The Meissner Nordic Club is riding a rising tide of popularity in cross country skiing. Thanks to community support, the non-profit ski club now offers daily grooming of nearly 30 miles of trails that are open to everybody at the Virginia Meissner Sno-Park.
William Warburton drives a $250,000 snow grooming machine purchased with donations from the community.
“We pick the speed, how fast the tiller spins. We decide how deep the teeth cut into the snow. Then we are setting the tracks for the classic. Lots of adjustments we can do with the blade or tiller and how fast we drive to make sure it’s a fun, skiable surface,” Warburton said. “The track pan is down on that side behind us. The other one is up in the air. We try to set two tracks where it’s wide, then on the narrow trails just set one. Pretty much everything is groomed for skate and classic.”
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Thousands of people go cross-country skiing, skate skiing and snowshoeing on the Meissner Nordic trails each winter. It’s the closest developed sno-park near Bend. There is no ticket window. No gate. No operating hours. You can ski there any time of the day or night, though most people wait until the trails are groomed.
“The number of Nordic skiers in Central Oregon has grown dramatically in the eight years I’ve been on the Meissner Nordic board. We are just offering people opportunities to come up and ski,” said Steve Roti, president of the Meissner Nordic Board of Directors. “There’s a lot of us older, retired people who come out but there’s also a lot of younger people. All the high school teams come here to train. We see a lot of high schoolers and families on the trails. It is packed on the weekends with families and little kids.”
Ken Roadman, coach of the Redmond Nordic Ski Team, said having a community ski area where “we can bring the kids and not be charged each day… frankly, we wouldn’t be able to operate without a place like this.”
Most of the students on the Redmond Nordic Ski Team have never skied before. The students train together but represent their individual schools — Ridgeview and Redmond high schools and the Redmond Proficiency Academy — when they compete in races.
“What I really love to see is the excitement on the kids’ faces when they really learn a skill and just have them remember the first day on the snow when they were falling down and it was all going wrong for them,” Roadman said. “And now they are outskiing me by far. They are young. They are limber. They don’t mind falling. They go real fast down hills. It’s just real fun to see that.”
When I last visited the Meissner Nordic Club, they were grooming the ski trails four days a week. They now groom seven days a week, which spurs more utilization of the trails and, in turn, more donations.
“Our average individual donation is in the $75 to $100 range. For families it’s in the $150 to $200 range,” Roti said. “We just have more people, families and individuals donating. We have more corporate sponsors. We get no money from the Forest Service or the State of Oregon. We are entirely 100% donation supported. Having those individuals, families and corporate supporters makes this all possible.”
The donations pay for professionals to operate a snowcat that grooms the trails that make Meissner so accessible and enjoyable for skiers of all skill levels. The club embraces technology, publishing real-time trail grooming information so that anyone can study conditions in advance and decide how much of a cross country ski adventure they want to undertake.
“Each of the drivers has an app on our phones that record where we go and publishes that straight to the Meissner website and their app so people can see live and in real-time, they can see where we are right now and what we have groomed,” Warburton said.
The club tracks four metrics to determine use of the Meissner trails:
- Donations, which have been going up substantially in recent years
- A social media following of about 10,000followers at latest count
- The number of cars in the parking lot, which is frequently full especially on weekends
- The volume of recyclable cans and bottles they clean out of the shelter each day
How much more can the club do? Is the trail system big enough for the demand that appears to be coming this way?
“On a year like last year where we had adequate snow for four months, the trail system is big enough,” Roti said. “On years when there’s not enough snow, for example last month, the trail system is a little tight. When we were only able to groom five days in December, we only had a really small section of trails we could open up.”
If climate change continues to happen and if the snow footprint in Central Oregon gets smaller, “We may need to look at expanding the trail system. Moving trails higher. Work with other winter trail groups, which we are doing. For example, the Central Oregon Nordic Club, DogPac, COTA, even the snowmobile clubs, we are all going to work together and ensure a wintery future for Central Oregon,” Roti said.