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For a woodsy ski outing, try the Pederson trail

The calendar says spring will arrive soon, but some of winter's best cross-country skiing is still to come. March often brings bountiful snow, and longer days mean more time to get to the mountains and more time to enjoy the snow.

Most of the popular cross-country ski routes in Southern Oregon follow roads that were designed for vehicle travel. The roads' gentle grades and wide, sweeping turns make them good places to learn technique, but roads are so big that they can isolate the skier from the landscape.

Skiing on a hiking trail provides a more intimate connection with the forest community, but trails are often much more challenging to ski, not to mention just plain hard to follow when the path is buried under 4 feet of snow.

The Pederson ski trail has few of the problems usually associated with skiing through the woods. It's a well marked two-mile route that follows a mostly flat section of the Pacific Crest Trail a few miles south of Brown Mountain.

There's another attraction, too. A rustic log shelter at the end of the trail makes a perfect place to stop for lunch. On weekends, there's likely to be a warming fire already going.

Skiing through the woods presents different challenges from road skiing. Trees constantly shed needles, twigs and small branches that accumulate on the top of the snow. The debris accumulates on the surface between storms, so the best skiing comes right after a storm when the litter is buried.

To get to the trailhead, take Dead Indian Memorial Road from Ashland to the Jackson-Klamath county line. You'll know you've arrived when you see a wide parking strip alongside the road. (An alternative route for Medford skiers would be Highway 140 to the Dead Indian junction. Turn right and drive eight miles to the trailhead.)

The trail begins on the north side of the road and moves through the timber, marked by the familiar blue diamonds posted by the U.S. Forest Service on designated ski trails. There are several gentle grades to climb and glide down, but the trail gains only about 120 feet over the two miles between Dead Indian Memorial Road and the shelter.

The Pacific Crest Trail is closed to snow machines, but you may encounter them at the shelter, which was built where several snow-machine trails converge. Snowmobile operators also like to visit the shelter to take a break and warm themselves.

The trail begins at about 5,300 feet, so it's wise to check the weather forecast for the snow level before you assume there's fresh snow. The National Weather Service Web site has the most comprehensive weather information, and forecasts are updated every six hours. The address is: www.wrh.noaa.gov/mfr/.

Reach reporter Bill Kettlerat 776-4492, or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.