Teton Valley, Idaho: www.tvtap.org
Nordic Skiing on the Spud Side of the Tetons
The following article has been provided by John Borstelmann, Executive Director, TVTAP for use by xcskiworld.com. All rights reserved. Photo: TVTAP.
Nordic skiing has deep roots in Idaho's Teton Valley near the Wyoming border. The main route to Jackson Hole for much of the 19th century and early 20th century involved taking the Union Pacific train to Victor, then riding a horse carriage, and later cars, over Teton Pass. Adventurous eastern skiers such as Betty Woolsey, a US Olympian in the 1930s who eventually settled at the base of Teton Pass in Wilson, Wyoming, came out to ski the slopes of the Tetons on both sides, climbing up and skiing down the untracked powder slopes.
The rebirth of Nordic skiing in the Tetons focused on backcountry powder skiing with telemark gear in the 1970s and 1980s. Drawn by the magic mountains, long winters and deep powder, early pinhead pioneers settled in little-known Teton Valley in the 1970s and 1980s, exploring the backcountry in search of untracked snow and epic downhill runs.
Skiing with skinny skis on groomed trails was slower to develop in Teton Valley. Grand Targhee Ski Resort has offered groomed Nordic trails since the early 1980s, maintained at first by local Nordic entrepreneurs Clair Yost and Teton Mountain Touring. Yost and his partners ran the Nordic instruction concession at the resort. A more serious Nordic center at Targhee developed under the direction of Chi Melville, one of the Teton Mt. Touring partners, in the early 1990s. That Nordic center continues to offer 15 kms. of challenging, excellent trails in a spectacular high altitude setting, with a long winter season and lots of snow.
Nordic trails down in the valley itself -- in dramatic Teton Canyon where you ski up a deep glaciated valley right towards the Grand Teton – involved the old-fashioned method of skiing it in yourself in the 1980s. Then they were groomed intermittently through volunteer efforts by U.S. Forest Service personnel using USFS equipment in the 1990s. When Jackson Hole Community Pathways started a Nordic ski trails grooming program on the Wyoming side of the mountains in the late 1990s, director Tim Young contracted with Alta Construction to groom the Teton Canyon trail once a week for most of the winter, starting the winter of 2000/2001. This was the first regular schedule of grooming the trail.
The visibly growing popularity of Nordic skiing in Teton Valley encouraged the young, local, non-profit bike and pedestrian advocacy group, Teton Valley Trails and Pathways, to undertake an ambitious nordic ski trails program, starting in 2001. Board member Dave Miller, an avid Nordic skier, had long wanted to do such a program, and the new executive director, John Borstelmann, was an avid Nordic skier, longtime Nordic ski racer, and former coach at Dartmouth College and the Jackson Hole Ski Club. Both men were gung-ho to create a Nordic trail system that ultimately would compare to Sun Valley and the Methow Valley in Washington.
In 2001, after three years of existence, TVTAP had 75 members and an annual budget of $10,000. The group’s founding had been stimulated by the 1997 conversion of the old Union Pacific railroad bed between Victor and Driggs into a 7-mile-long, separate bike and pedestrian pathway, paralleling the main highway. This rail trail was built by the Idaho Transportation Dept. using federal transportation enhancement money, the main source of funding nation-wide to build bike and pedestrian facilities. The timing of this rail-trail conversion was extremely fortunate, providing a safe alternative to the main highway for cyclist, walkers, runners, rollerbladers and roller skiers, just when growth was starting to really take off in Teton Valley, so the roads were getting busier and less safe for cyclists.
TVTAP’s founders, including Chi Melville, Chris and Lori Erickson, Dave Mayberry, Mike Whitfield and Clair Yost, saw the potential to build on the first pathway as the backbone of a valley-wide non-motorized path system. They envisioned a connecting pathway between Driggs and Teton Canyon along Teton Creek as well as connections out of the valley to Jackson Hole (the Teton Pass Trail) and north up the old railroad line to Ashton and Yellowstone National Park.
