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Making Tracks

The Rogue Valley's most popular cross-country ski trails are even better this winter.

Members of the Southern Oregon Nordic Club racked up more than 350 hours of trail work in recent months to expand the Buck Prairie trail network off Dead Indian Memorial Road east of Ashland.

"We probably wouldn't have had the new trails without their help," says Nick Schade, a park ranger with the Bureau of Land Management who coordinated trail work with the club. "They're a great group of folks."

Nordic club members built their sweat equity by moving downed logs and maintaining trail signs. Replacing signs in summer involves a lot of stretching to make sure they're at eye level or higher when several feet of snow are on the ground.

Buck Prairie's popularity is not without its problems, especially from the increased traffic.

"We're getting a lot of use at Buck Prairie: local residents getting roads blocked, safety hazards for snow plows. We're hoping the new area spreads out the use," Schade explains.

Conflicts between more experienced skiers and dogs also are on the rise.

The solution to both issues, says Bob Plummer, who coordinated trail maintenance for the club, is "to relieve overcrowding. We added three miles of new trails at a new Sno-Park two-and-a-quarter miles past Buck Prairie. Dogs are allowed here but not at Buck Prairie."

"If it gets enough usage, we'll work to make the (dog-friendly) Sno-Park official. The ultimate plan is to link the two systems," Plummer says.

The new trail system has been christened "Buck Prairie II," and consists primarily of flatter, easier trails less likely to cause conflicts between dogs and skiers.

The original Buck Prairie system has trails for skiers of all abilities. The Nordic club added a new beginner trail there this year, the "Fawn Hollow Loop." Trails at both areas lie primarily in the 5,000- to 6,000-foot elevation range and usually are open for many months each winter and spring.

Trail markers consist of plastic blue diamonds affixed to trees, arranged so that at least two markers are visible at all times regardless of snow depth. Blue and white signs mark trail junctions, and two information kiosks stocked with trail maps, as well as bathroom facilities, enhance winter fun at Buck Prairie.

When the Nordic club's 110 members aren't out in the woods clearing trails, they are busy organizing ski clinics, tours, races and get-togethers at snowy locales from Northern California to Southern Oregon and beyond.

This Saturday and Sunday, for example, club members — non-members are welcome, too — will venture to Mount Shasta, Calif., for an annual excursion that involves equal measures of socializing, skiing and learning. On both days, club members will offer clinics on both gliding and skating.

That's ski skating, not ice skating.

"Skating started in the 1970s," says Edgar Hee, who with his wife, Karen, coordinates the Mount Shasta weekend. "People adapted a motion analogous to ice skating — applying a lateral force," Edgar explains.

Skating requires shorter skies and often goes by the name freestyling. One of the weekend events is a 5-kilometer race with heats for both freestyle and classic — glide — skiing.

The Dart Biathlon is another popular event scheduled for Sunday. Although Olympic biathlons consist of cross-country skiing and 22-caliber target shooting, leave your gun at home this time. Following the ski portion of the race, competitors will get three throws at a dartboard. The target scores will be combined with the race time to determine the winners.

For those interested in an immersion experience, Southern Oregon skiers will be well represented at the annual Diamond Lake ski week, Feb. 2-6, according to Nordic club President Stephanie Ferrara. To keep skiers abreast of their many activities, the club maintains a Web site at http://southernonc.tripod.com. The site also helps skiers stay on top of snow and trail conditions in the back country.

"We also have 'Snow Update' on Facebook," says Ferrara, "for people to record when they break trail (create new tracks)."

For the 23rd year, the club is holding a citizen's ski race at Diamond Lake, set for Feb. 15, says race director and Nordic club founder Dan Bulkley. Both a 20-kilometer freestyle and a 10-kilometer classic race are on the agenda.

Bulkley also teaches beginner ski classes for the club. At 91 years of age, he show no signs of slowing down.

"I run track races in the summer and play a bit of tennis and badminton, as well," says Bulkley. "Skiing in the winter helps me stay active all year."

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org

Members of the Southern Oregon Nordic Club ski Saturday along the dog-friendly portion of the expanded “Buck Prairie II” trail network. - Jamie Lusch