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Skiing on Lake of the Woods was a choice decision

LAKE OF THE WOODS — It wasn’t my first choice. And, no, it wasn’t my second choice.

Actually, skiing along frozen Lake of the Woods wasn’t anything I’d considered. That changed when, driving into the Rainbow Bay parking lot, I saw two people, noticed their cross-country skis, braked, rolled down my car window and asked if they’d been skiing.

“We skied along the trail but it was awful, slick and icy,” the man answered.

“But,” his wife quickly injected, “we skied back on the lake and it was wonderful!”

“Just kick and glide,” he seconded. “Fantastic.”

What the heck, might as well give it a try. Earlier, I’d stopped at some usually great cross-country ski spots along Dead Indian Memorial Road. At my first choice, the Sunset Trail, I quickly realized the delightful trail friends and I had skied a week earlier had transformed into hard-packed ice. I made a few tentative steps, but quickly realized trying to ski would be like roller skating on Plexiglas. Likewise, quick visits at other normally great trails showed they were packed hard as concrete.

I’d driven to Lake of the Woods thinking and hoping that a trail through the woods might be skiable. That’s when I met the couple.

Heeding their advice, I carried my skis to the lake. The biggest challenge was finding a starting point. Several spots along the lakeshore had open water peeking through. I finally found where the couple had left the lake. After clicking into my skis, it was off onto the frozen lake, aiming south and eventually angling west. I mostly paralleled alongside their still evident tracks. Views of Brown Mountain dominated until Mount McLoughlin gradually became more exposed, its pointy pyramid summit rising above its massive skirt of snow-covered slopes.

Near the Sunset Campground boat dock, on the otherwise clear surface, was a frozen-in-place log, the only scar on the expansive 1,446-acre, nearly 3-1/2-miles-long lake.

Lake of the Woods was named by Oliver C. Applegate, a member of the well known Southern Oregon pioneer family. In a 1925 letter to Will Steel, Applegate said he named the lake, which is surrounded by woods, while building a road in 1870 and, later, a cabin at the lake’s south end.

Since then, others have mimicked Applegate’s example. By 1937, historical accounts say there were 120 summer homes around the lake. That number swelled to 200 by 1948, along with four organization camps, two Forest Service campgrounds and Lake of the Woods Resort, which is celebrating its 99th year of operation this year.

My ski tour continued past Sunset Campground to and past many of the lake’s east side summer homes. But when the ice had visible cracks and when sections that I’d skied over increasingly made popping sounds like someone pulling the tab off a can of soda pop or beer, I doubled back.

On the return ski, the resort’s boat docks and buildings proved too tempting to miss. I’ve seen the resort from a boat, a kayak and while swimming, but until this day not while cross-country skiing on the lake’s ice-hardened surface.

Past the resort were more temptations, including on-the-lake views of the resort’s lakeside picnic spots, the Aspen Point Campground and its day use area and boat docks. And, past the developed areas, lake-hugging conifer forests dominated side-by-side stands of Douglas fir and white fir.

I continued skiing until the soda can popping sounds increased. Because of the mid-afternoon warming temperatures, I’d already stuffed a jacket, gloves and hat into my day pack. This summer I’ll return to Lake of the Woods to go swimming, but this day — one of the last days of winter — I didn’t want to chance taking an impromptu, unplanned swim on thin ice.

Skiing on frozen Lake of the Woods wasn’t part of my original plans, but it proved to be a choice decision.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

A log poking up through the ice breaks the otherwise smoothsurface of frozen Lake of the Woods. Mount McLoughlin towers high in the background.Photo by Lee Juillerat