Groomers create courses around frozen surface

By Ann McCreary

Nils Knudsen, MVSTA ambassador, made the most of his turn checking passes Monday (Jan. 20) by doing a little ice fishing in between chatting with skiers on  Patterson Lake. Photo by Darla Hussey

Nils Knudsen, MVSTA ambassador, made the most of his turn checking passes Monday (Jan. 20) by doing a little ice fishing in between chatting with skiers on Patterson Lake. Photo by Darla Hussey

Making lemonade out of lemons, the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA) has set ski tracks on Patterson Lake near Sun Mountain to expand cross country ski terrain limited by this winter’s paltry snowfall.

MVSTA used a snowmobile pulling a groomer to set skate and classic ski tracks last Friday (Jan. 17) around the perimeter of Patterson Lake, creating a loop of about 6 kilometers.

“We have used Patterson Lake in the past when we’ve had the right conditions or had special events,” said James DeSalvo, MVSTA executive director. “It’s kind of in our back pocket when we’ve had these unusual conditions.”

MVSTA has been painstakingly grooming ski trails that haven’t seen any measurable new snow in almost two weeks.

Setting trails on Patterson Lake, “we were actually able to use snow that we haven’t been recycling so many times over like we have on other trails,” DeSalvo said Monday (Jan. 20).

Delia Welcker, 4, of Spokane, takes a break from skiing with her family on Patterson Lake to watch a nearby ice fisherman.Photo by Darla Hussey

Delia Welcker, 4, of Spokane, takes a break from skiing with her family on Patterson Lake Monday (Jan. 20) to watch a nearby ice fisherman. Photo by Darla Hussey

“It’s great beginner terrain. Obviously. It’s flat,” he said.

MVSTA is using ice safety standards from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to assess the strength of the ice before grooming the frozen lake, DeSalvo said. He said the ice on the lake is six to eight inches thick.

Low snow conditions have meant reduced ski pass sales this winter. In December, skier days were down by 28 percent, DeSalvo said. The Martin Luther King Holiday weekend, normally one of MVSTA’s busiest periods, was slower than usual.

“We don’t have numbers yet for January, but in talking to [ticket] vendors, it’s definitely lighter than last year,” DeSalvo said.

People who do get out on the trails report that “conditions are better than anyone expected, especially coming over from Seattle … they can’t believe there’s actually skiing.”

“We are getting a lot of calls in our office, this year more than ever” from people wondering about trail conditions, DeSalvo said.

Volunteer crews mustered by MVSTA last week shoveled snow onto trails in Mazama, where recent warm temperatures ate away some of the precious snow cover.

MVSTA had previously set a priority in its strategic planning to develop contingencies for low-snow years, and staff is “accelerating” that planning effort, DeSalvo said. “This season has kicked us in the pants and said, ‘It’s here.’”

DeSalvo said MVSTA is talking with public and private property owners to explore possibilities to create additional ski terrain in a low-snow season.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) reminds Patterson Lake visitors that parking or use of the access site at the lake requires a WDFW vehicle use permit or a Discover Pass.