Funds needed to keep Grand Mesa ski trails groomed
GRAND MESA — Slogging through 10 inches of fresh snow on a recent stormy day on Grand Mesa, I realized the grumbling filling my ears wasn’t just from my stomach.
The windblown snow covered everything at the County Line cross-country ski area, and I slowly was making some headway through the drifts when the rumble, grumble suddenly got louder. Around the corner came Jon Canty pushing a nice curl ahead of him in the Grand Mesa Nordic Council’s snowcat.
Canty was busy, didn’t stop to chat, trying to make headway against the winds and deep snow, but his presence, and the packed ski trail he left, not only was greatly appreciated by this skier but by every skier who takes to the well-groomed trails Canty and fellow Nordic Council groomer Al Fournier provide on Skyway, County Line and Ward Lake trail systems.
The trail-grooming system offered by the nonprofit Nordic Council is a curious bird.
It barely pays for itself, the funding coming from memberships and donations received the previous year. It means that how much grooming takes place depends on how deeply an unknown myriad of skiers and snowshoers dip into their pockets.
“Membership fees and donation dollars from the previous year is the budget we have to work with this year,” said Leslie Brodhead, the Nordic Council’s director of operations, a part-time position the council recently funded due to the importance of having someone in charge of day-to-day operations, marketing and other duties.
“It also helps having a committed membership base and other people who recognize what we do is huge. Without that support, we couldn’t do what we do up there,” Brodhead said.
But funds are limited, and sometimes the money runs out before the snow melts.
“We’re pretty constrained by the budget,” Brodhead said. “Once we run out of grooming dollars we’re finished. Sometimes, in really heavy snow, like the winter two years ago, we run through the grooming budget before April.”
It’s anyone’s guess how many people use the three main trail systems on Grand Mesa, without someone sitting at the parking lot and counting heads.
“The $64,000 question is how many users we have,” Brodhead said. “We have a little over 400 members, but we have far more people using the trails than currently are members.”
Go up to Skyway on a sunny, fresh-snow day and you might see 100 cars in the parking lot. Over at County Line the smaller lot will be double parked and ditto for Ward Lake.
“We get people from all over,” said Nordic Council President Christie Aschwanden of Cedaredge. “There is a fair amount from the Grand Valley and a very stalwart crew from the Uncompahgre and North Fork valleys.”
But how many of the users really understand where the grooming is coming from and who provides it?
“Lots of people seem to think we get funding from Forest Service or taxes, but other than the Delta County grant we are completely self-funding,” Aschwanden said.
Brodhead offered that most people using the trails don’t even know about the Nordic Council and its long-standing philosophy of providing groomed ski trails.
According to a brief history of the Nordic Council provided by long-time member Tom Ela, the group was born in 1990 when Powderhorn Resort canceled its cross-country program.
The “core philosophy” of the nascent ski program was to do it without trail fees, not only as a public service but also to avoid infrastructure problems, Ela wrote.
Grooming initially was done with a large snowmobile, which often had to be dug out of snow drifts. The snowmobile was purchased with grants from Delta and Mesa counties and the Grand Junction Lions Club.
Delta County still supports the Nordic Council to the tune of $3,000 each year, the only outside funding the group receives.
The snowcat, a PistenBully 100Nordic with an 11-foot plow and 10-foot tiller and double independent track setters, was unveiled in 2006, thanks to a generous grant from the Jean Thomas Lambert Family Foundation.
The machine lets Canty and Fournier, who also get paid for their efforts, set trails and pack tracks in any weather conditions, as I can testify.
However, the grant came only with enough funding to provide for three years of grooming. Let’s see, 2007, 2008, 2009. Uh, oh.
“Keeping a $150,000 machine running is very costly and we’re in a bit of panic now,” Aschwanden said. “We got it with enough funding to run it for three years and now we’re reaching that limit and we need to pull in some more money.”
Aschwanden said it takes about $15,000 per year to keep the machine running and the trails groomed.
“The bottom line is we need to drum up about $15,000 in additional funding to keep it going at this level,” she said. “We know times are tight for everyone, they’re really tight for us, but if everyone who used the tracks would donate a little, we’d be OK.”
That rumbling you hear next might from the hundreds of skiers and snowshoers discovering their favorite trails no longer are being groomed as well as they are now.
You can learn more about the Nordic Council at http://www.gmnc.org.
Donations are accepted there, too.