Winter decided to show up last week and brought with it some of the best snow I have skied on in some time. Despite the cold temperatures, I managed to get out several times to enjoy the fine, dry powder that blanketed the trails of the Monongahela National Forest. With cross-country skis and the dogs, I headed to the mountains to ski the excellent conditions and easily glide through the untracked powder enjoying the peace and solitude of winter.
The nice thing about this area is the access we have to the National Forest, which has so many trails and roads, that there is always something different to ski.
Logging roads, hiking and biking trails, and open meadows all offer great skiing when there is a foot or more of snow on the ground. It feels good to get out of the house and let the dogs run while enjoying some exercise in the crisp mountain air.
One of my favorite places to ski is the Stuart Memorial Drive that circles around Bickle Knob, has a good mix of up and down terrain, and is a scenic, easy, and convenient route to get some exercise.
This is a path other people frequent and often there are tracks to follow which makes the going a bit easier, there are not any obstacles to cross like some of the hiking trails and log roads that I like to explore.
From this route however, you can access other trails and roads that branch off from the main road and take you into other parts of the forest with a more backcountry feel.
The first day I went, we started out at the east end of the drive and skied down to Otter Creek from there we took Hedrick Camp trail and circled around up to Shavers Mountain trail and then down through a meadow onto a gated road that led to the road and back to the truck. This was a great trip sliding through all the sugary powder. However it was scattered with deadfalls, creek crossings and other obstacles that made the going difficult, but I like to think this is why they call it cross-country skiing.
While it may have been tough getting there, the pay off was a high meadow with untracked knee-deep powder just waiting for me to make turns through, I made several runs down this field before darkness started closing in and we had to go.
The other couple of days I got out we mostly took logging roads that took us by some old clear cuts where I let the dogs check for grouse ( I'm always looking for new spots to grouse hunt). The skis allow me to easily get into these areas and watch the dogs work while I scan the snow for tracks and look for food sources and other signs of the secretive birds. When they are not searching for birds, I let the dogs play in the snow, like two kids they cannot get enough of running and tackling each other and rolling around in the snow while I make my way along the trails.
It may not sound very exciting but the peace and solitude of the winter woods with a soft snow falling is easy to appreciate. I think this is why I enjoy cross-country skiing in the National Forest so much, it allows me to investigate many areas that would be very difficult to walk to, but with skis, I can get in and out of areas I could not get to without trudging through deep snow.
Besides, it's a great feeling letting the snow part beneath your skis as you gently glide trough the silence watching the dogs run while appreciating the stark beauty of the winter forest of brown and grey skeletons draped in white and the peacefulness of it all.