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Skiing a road less traveled

Taking the road less traveled is an expression that’s drawn all sorts of philosophical interpretations, from poet Robert Frost to comedian Jerry Seinfield.

For us, a group of cross-country skiers seeking a tranquil, backcountry experience, taking the Burton Flat Road — located 32 miles from Ashland just west of a parking area near Dead Indian Memorial Highway and the Pacific Crest Trail — was an easy decision. It meant having miles of bucolic snow-blanketed forest to ourselves. As one member of our group said of the old-growth, snow-burdened trees, “They look like old wise men in white robes.”

In winter, Burton Flat Road, which goes south from Dead Indian Memorial Road toward the Keno Access Road and Surveyor Mountain, is a less-traveled road.

We were fortunate that it had been traveled just enough. While there are sometimes disputes between snowmobilers and cross-country skiers, we were grateful that several days earlier snowmobilers had carved a smooth, unchopped route through otherwise deep snow. The passage of several days left the tracks covered with enough snow to make our going much easier than plowing through untouched 3- to 4-feet-deep drifts.

Our southward route was easy, good for beginners because of its relatively flat terrain and only occasional climbs and drops. Our group of eight quickly spread out, especially after stops to re-wax skis. My skis collected several inches of thick globs of sticky snow until recoated with a coating of Maxiglide. Our layers of coats, scarves and wool hats were quickly stuffed into daypacks as rising temperatures — and our exertions — warmed the air and our bodies.

We had no set destination. We were going wherever the road took us, content to enjoy being outside, being active and savoring the scenery. Side roads, obviously long untraveled, periodically forked off west and east. Temptations for another time. At some point we crossed the unsigned PCT.

After two hours we stopped for lunch, pounding out sitting platforms in the knee- and sometimes waist-deep snow.

How far had we gone? Who knows. Two people with GPS units compared their findings. One read about 4-3/4 miles, the other just under 4 miles.

The ski back mostly mimicked the ski out. Skiers who had stayed near the back of the pack on the way out seemingly found new energy after snacks and sandwiches, and zipped to the lead. Some early trail-breakers were content to slacken their pace. The field periodically played hop-scotch as most of us found reason to make side tours for bathroom breaks.

The return to the Dead Indian junction came too soon, assisted by easier, faster skiing on our well set tracks.

We retraced our steps on the road the short distance to Pederson Sno-Park, an informal parking area where Klamath County road crews plow wide parking areas off the highway. Sno-park permits are not required but parking is limited.

Pederson Sno-Park has been the starting point for other ski and hiking trips, most often going two miles north along the PCT to the South Brown Mountain Shelter and beyond. It’s also possible to walk/ski farther west on Dead Indian to a forest road that travels north and angles east to the Brown Mountain shelter. For details on any outing, check Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest maps.

On returning, the first GPS clocked in at 9.8 miles, the second 7.9. Our consensus — it should come as no surprise — was to accept the longer distance. But however we skied really didn’t matter. The delight — and here’s believing the wise old men in their white robes would agree — was experiencing the road less traveled.

To reach Pederson Sno-Park from Ashland, follow Dead Indian Memorial Road for 32 miles to the Pacific Crest Trailhead. Parking is available for about a half-dozen vehicles in the plowed out area along the highway.

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

A sign marks the starting point for the less-traveled Burton Flat Road off Dead Indian Memorial Highway. Photo by Lee Juillerat
Bill VanMoorhem skis along a trail carved in deep powder. Photo by Lee Juillerat