Improvements underway at the Happy Jack Nordic ski trails | Outdoors

Dan “Danno” Brain, with his dog, Dox, watching nearby, hefted the sledgehammer over his head and let it drop, careening into the rock below. The rock crumbled upon impact. Nearby, Keith Riddle looked out of place with his weed-whacker. Rather than grooming the edge of a lawn, he went after woody sprigs poking through the grassy forest path.

These two volunteers with the Medicine Bow Nordic Association, or MBNA, joined 30 others last Oct. 3 to help prepare the Nordic ski trails at the Happy Jack Recreation Area for the upcoming ski season. Those pesky rocks and woody sprigs poking through the snow easily catch a ski edge or scrape a ski bottom. Taking them out now enhances the skiing experience by allowing a smoother snow surface.

This year’s volunteer trail day added some finishing touches to trail improvement efforts that have been going on through the summer by other volunteers and MBNA staff.

Van Jacobson, longtime treasurer for the nonprofit organization, said the group has worked closely with Medicine Bow National Forest personnel to improve a number of paths within the winter-use trail system. The efforts followed the MBNA Long-Term Plan that was recently updated by MBNA board members George Jones and Bern Hinckley, and approved by the U.S. Forest Service.

Initial improvements the last two seasons included rerouting a problematic section of the Alder Trail in 2019, and rerouting around the steep rise, commonly called the Elevator, in 2018. This year rerouting and improvement efforts continued and picked up considerable momentum.

“Many of the segments we moved are due to erosion,” Jacobson said. “There are also segments that are badly windblown, making them especially difficult to groom and maintain in the spring or during low-snow years.”

Routes were also tweaked to enhance grooming efficiency to minimize duplication of effort by avoiding going over the same trail segment repeatedly. Skier safety is also a consideration, increasing one-way routes to minimize congestion on these increasingly popular ski trails.

Nordic skiers familiar with the area know the problem spots well. Skiing the Summit Loop, especially in the early season, is often hard on skis due to the prevalence of rocks and bare ground. One section follows a ridge and the open exposure often creates quite a wind-tunnel effect, decreasing the enjoyment factor significantly.

“We had to go off the old trail quite a bit to avoid the ridge,” Jacobson said. “The new route adds another kilometer to the loop, and it should be much more enjoyable to get off that windy ridge.”

While the ridge bypass is not quite complete for this upcoming season, it will be open to skiers with a short temporary detour along a fence line. Other improvements this season to the Summit Loop include some rerouting to not only enhance the skiing experience but to make the routes sustainable by minimizing erosion. The ski path leading to the Summit Loop is also improved.

“That route was especially difficult to groom as it became more and more dished out, creating a cup shape,” Jacobson said. “It was once an old Jeep trail and was very rough and eroded. The new route is immediately to the north, paralleling the old route.”

The long-term plan includes two new loops coming off the Summit Loop, expanding the skiing options into some rolling to hilly terrain. Jacobson said once the new loops are cleared, which isn’t expected for this season, there will be some challenging options while adding another 1.5 kilometers of trail.

A new segment completed for this season creates a sprint loop from the Meadow race starting area to the Ridge Trail and back again for a 1km race route.

There are also a number of short segments throughout the existing maze of trails that have been tweaked to improve skier safety and reduce the wear and tear on grooming equipment from exposed rocks. For those familiar with the routes, expect improvements to Gobi’s Loop, Rollercoaster, and Caution Hill.

All of the winter-use trail reroutes are limited to tree and brush removal. This accommodates over-snow grooming equipment. There is no ground disturbance, making these routes unsuitable as summer hiking trails. Each spring, MBNA staff removes all trail maps and markers to further dissuade their use until the next winter season.

For those who missed the volunteer trail day but still want to lend a hand, Jacobson said they can contact MBNA ([email protected]) for route assignments. There’s still plenty of “finishing touches” needed before the snow flies.

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