Cross country skiing: Take stroll through Utah's beautiful scenery

Published: Thursday, Feb. 22 2007 12:00 a.m. MST

Layna Connors enjoys the snow, sun and spectacular scenery at Sundance Ski Resort in Utah County. In addition to alpine lifts, the resort offers nordic ski lessons as well as 6.2 miles of groomed track.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

A longtime cross country skier, who's tested snow coverings all over the world, said it best: "This is the most spectacular (cross country) skiing I think I've ever done ... the scenery is fantastic."

The area he was referring to is Sundance Ski Resort, not some high-end, out-of-the-way nordic center in some hard-to-get-to, high-mountain range across the ocean.

Two minutes from the parking area and people can be cross country skiing at Sundance. Four minutes and they can be lost among the tall pines, the quiet and overpowering beauty of Mount Timpanogos.

"People don't realize just what we have here in Utah in the way of nordic skiing," offered Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah. "We really do have some of the most spectacular country and best skiing in the world right here in Utah.

"Some people think they have to stay indoors in the winter, and when summer comes they'll get outdoors. Winter sports, like skiing and cross country skiing, give people a whole new perspective of the outdoors ... a whole new appreciation for winter."

While this has not, as yet, been the best of snow years until the latest storms, cross country centers have been and will continue to groom daily, sell passes and give pointers to anyone who asks.

Sundance has 10 kilometers, or Ks, of groomed track, Alta 10 Ks, Soldier Hollow 30 Ks, Solitude 18 Ks and White Pine out of Park City 20 Ks and an unlimited number of Ks available through its high-Uinta excursions.

Since this is a sport born in Europe, distances are always measured in kilometers. Broken down into more American language, 10 Ks is 6.2 miles, 20 Ks is 12.4 miles and 30 Ks is 18.6 miles. Or, in layman's terms, there's a lot of miles to ski.

As noted, cross country or nordic skiing followed immigrants to this country from Europe and eventually made its way west.

Today the sport of nordic skiing is enjoying a steady growth spurt.

The Sundance center opened in the winter of 1990-91 with 6 Ks of classic track. Eventually, it began grooming for both classic and skating, said Sam Palmatier, nordic director.

When it opened, he added, nordic skiing "was a well kept secret. Over the past five years, though, we've seen a lot of growth. You could say people have discovered just how good the skiing is."

The Sundance track runs over rolling terrain and into the forest and is designed so skiers on one trail are out of sight and sound of skiers on other trails. Skiers can choose their level of exertion, from a casual walk to a high-energy contest.

Palmatier has also introduced some interesting twists, which includes a woman's day, full-moon skiing and a owl program that involves venturing into the wilderness on skis to locate different species of owls. The next owl programs will be tonight and in mid-March. The next full-moon adventure will be March 3

Howard Peterson, general manager of the Soldier Hollow nordic complex, the only such center in the world to host the Olympics (2002), the Paralympics (2002) and the Deaflympics (2007), said business is up 25 percent year-to-date.

He points to the fact that the junior program at the Olympic site is growing, as well as adult participation, and that it is the adults or parents who are following in the tracks of their kids.

"When we look out on the track," he offered, "we see a lot of parents with the kids. Very often it's the parents who are trying to keep up with the kids," he noted.

Lauren Adams, nordic director at the White Pine Cross County Center in Park City, is also seeing numbers increase, especially among adult skiers, and attributes part of the increase to alpine skiers making the switch.