we take just about anybody."
"There's usually quite a few classes for beginners or for people who have skied very little and want to improve," he says. "We try to find something for anybody and everybody."
A sampling of club activities includes an intermediate ski tour to Table Mountain, scheduled for today; a ski clinic and training session Feb. 9 at the Mount Shasta Nordic Center; the club-organized John Day Race on Feb. 17 at Diamond Lake; and a 7-mile ski tour Feb. 23 on Lollipop Trail at Fish Lake.
Marjorie Bulkley has had both hips and both knees replaced, but she says Nordic Club activities are a great fit for her exercise needs as she ages.
"I'm not very aggressive," she says. "It's easy on the body. If you can walk, you can do it. It's easier than walking or running. It's more like gliding."
Club member Edgar Hee, 61, a civil engineer from Medford, enjoys the sport with his wife, Karen, also 61.
"It's an opportunity to find people of like mind and interest to get out there and do things together," Hee says. "It's not so much a guide service. We're in a part of Southern Oregon that's not near resort-types of nordic ski areas like Mount Shasta or (Mount) Bachelor, so you're sort of out there on your own and we highly advise people not to go out there alone. When you're out there with a group of friends, people can avoid a minor incident becoming significant."
Along with planned activities, club members also coordinate informal trips together to their favorite skiing spots around the world. For example, Karen Hee, Nordic Club club president Stefanie Ferrara and a group of other club women went to Glacier National Park in Montana two weeks ago for a ski trip.
Edgar Hee says he got into cross-country skiing in the late '60s and early '70s after an outdoorsy college buddy told him, "We can't just sit here all winter and wait to go backpacking in the spring." He tried the sport and got hooked, enjoying its varying degrees of exertion.
"Depending on how much energy you want to put into it, you can be out for a nice walk in the woods or you can be at race pace," Hee says.
The beauty of nature in its full winter glory also draws Hee to the hills.
"We have times where we never see the sun for 10 or 12 days in the valley, but you pop up to the mountains and you're above the fog under a blue sky. It's physically and mentally recharging."
And it's relatively cheap, club members say.
"You don't have to buy a lift ticket," Dan Bulkley says.
You will need an annual $20 Sno Park permit from the state, and you will have to pay for gas to get there, which can get expensive, Hee notes. "But all in all, it is a very affordable sport,."