It took a little longer, but this week's strings of storms that passed over mountains and meadows has unleashed another group of skiers on the snow - cross-country skiers. It has also opened the doors to the fastest growing part of the sport - cross-country resorts.

Where once the only thing tolerated on Utah slopes were skis that were wide and went only downhill, now there are wide skis, skinny skis, and even the very fat skis (snowboards). Where once the only nordic center was a camp set up in the snow somewhere, now there are five actual centers with people to teach, skis to rent and gateways to tracks that are groomed as finely as those at any alpine area.Open for cross country skiing now are the White Pine Touring Center in Park City, Jeremy Ranch Nordic Center in Parleys Canyon (it opens Friday morning), Brian Head Cross Country Ski Center near the Brian Head ski area, Solitude Nordic Ski Center (formerly Big Cottonwood and before that Brighton Touring Center) in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Possibly opening this weekend will be the Homestead/Wasatch Mountain State Park center near Heber.

Skiers, both alpine and nordic, were a little slow starting this year. They haven't had Thanksgiving skiing the two seasons before, and with the warm temperatures and sunny days earlier in the month, were planning on another late start this season.

But it did snow, and nordic centers went to work as quickly as alpine areas to open runs.

White Pine Touring Center, the oldest nordic center in the state, starting its 12th year, opened for the holidays with groomed runs.

Jeremy Ranch would have opened had contracts been signed. There was some fear the area might not open this winter. The loaning bank foreclosed on the golf course and put locks on the golf carts and pulled in all the flags last month. The foreclosure became official Monday, the same day the bank agreed to open for skiing this winter.

Jack Turner and Alan Ashley made the agreement with the bank. So, Jeremy Ranch, one of the newest centers, will open for skiing on Friday.

Consensus among the open areas is that nordic areas are opening with some of the best skiing conditions they've ever had, and this includes White Pine.

Along with the good start, this season also promises to be one of the busiest for those involved in telemark and cross-country ski racing. Between Dec. 3 and March 19, there are 27 nordic events planned (see scheduled on this page) and five telemark races.

Those areas open include:

White Pine Touring Center

Located: On the Park City Golf Course within a snowball throw of the Park City Ski area.

Track: Will groom about 10 kilometers of track, most of it on the golf course. Will have both diagonal and skating track.

Pass: $3 a day, $50 for a season and $150 for a family.

Rentals: $8.50 a day.

Lessons: Will offer both cross country classic and freestyle, as well as telemark at ParkWest. A one-hour private is $25.

Brian Head Cross Country Ski Center

Located: About 12 miles east of Parowan, next to the Brian Head Ski Area, and within easy skiing distance of Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Track: Will groom about 45 kilometers of track, both diagonal and skating using a new snowcat.

Pass: $5.

Rentals: $11 a day. Also will have telemark and racing equipmnt for rent.

Lessons: Private and group. A two-hour private is $25.

Solitude Nordic Ski Center

Located: Entrance to the circle at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon. A second entrance at Solitude Ski Area. Shuttle service between the center and the ski area for skiers that might want to ski down, but not back up.

Track: Will groom 15 kilometers of track for diagonal and skating. Will also groom a special children's track, called "Enchanted Forest." It will have a narrower track and will have large animal cutouts along the 1.4 kilometers of track.

Pass: $5 adults, $2 for children 9 to 12, those eight and under and over 60 ski free.

Rentals: $8 a day.

Lessons: Group and private. A one-hour private is $25.

Homestead/Wasatch Mountain Park

Location: On the Wasatch Mountain State Park Golf Course in Heber. Offers transportation from Park City.

Track: The state will groom 15 kilometers of track for skating and parallel, or diagonal skiing. Expanded the trail system to go more into the foothills. Will also be offering backcountry tours through Norwegian School of Nature Life, and helicopter trips ranging from 15 minute rides, to flights over seven ski areas, to mountain top picnics.

Pass: $3 a day.

Rentals: $10 full day, $7 half.

Lessons: Group and private. A one-hour private is $20.

Also: Will have snowmobile rentals. Rates are $35 for the first hour, $20 for each additional hour. Full and half-day tours with lunch available.

Jeremy Ranch Cross Country Center

Location: About 20 miles from downtown Salt Lake City, up and over the top of Parleys Canyon on the Jeremy Ranch Golf Course.

Track: Will have groomed between 25 and 30 kilometers on Friday. A new snowcat will groom for both diagonal and skating. When in full operation will have over 60 kilometers of track open.

Pass: $8.50 a day, $5.50 half day. Season pass for adults is $125.

Rentals: $10 full day, $6 half day.

TELEMARK SKIING

Skiers competing on the Utah telemark circuit will find a new twist awaits them this year - only stock equipment will be allowed for all telemark races. In past year, many of the top skiers used a modified mixes of alpine and nordic boots. No more!

All skis, boots and bindings must be commercially available.

There will be five races on the telemark circuit this year: Jan. 15 at Sundance as part of the Utah Winter Games; Feb. 5 at Snowbird; Feb. 26 at Park City; March 4 at Solitude; and the championships at Snowbird on March 26.