The loops at Summit Sno-Park give cross-country skiers ways to tailor their tours to match conditions. If you like a lot of downhill action, this 5.6-mile tour to Summit Shelter will make you think you've defied the laws of physics with climbs and a lively descent on the way out (3 miles) and an all-downhill return (2.6 miles).
At 5,050 feet, Summit Sno-Park offers the best snow on OR 140, with close-up views of Mount McLoughlin to the north and Brown Mountain to the south. Take Crater Lake Highway west to OR 140; turn right and drive 32 miles. The sno-park is on the left (north) side of the highway two miles east of Fish Lake Road. You will find limited parking directly in front of the trail system and a large plowed lot a short way to the west.
A sno-park permit is required. Dogs are not allowed.
From the large parking lot, ski east under the power lines to Lower Canal Road. The trails are well-marked with blue diamonds, but signs with trail names appear only sporadically. The latest Jackson-Klamath Winter Trails map, available at any Forest Service office, is useful.
Lower Canal is a wide road that gets heavy use for a short distance. Ideally, you will climb in tracks or fresh snow for the first half-mile, where a sign points right toward the shelter. If the snow is clicky, you can avoid a fast downhill through trees by continuing up Lower Canal to Pitt View.
For now, turn right at McLoughlin and continue a half-mile to a four-way intersection with the Petunia trail. Turn left on Petunia. You won't see a trail name, but you will see blue markers to your left that head up into a plantation of young trees.
After a few minutes in the open, the trail dips into a deep forest. Without new snow, this section of tight turns is fast. The land opens up and levels at the bottom of the hill, and Brown Mountain rises to the south.
The climb resumes quickly, this time through a woods of mature fir trees. At 1.75 miles from the sno-park, a sign announces Petunia's intersection with Pitt View. A right on Pitt View takes you to a view of Mount McLoughlin, called Mount Pitt a century ago.
Straight ahead on Petunia, the trail climbs through an open woodland to an intersection with Big Mac, where a left returns you to Lower Canal and a right takes you a half-mile to a cozy shelter, outfitted with benches, firewood and a cast iron woodstove. You may hear snowmobiles, because you are close to a heavily traveled snowmobile route.
On the return, retrace your tracks to the intersection of Pitt View and Petunia. When snow is fast, the open forest gives you plenty of turning options. Remember that zippy downhill through the trees? You skip climbing it with a right on Pitt View and a gentle half-mile descent to Lower Canal. Your final mile continues moderately downhill. If you are skiing in old snow that the sun hasn't softened, you can usually slow yourself in tracks.
Mary Beth Lee is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail her at email@example.com.