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Trail HAPPENINGS January 2015

Nordic Skiing In The La Sal Mountains
by Kirstin Peterson

Winter is here and the white peaks of the La Sal Mountains present a dramatic backdrop to our red rock desert. When the snow arrives, the small mountain range beckons and people flock to enjoy our own private winter wonderland and all the recreational opportunities that exist just 45 minutes from Moab. Whether you prefer skinny or fat skis, telemark or randonee, classic or skating, snowboards or snowshoes, sledding or snowmobiling, there’s something for you in Moab’s upper extremes. Locals and visitors alike are lucky to have groomed trails in the La Sal Mountains which offer access for all kinds of winter recreationists.

LUNA (Lower Utah Nordic Alliance) is a group of dedicated volunteers who work with the Manti-La Sal Forest Service to provide a groomed Nordic track system starting from the Geyser Pass Trailhead. Beginning in mid-December or whenever the snowpack is established, LUNA volunteers use a system of 2 snowmobiles pulling grooming equipment to lay a Nordic track wide enough for skate skiing and with a set of parallel tracks on the side for classic skiers.

The starting point is the Geyser Pass Road winter trailhead at 9600 ft. and the groomed track goes up from there, where the elevations are higher yet and the air is thin. There are sections of the track that are suitable for all levels of skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts. As you set out from the parking area it is important to know that most of the track is “shared use” and you will see a variety of winter recreationists enjoying the mountains including snowmobilers, backcountry skiers and snowboarders, snowshoe and sledding parties with many canine companions. We ask everyone to please be courteous to other users, move right to allow others to safely pass and keep yourself under control when traveling downhill.
The Meadow Loop is the easiest and closest track to the parking lot. Ski a short way uphill from the trailhead and you’ll see the Meadow Loop take off on the left and wind first through some aspens and then into a beautiful open meadow with Haystack Mountain in the background. The terrain is rolling and the loop rejoins the main track close to where you entered. This .3 mile sunny loop is fun to ski in either direction and is the perfect place to work on your form and get your lungs used to the high elevation.

Gold Basin is an intermediate track and is reached by continuing up the main Geyser Pass Road track from the Meadow Loop to the intersection with the Gold Basin Road, which branches right. The Gold Basin Track is rolling, both out and returning, and offers a peaceful ski through pines and aspens with occasional views of the red rock desert below. You may see backcountry skiers accessing many of the popular runs above the track or returning from turns in the powder. The Gold Basin Track ends at the point where motorized travel is prohibited from going further, thus making this an out and back excursion totaling 8 km (5 miles) round trip from the trailhead.

For the ambitious and fit skier, Geyser Pass and the La Sal Loppet Loop, which branches off at the top of the pass, offer a challenging and beautiful Nordic skiing experience. From the Gold Basin intersection, Geyser Pass is another 2 miles (3.5 km) mostly uphill. Geyser Pass tops out at 10,600 ft and the La Sal Loppet Loop takes off to the right along the road towards Dark Canyon. After approximately .5 miles, the track leaves the main route on the left and winds through open meadows to a point offering wide ranging views of Colorado including the stunning San Miguel and Wilson mountains near Telluride. This rolling loop continues through the trees and emerges on the east side of the Geyser Pass Road where you will take a left up a short hill back to the pass, adding an additional 1.8 miles (3 km) to your distance (8.6 miles/13.2 km total from trailhead). From the pass is it mostly downhill back to the trailhead so be sure to have a warmer wind protective layer for the descent.
Directions to trailhead: From Moab head south on Hwy 191 to the La Sal Mountain Loop Rd turn off at the south end of Spanish Valley. Turn left off the Hwy and then right onto the Loop Rd for about 13 miles to a well marked turn onto Geyser Pass Rd. From here travel 3.5 miles to the trailhead. Note that snow tires and/or 4wd are recommended for this road. The road is plowed fairly regularly but call 435-259-7155 or check utahavalanchecenter.org for current conditions and the latest information about road clearing. Be prepared for winter conditions in the mountains and bring appropriate warm clothing, water, and food for any outing into the backcountry. There are no services other than toilet facilities at the trailhead.

About the Author: The Author, Kirstin Peterson is the ski representative for Trail Mix, the Grand County Non-Motorized Trails Advisory Committee when she’s not running her mountain bike tour company: Rim Tours. Trail Mix is a contributor to the ski grooming program. If you are interested in volunteering to be one of the ski groomers contact kirstin.m.p@gmail.com.
Come to the Trail Mix meetings held the second Tuesday of each month 12-2 at the Grand Center, 500W. 182 N. to join hikers, bikers, skiers, and equestrians in our effort to develop and maintain non motorized trails. Contact Sandy Freethey for more information. sngmoab@preciscom.net .


 

 
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