Late contract from State Parks
Grooming of the 50 kilometers of cross-country ski trails at the South Summit has been intermittent this year because the Loup Loup Ski Area, which handles the grooming, didn’t get the contract from Washington State Parks, which pays for grooming, until the end of January.
The State Parks operations manager sent the contract at the end of January, Loup Loup Executive Director Brent Nourse said last week. The manager apologized for the delay, which he attributed to an extra-busy season, with a new Sno-Park and more accidents than usual, Nourse said.
The Loup typically receives the contract in the summer and it’s signed by November, well in time for the ski season, Nourse said. This year, the state agreed to an increase in the number of hours, since the Loup hoped to add a second shift for grooming. The grant pays for a certain number of hours of grooming, but doesn’t cover equipment maintenance and fuel.
The Loup has one piece of grooming equipment for the South Summit trails, which are across the road from the downhill ski area, and a seasonal part-time employee to do grooming this year, Nourse said.
The South Summit contract was submitted later than usual due to staff turnover and staff shortages, State Parks Communications Consultant Ashley Seydel said.
In past years, they groomed the South Summit trails at night, but if there was a problem, the possibility of having a groomer stranded on the trails for hours in the dark was too big a risk, so they now groom during the day, Nourse said. The current grooming schedule is Wednesdays and Fridays.
Skiers said grooming has been less consistent this winter. Some trails have been groomed fairly regularly, but others have been groomed only once or not at all, they said.
Mechanical problems and downed trees can cause gaps in grooming, Nourse said.
Some years ago, the South Summit trails were groomed by a volunteer, but in recent years they have had a part-time employee. As a nonprofit, the Loup does things that support the community, but the organization needs to be fiscally responsible, Nourse said. Some people make donations to the Loup for grooming the Nordic trails, he said.
“We do it because people enjoy it up there, and we will continue to do it,” but it has to be done safely, Nourse said. The contract covers grooming through mid-March.
There used to be Nordic trails on Bear Mountain at the North Summit, where the downhill ski slopes are, but those have been converted to a luge track.
Dogs are allowed on some trails at the South Summit, and one trail is shared use by skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers.
State Parks’ winter recreation program is entirely self-funded by fees from Sno-Park permits, which allows Parks to pay for services such as snow removal, trail grooming, sanitation, education, and enforcement, Seydel said. High-use ski areas, mainly closer to cities, require special stickers that cost extra.
A Sno-Park permit for nonmotorized areas costs $50 annually and is good from December 1 through April 30. The sticker for special groomed areas is an additional $70. There are about 40 nonmotorized Sno-Parks across the state.
State Parks owns two groomers for snowmobile trails in Okanogan County (a new machine and an older one for back-up). Okanogan County Public Works hires temporary employees to groom snowmobile trails in the Okanogan Valley, and their mechanics maintain the groomers, County Engineer Josh Thomson told the Okanogan County commissioners last month. All the work is done on a reimbursable basis.
In the fall, Parks agreed to pay to send two county mechanics to two days of training on maintenance of the new grooming equipment. Thomson understood the agreement would cover travel time, lodging and meals, but Parks refused to pay for the employees’ time, he told the commissioners.
Parks maintained that the county could absorb the costs of their employees’ time — about $6,000 — but the county can’t legally use road funds to pay for something that isn’t connected to roads, Thomson said. Moreover, the training benefits State Parks, since the agency owns the groomers, he said.
The county and State Parks are still working to resolve the issue, Thomson said this week.
Snowmobile trails in the Methow are groomed by the Mountain Trails Grooming Association.
The county plows the roads to most of the motorized Sno-Parks, which is paid for by a separate fund. The Washington State Department of Transportation plows the roads to the North and South Summit on the Loup, Okanogan County Public Works Project Coordinator Jo Ann Stansbury said.