Before coming to Bend, I forecasted the weather in Alaska. That’s where I developed a passion (ok, obsession) for cross-country skiing.
As soon as I got into town, I was told by a friend to “Visit Virginia Meissner.” To a non-local, that was a confusing recommendation. But when I looked into the story a little more deeply, little did I know that Virginia Meisner is quite a legend in these here parts — including having a popular sno-park named after her.
“My mom was born in Salem and she was an only child and her dad really liked to fish,” said Virginia’s daughter, Jane. “So he would be, you know, out there chopping across the fields and because he didn’t have a son. Once she got big enough, he just took her along.”
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Virginia went off to college and continued her passion for the outdoors. That’s where she met a handsome ski instructor and they got married.
“Now, after my parents got married, they were both teaching skiing at Willamette Pass,” Jane said. “But my mom, she was always a little timid of alpine skiing. So cross-country was kind of more her favorite. And then when Mount Bachelor opened in 1958, they got to talking to somebody and found out that they could make more money teaching at Mount Bachelor than they could at Willamette Pass. And they did that for quite a long time. But about the mid-60s, the college approached my mom about teaching cross-country classes.”
Virginia built up quite a fan base of students that she would take out on the forest roads in the area and guide them through her favorite spots.
“She approached the Forest Service and said, you know, we need to to mark some of these trails, clear some of the trees out of the way that are on some of them, mark some of the trails,” Jane said. “And about that time, because she had enough of her students that were followers that would ski with her every winter, they decided to talk to the Oregon Nordic Club, which was out of Portland in the Mt. Hood area and see about starting a chapter of the Oregon Nordic Club and called it the Central Oregon Nordic Club.”
The first baby steps of what was to come began taking form.
“They ended up marking a whole lot of trails and they also worked with the first service and the Oregon National Guard to build the first shelters that we had. The very first shelter that was built was the Swampy Lake Shelter,” Jane said.
Sadly, Virginia was diagnosed with cancer in the 1980s. But, that didn’t stop her from working to continue to see her vision through.
“So all of the trails, you know, up until the time that she passed away in 1988, all of the trails were in conjunction with the Forest Service and the Central Oregon Nordic Club,” Jane said. “Under her guidance of kind of, you know, ‘Where’s the best trail? Where’s the best place to mark these trails and to clear the debris that there might be across the trail?'”
And though she remained an active advisor and teacher until the end, sadly, Virginia never did see the fullness of her vision completed.
“Well, they were just starting to lay out the trails. They were starting to decide where to build the shelter. They put the sno-park in when she died. So the Forest Service came to me that summer and said, ‘Can we name it the sno-park after your mom?'” Jane said.
And that sno-park has had a massive impact thousands of people throughout the decades. And while Virginia may not be with us in body anymore, her spirit remains in the sights, sounds and souls that will be using the park for decades to come.
“It really is just amazing to me what she did and it’s such a great honor that they decided to name that sno-park after her,” Jane said.