After a one year absence, Mammoth will once again have a groomed, free Nordic ski track system just on the outskirts of town.
As soon as it snows, that is.
“We will be out there six days a week grooming as soon as we have about 18 inches,” said Brian Knox, the head of the volunteer-driven Mammoth Nordic nonprofit. Mammoth Nordic intends to once again groom about nine miles of beginner to intermediate cross country tracks at its old location, behind the Shady Rest campground area at the entrance to town.
That’s good news for visitors and residents who simply don’t want the crowded ski hill experience, or the drive and cost of a cross country ski pass up at the only other place in the Mammoth Basin to offer groomed Nordic ski tracks, Tamarack Resort’s Cross Country Ski Center.
Knox and Mammoth Nordic have been grooming the community trail system since 2002, all of it done by local volunteers who know how to drive the big groomers and who have a passion for good cross country skiing. But last year, Mammoth Nordic took a breather, leaving the town without free groomed trails for the first time in many years.
Knox, for one, is glad to be back and he’s got a few new tricks up his proverbial sleeve for this year.
“We are going to be offering a winter class for kids this year,” he said. The class will focus on first graders, it will be free, and it will include lessons in both snowshoeing and cross country skiing, as well as lessons in winter ecology. Skis, poles and snowshoes will be provided free of charge.
Knox said the goal of Mammoth Nordic with this program, called Mammoth Nordic Snow School, is to provide a cross country or snowshoe experience for kids who otherwise would probably never get the chance.
“We hope by doing this, we can perhaps trigger a future crop of skiers and outdoor lovers,” he said. The club plans to continue the class into the rest of the grades, expanding its offerings as it grows. Classes will be taught once a week and will be bilingual, he said.
Nordic sports supported by growing demographic trends
Knox hopes the club’s renewed commitment to grooming the trails again will remind people how many visitors and locals are looking for something to do in the winter besides downhill skiing or snowboarding.
He said Nodic sports opportunities are a good way to attract the beginning winter sports visitors, people who might come with a skiing spouse, people with children, who want something relatively easy to get started with.
Well-groomed Nordic trails are a perfect fit for winter visitors who simply cannot or do not want to alpine ski every day, he said.
Studies in other locations show that Nordic sports enthusiasts spend several hundred dollars a day, another benefit.
“It’s all about heads in beds,” Knox said in an earlier interview with the Times this year.
The end result is that a greater variety of recreational experiences, including Nordic sports, brings more people to Mammoth, again and again. And that’s good for everyone; the town, the visitors, the merchants and restaurant owners that rely on the visitors.
Knox has some high-level support for his cause including John Armstrong, longtime Mammoth Mountain Ski Team coach.
“My interest in increasing the Nordic program is that even though last year was a very difficult year, where any event centered around sports held its own, even when other tourism declined,” Armstrong said in an interview earlier this year. In his view, the market for Nordic skiing is a rich and relatively untapped resource, and something the town should take advantage of and support.
“It’s a good area for us to focus on, almost recession proof … a sophisticated market, a group of bright, successful people who don’t mind spending some money on Nordic if the quality is good enough.”
Another trend in recreation is an increasing interest in long-distance sport, such as marathons and Century bike rides.
“These kinds of athletes are increasingly focusing on low impact sports,” Armstrong said. “It’s really taking hold with people.”