Editor’s note: All of the trails are groomed and ready to ski, it was announced on Dec. 28.
Scenery, serenity, agony, ecstasy – each of those experiences is offered at the Kirkwood Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Center.
The 80 kilometers of groomed trails are one of the most renowned Nordic sites in the Sierra Nevada. Debbi Waldear has been the course pro for more than two decades.
“Our trials are really fun,” Waldear said. “They follow the natural terrain. They have lots of turns, twists and climbing and really fun descents. There is (plenty) expert terrain.”
There is an abundance of novice and beginner trails to explore, as well. The Meadow trails are excellent for beginning skiers and snowshoers and can be accessed from properties from both the East and West Meadows.
The cross country area provides the opportunity to get away from the crowds. The only sounds are rhythmic shushing of skis, flowing creeks and chirps and songs from birds. While exploring, look for the different animal tracks. Observant skiers might catch a glimpse of a bald eagle, hare, white pine marten, beaver or a river otter.
Cross country skiing is a contrast to downhill skiing. While downhillers maneuver on the edges of their skis, cross country skiers glide and slide from side to side.
“One of the key differences is the goal is you want to always be gliding on a flat ski,” Waldear said, “and you use your upper body and your core.”
There are two styles to cross country skiing. Skate-skiing is a technique for intermediate and experts in which skiers shift their weight from ski to ski, pushing from side to side. In classic skiing, skiers’ legs move forward — easy is as glorified walking.
The original course owner and designer was Glenn Jobe, who competed in the biathlon in the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid. It is 20 percent advanced, 20 percent beginner and 60 percent intermediate.
There are three trail systems:
- The Meadow System in Kirkwood Village is the first to open each season. The course is on mostly flat terrain, but there are a few fun and easy rolling hills. There are two 6-kilometer loops. The outside loop is dog friendly.
- The Caples Creek System has something for everybody. It starts at the Cross Country and Snowshow Center, next door to the Kirkwood Inn. Winding along the creek, this is the best trail to look for wildlife. There are interpretive signs though out the resort, along with warming huts for food and drink breaks. There are several loops to explore, including Domelands, from which there is a great view of higher than 10,000 foot Round Top.
- The Schneider Trial System has many trails that lead to the Schneider Cow Camp, which has an old barn equipped with lounge chairs. If you encounter other skiers, it will probably be here, a popular place to have lunch and take photographs. Skiers who make it to Cow Camp should take advantage of circling the Sierra Vista loop, which is connected to Coyote Pass, the favorite destination for many. The parking lot at Schneider Camp connects to the High Country trails that have spectacular views of the Coastal Range, Sierra Crest and Desolation Wilderness, which is highlighted by the iconic Pyramid Peak.
The Caples Creek and Schneider systems are connected by the famed Agony and Ecstasy trials, which are just that. Ecstasy offers the thrill of an extended high-speed descent, and Agony, of course, provides an excellent cardio workout. Wear layers of clothing, because some of it will be removed on the ascent. The “Agony” experience can be avoided by parking one car at the center and driving another vehicle up Highway 88 toward Caples Lake and starting out from the parking lot at Schneider Camp.
New cross country skiers quickly improve with a bit of instruction. Lessons are conducted by Waldear and her staff each day at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 a.m.
Waldear won eight gold medals (which are displayed at the center) in four different international Masters World Cup events.
“The key to my success is that I have great turnover, which is tempo,” she said. “That means that I was quick in going from one ski to another.”
What does it take to be a champion?
“It takes passion and being driven and determined,” Waldear said.
Check the Kirkwood website to find out about events at the cross country center, including monthly Full Moon Snowshoe Tours. A cross country season pass can be added to a downhill pass for $99. Ski and snowshoe rentals are available at the center. For more details, visit www.kirkwood.com and go to the Events and Activities category. Call the center at 209.258.7248.