The business of bike and pedestrian advocacy – grantwriting to fund operations and projects, politicking with the Idaho Transportation Dept. and local governments, recruiting members, raising money, putting on bike races and events – didn’t easily produce visible, tangible results, until TVTAP started grooming Nordic ski trails.
TVTAP’s board and staff knew it was a substantial challenge to raise the money needed to buy two used snowmobiles and minimal grooming implements (a roller/compactor and tracksetter) from Doug Edgerton at Yellowstone Track Systems. But local foundations including the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole and the Arthur B. Schultz Foundation, and individuals came through with enthusiasm and money. TVTAP’s board members and lone staffer worked tirelessly and raised $30,000, enough to get the program going for the first winter.
Suddenly TVTAP was visible to the public! We were driving around on a snowmobile farming the snow into community Nordic ski trails close to where people live and work. People became excited!
TVTAP’s goal is to make skiing easily accessible so people could fit it in during lunch hour or after work. We groom ski trails adjacent to the towns of Driggs and Victor, in the rural community of Alta, and on the National Forest in Teton Canyon. Almost all of the trails are on private land, so we had to do a lot of diplomatic work to acquire permission from multiple landowners to create adequate length trails. The process proved to be not only possible but a way to build community, as people got behind the idea of having local trails close to their door. Neighbors who had squabbled about other matters could agree on the value of Nordic ski trails for themselves and their kids.
TVTAP continues to expand the ski trails, looking for good terrain that will be fun to ski and hopefully not too exposed to wind or future development. Total trail length is about 50 kms. this winter, with 10 kms. of beautiful, new ski trails in the posh golf development Teton Springs south of Victor. Teton Canyon remains the most visited and justifiably popular of the local Nordic ski trails, with about 7000 annual skier visits. But there is great excitement and appreciation for the new Teton Springs trails, which ski well while being technically interesting all the time. The Teton Springs trails roll and wind along and over warm creeks close to the national forest boundary, beside a championship caliber golf course. Teton Springs has the potential to become a true destination Nordic resort.
Entering the third winter season, TVTAP now has more than 400 members and an annual budget of $55,000. The ski trails program has been a tremendous boost to the organization’s membership and to local enthusiasm for Nordic skiing, stimulating Nordic equipment sales and attracting visitors from out of the valley. TVTAP continues to work closely with local ski shops (Peaked Sports and Yostmark Mt. Equipment in Driggs as well as Jackson’s Nordic ski shops, Skinny Skis and Teton Mountaineering) and landowners to grow Nordic skiing as a sport, a lifestyle and an economic presence. With a long snowy winter season, from mid-November through March and later, Teton Valley has all the essential ingredients to become a popular Nordic skiing destination.
The ski trails program has generated tremendous appreciation and good will towards TVTAP, boosting our fundraising both for the ski trails program and our larger bike/pedestrian advocacy work. We are organizing bike races in the summer and ski races in the winter, to promote healthy sports and the superb recreational amenities of Teton Valley. Last winter we held two “moonlight madness” ski races, non-serious fun events. The first time the moon and weather cooperated, with a storm clearing just as the race began, casting bright moonlight over the Alta trails. The second race Mother Nature cracked down with a howling blizzard, and skiers had a hard time following the groomer. This winter we are organizing our first “serious” Nordic ski race – the Teton Ridge Classic – as a fundraiser event to promote the sport and showcase Teton Ridge Ranch.
The Teton Ridge Classic ski race (January 17th in 2003) will give Nordic skiers a chance to experience the exceptional terrain of the northern foothills of the valley, on the trails of Teton Ridge Ranch, an expensive luxury guest ranch on 4,000 acres. The ski trails are groomed with a small Pisten Bulley, and we will cooperate with the Ranch staff to make sure the course is in outstanding condition for the race. Lunch is included with the race entry fee, as is a race T-shirt. Prizes from local merchants will be awarded.
We look forward to sharing our ski trails with you. Please come and visit! You can find out current ski trail grooming conditions and get a weather update at our website, www.tvtap.org. The race website is www.tetoncomputing.com/tetonridgeclassic and features links to many other useful websites with local weather and lodging info.
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