Kicking and gliding
FISH LAKE — As he's about to ski a Nordic run called Lollipop on Wednesday, Bruce Evatt can't help but feel like a kid in cross-country skiing's candy store.
"You know what's great?" Evatt says. "We have some of the best skiing in the United States, and you look around and there's nobody here. I don't know why it hasn't caught on.
"But it is a Wednesday," he laughs.
With snow plentiful for the first time in a couple of years, Southern Oregon's Nordic community is thriving once again. The Southern Oregon Nordic Club is organizing ski outings every Wednesday, along with ski trips and lessons on Saturdays, and various other get-togethers that put skiers on snow.
It's a decades-long tradition by the club that brings a largely retired crowd to cross-country havens such as Fish Lake, Lake of the Woods, Buck Prairie and other haunts with groomed or ungroomed backwoods trails to get away from it all for a day.
"The ski club started in 1964, and we always have outings on the weekends and Wednesdays, when we have snow," says Stephanie Ferrara, a club member who regularly leads Wednesday ski sessions.
Members from the Nordic club, as well as similar clubs based in Grants Pass and Klamath Falls, use the Internet to keep tabs of the Wednesday trips, which typically start around 10 a.m. and generally are rated for intermediate skiers.
Those unencumbered by the chase for the almighty dollar are drawn to them, often in groups of five to 25. There is even loaner gear for newcomers interested in trying cross-country skiing and plenty of help by members to find proper equipment and hone their technique if the ski bug ends up biting them.
And there's no better day for a Nordic test-drive then Wednesday.
"We always do a Wednesday ski," Ferrara says. "It's perfect for people who don't work."
The Wednesday tradition was largely suspended the past two winters when the drought kept most skiers in town. But the early, thick snows of December have Nordic skiers back in their backwoods grooves.
"The snow's so good, we have to go," says Tom Laden, of Grants Pass.
This past Wednesday, there was good snow on the Lollipop Trail, a seven-mile, up-and-back route with a circular turnaround that makes it look on the map like a big, candy sucker. It was cut by Grants Pass Nordic guru Taylor Cain more than 30 years ago.
A half-dozen members of the Southern Oregon and Grants Pass Nordic clubs were joined by a similar-sized entourage of snowshoers in the Fish Lake parking lot to begin their trek.
"I'm 73 and still kicking and gliding," says Keith Smith of Medford. "These days are great. You don't have to wait in line, it's peaceful, and you get to ski with a great group of people. And you only get cold when you stop."
Evatt started skiing 25 years ago and discovered the Wednesday crowd four seasons ago.
Evatt says many retired or semi-retired people mistakenly believe that cross-country skiing's kicking, gliding and polling represents just a different version of that dreaded four-letter word.
"A lot of people call skiing work, but I don't," Evatt says. "I'm the laziest man to hit the Earth, and I do it. It's fun."