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Gimme Shelter

Heading out for a full day of cross-country skiing can be a lot more enjoyable if you can count on finding a little shelter along the way.

If you're willing to drive 30 to 60 minutes east of Ashland, you'll find several shelters, along with more than 80 miles of skier-only trails and many times that number of trail miles designated as "multiple use."

"One of my favorite areas is Buck Prairie — I teach my beginner classes there. Most of those trails are easy, good for beginners. But you can loop out beyond that (for more challenging trails)," says 93-year-old Dan Bulkley, one of the founders of the Southern Oregon Nordic Club.

The Buck Prairie system is located 13 miles out of Ashland on Dead Indian Memorial Highway, the first skier-only trails you'll encounter. The lean-to here provides just enough protection for a breather, but not enough to keep you warm.

The location on the landscape makes Buck Prairie trails especially skier-friendly.

"It's on the other side of the (Cascade) crest, so it's protected from the wind — even when it's windy in other areas. It's also protected from the sun, so it doesn't melt off as fast," says Bulkley.

Continue east from Buck Prairie for another nine miles and you'll reach the Deadwood Sno-Park. Trails lead both north and south, but these trails are designated as multiple use. Snowmobilers and skiers share the trails.

A quick glance at the trail markers will tell you what type of trail you're on: orange diamonds for multiple use, blue diamonds for skier-only. The trails leading from the Deadwood Sno-Park receive only light use, so you may encounter solitude quickly.

If you do see a snowmobile, the accepted protocol is for skiers to stand to the side of the trail.

"It's like encountering a bicycle on a hiking trail. Don't do your clothing adjustments in the trail. Stand aside — it's not fair to the snowmobilers and it's dangerous to everybody," says Bob Plummer, the trails liaison for the SONC.

The multiple-use trails are groomed by the Oregon State Snowmobile Association after heavy snows, according to Plummer. This type of trail makes for ideal skiing of another type.

"They're good for skating (skate skiing) because of the packed snow," Plummer explains.

Drive 10 more miles to the east and you'll reach Pederson Sno-Park, where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the road. Ski north from here for a more challenging route, one that leads toward Brown Mountain.

"The trail is under a treed canopy. After about two miles of ups and downs you reach the shelter. That's about the distance kids can go before needing a rest," says John Fertig, SONC board member and long-time back-country telemark skier.

The Brown Mountain shelter is fully enclosed and holds a wood stove. SONC members maintain the shelter and stock it with firewood.

"We take a bag of marshmallows and a cook stove to make hot chocolate. We ski out and around from the shelter, then ski back at the end of the day," says Fertig.

These trails hold a special significance for Fertig.

"The first time I skied this with my daughter she was 7. Now she's 25, and I just skied it with her again. It's our favorite," Fertig says.

This shelter is also used during the snow-free months by hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. No permits or fees are required for an overnight stay. Though there's wood for the stove, bring your own kindling and matches.

Shelters that appear on ski maps vary in their protection from the elements. While shelters at Brown Mountain, Summit and the new Hyatt Lake shelters are all enclosed, with wood stoves, the Buck Prairie shelter is a lean-to, open on three sides.

To reach the Summit shelter, continue driving to the north side of Lake of the Woods. A triangular area connecting Lake of the Woods with Fish Lake and Four Mile Lake provides the most extensive network of skier-only trails in the area. The best base of operations to ski these trails is the Summit Sno-Park on Highway 140.

"It's the highest elevation Sno-Park on 140, so if there's good snow, it's there. You can usually ski there into April. It's one of the reasons I love living here — it's close, high elevation and a convenient Sno-Park," says Stefanie Ferrara, SONC president.

Ski 3.2 miles from your vehicle to reach the shelter. On a clear day, the views include Mount McLoughlin to the north and Brown Mountain to the south. Much of this route follows a road, which makes it ideal for a different experience.

"The road is wide and the snow is consistent. It's fun for a moonlight ski," says Ferrara.

If you're a more advanced skier and looking for a workout, a 9.5-mile trek via the Upper and Lower Canal trails will bring you to Four Mile Lake.

"We have a new shelter at Four Mile Lake that we share with snowmobilers. It has a wood stove. But like all the shelters, they're not exclusive, so you must allow everyone in," Ferrara explains.

Ski west from the Summit Sno-Park to reach Fish Lake. A relatively flat trail network south of the lake, known as the Lollipop Loop Trails, are ideal for beginners.

Many sno-parks are scattered along Highway 140 and Dead Indian Memorial Highway. Some require parking passes, some do not. Contact the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management for details.

For $3, you can purchase the Jackson-Klamath Winter Trails map from the USFS and BLM. This map includes mileages and use type for each trail segment.

For more information on the Southern Oregon Nordic Club, visit http://southernonc.tripod.com or visit the club's Facebook page.

For information on Sno-Parks, call the USFS/BLM at 541-618-2200.

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

This photo at the Summit Snow Shelter off Highway 140 was taken at the end of November during the Southern Oregon Nordin Club's first ski outing of the season. Photo by Stefanie Ferrara - Photos by Stefanie Ferrara