Ski season kicks off in the La Sal Mountains
by Steve Kadel
staff writer
Dec 20, 2012 | 1911 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lower Utah Nordic Alliance volunteers recently groomed ski trails at Gold Basin for the first time this season. Skate and classic trails are expected to be open this weekend. Courtesy photo
Lower Utah Nordic Alliance volunteers recently groomed ski trails at Gold Basin for the first time this season. Skate and classic trails are expected to be open this weekend. Courtesy photo
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It’s winter in the La Sal Mountains and trails for skate and classical skiing are being groomed for this weekend.

Max Forgensi of the U.S. Forest Service said training for volunteers to use the grooming machine was held Saturday, Dec. 15, just as a foot of snow arrived in high elevations.

“I expect we’ll get some grooming for this weekend,” he said. “It looks like a great time to go up.”

A dozen new volunteers were trained to use the Lower Utah Nordic Alliance (LUNA) grooming machine, bringing to about 24 the number of people who will keep trails in top shape this season, Forgensi said.

He noted that the road beyond Geyser Pass winter trailhead is now closed.

Last weekend’s storm, and more snow that arrived Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, helped boost southeast Utah’s snow water equivalent, which was at 24 percent of normal for the water year that began Oct. 1, Forgensi said.

Moab area residents awoke Wednesday to a blanket of snow that ranged from 2.5 inches to 4 inches, said Jim Pringle, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Junction, Colo.

About 8 inches fell in Gold Basin in the La Sal Mountains, he said, along with 6 inches overnight at Geyer Pass, where 17 inches of snow has accumulated for the season. Pringle said 12 inches of snow fell Tuesday night and early Wednesday in the Abajo Mountains west of Monticello and the same amount was recorded at East Willow Creek in northern Grand County.

The Utah Avalanche Center has opened for the season. Information on backcountry avalanche conditions, snow levels and road conditions is available by calling 259-SNOW or at www.utahavalanchecenter.org.

Advisories cover the Abajo Mountains west of Monticello and the La Sal Mountains.

Forgensi warned that early season snow is not consolidated, which creates safety concerns.

“The snow is very sensitive to human-triggered avalanches,” he said. “And just because you are on a Forest Service road doesn’t mean you’re safe.”

He recalled the death of a man last winter who was hit by an avalanche while riding an ATV on a Forest Service road in Beaver Basin.

Kirstin Peterson, a volunteers coordinator for LUNA, emphasized that the groomed trails will be safe throughout the winter. They are maintained with funding through the Grand County Recreation Special Service District, Moab Trail Mix, and private donations.

“Maintenance for the [grooming] machines can get expensive,” she said, adding that expenses also include gas and oil.

LUNA works with the Forest Service to keep trails groomed, Peterson said. Those who want to be notified when grooming has occurred may write to her at kirstin.m.p@gmail.com to be placed on the email list. Volunteers try to groom twice a week.

Forgensi said San Juan County plows the road to the trails. Although lower-elevation roads for such things as school bus use are the county’s priority, Forgensi said, “When they get up there [on the mountain road] they really blow it out.”

Besides needing lots of volunteers to keep the ski trails groomed, he said help is also required to maintain the avalanche center. That comes via Friends of the La Sal Avalanche Center, Forgensi said, including Ed Grote who often donates his time to maintain weather stations.

“The sensors have to be maintained yearly so we’re getting accurate data,” Forgensi said. “Without all the community support, LUNA and the avalanche center would not be as successful as they are.”

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