Monday, February 25, 2013

WV Secret Decoder Ring

It's no secret that avid Nordic skiers have become disenfranchised with the Waterville Valley Nordic Center the last couple years. Grooming has become inconsistent in multiple areas, including the quality, frequency and reporting of grooming. When Mike Seeger ran the place, you could count on a quality product. When they said the trails were groomed, they were groomed to perfection. Now, it seems, you need a secret decoder ring to interpret grooming reports. I'll get to that in a moment.

After a punishing ride Saturday, 4+ hours in the saddle with nearly 5000ft of climbing, I was pretty beat getting up on Sunday. I needed a long ski, as it was my last training opportunity before the Rangeley Lakes Loppet the following weekend. I knew the weather would be a wildcard, with storm "Q" hanging over the northeast (The Weather Channel folks are idiots for naming every minuscule disturbance that moves across the country in winter).

Unfortunately, I timed my departure for WV at the worst possible time. A heavy squall moved in that spanned from Boston to the mountains. I suspect it was coming down 3-4" per hour with big wet golf-ball sized flakes. No way was the state keeping up with that. At one point, the highway necked down to a single doubletrack where I thought my car was going to start scraping bottom. Progress was painfully slow. A lot slower for others who ended up 100ft off the road. Always SUVs.

That wasn't the worst of it. In Concord, I got stuck behind an echelon of plows. 22mph was my average progress all the way to Laconia. What takes 15 minutes took better part of an hour. Of course I was bullshit. I want it both ways, to have clean roads AND to not get stock behind the plows giving me clean roads.

As I reached Plymouth, I got out from under the snow squall and the roads were just wet. I had already killed an extra hour to get that far. It was by far my slowest drive ever up to the mountains. Didn't have anybody with me to talk with either. My ski partner bailed on me. So I thought the worst was behind me, snowing lightly now, so it should be great skiing...

Checking in with the Nordic center, they verbally confirmed all of the North End was groomed that morning and the groomer was now working on the South End trails. Great, I thought, I'll just ski over to the north end, as I know what "grooming in progress" means from prior experience.

The trails had some powder accumulation since the early morning groom, which was fine. The moist snow actually had nice glide quality, but slow due to softness. I reached my favorite climb, Tripoli Rd, to see it untouched since the day before. Son of a bitch! I'm sure the skiers just around the corner heard my vocalized frustration. The snow was boot deep and completely unskateable. I asked the couple coming back from Moose Run if Upper Osceola was groomed. Nope. They too thought everything was supposed to be groomed.

So I turned around, went over to the Livermore side. Surely Upper Snows and Cascade would be groomed, right? Got to the top of Livermore and nope, grooming stopped. I was livid. I spent almost three hours on the road to ski a random smattering of uninteresting trails? I came to get a workout, so I had to make do with what was there. I dropped down Lower Snows and then doubled all the way back. Nothing bigger than a 300ft climb was to be had. The 500, 600 and two 800ft climbs all were not groomed since the day before.

Given the string of disappointments with Waterville grooming lately, I created a decoder for their grooming reports.

WV Secret Decoder Ring:
Groomed - It probably was at one time. Maybe last April. Could be rutted ice or boot deep powder.
Grooming In Progress - None of the trails you want to ski will be groomed yet. They won't be before you have to leave either.
Skate Groomed - Single pass with a snowmobile groomer. Expect to be competing for space with the classic tracks.
100% Open - The groomer made at least a cursory appearance in that part of the trail system.

If I classic skied, I no doubt could come up with a few more. It is troubling that the price went up and the quality went down. There are other places to ski. An extra 30 minutes drive reaches Bretton Woods, and they have showers with fresh towels for the same price.  Maybe I'll invest in a season pass for Weston next year.  Fortunately I got a decent endorphin fix from my ski. The slow conditions made for hard work all the time, including the descents. My attitude was suitably adjusted for the drive home, which was a smooth cruise.


DaveP said...

Funny! Buy some telemark skis and skins, then come with us to Crotched. Heck of a workout. That's what I did on Sunday.

Anonymous said...

Bring back Mike Seeger..!!

Rob Hult said...

Went to Waterville once this year and the grooming was lackluster and unimpressive. I was a little suprised as I expected more from a big area. My brother used to rave about this place.

The best place I have been this year has been Trapp.

Peter Minde said...

Sounds like an occupational hazard of places that run both downhill and nordic operations. Bolton Valley in VT is much the same. They have great nordic trails, if only they'd groom them a little more often.

Rob Hult said...

The story I heard is now that the nordic area is its own entity, they can no longer leverage the DH ski area's grooming fleet. In years past they would drive several groomers over from the DH area and buff out every single inch of trail every night. I think somebody finally did the math and figured out how much diesel they were burning...

Hill Junkie said...

I've long suspected Nordic centers attached to alpine ski areas are operated like cost centers. WV Nordic is now being run very lean. Maybe they are expected to return a profit to the enterprise? Good luck with that if you drive everybody away. In Michigan, many XC ski areas are free (taxpayer funded), donation basis (volunteer run) or small nominal fee. Ironically, the grooming is consistently better at most of those places than at WV lately.

DaveP said...

This is what we should be doing next year:

Luke S said...

Come to Jackson. We've had phenomenal grooming and skiing all year long. Snowing hard here right now, everythings open and being groomed throughout the storm.

Hill Junkie said...

Rangeley Loppet this weekend, Jackson the following weekend.

Anonymous said...

I think I met you at the bottom of Osceola last Sunday and we talked about lack of grooming.Grooming is not the only thing in decline at WV Nordic: staffing, the retail shop, trail map, ski instruction availability--on and on. New owners got rid of Mike Seeger,who spent 13 + years fine tuning the Nordic operation--replacing him with inexperienced youth. They are in the process of getting rid of the yurt--which for 7 years served up food and a heated rest stop. It was Bert's Yurt--they got rid of Bert.Under Mike Seeger they had 2 or 3 grooming shifts--if Mike said groom,it was groomed.Now there is one groom shift that has a set time-if it snow's after this shift then TOO BAD, there is only one shift.Everything of course is connected to the bottom line.This is from someone who worked there for 8 years until they got rid of him.You can still catch Mike Seeger and Bert out skiing the BEST FREE GROOMED skiing in the East--Lower Osceola/Tripoli and Livermore--that is, when and if they are groomed!!! Or give classic a chance.

Anonymous said...

WV Nordic use to pride itself "on the best grooming in the East"--every open trail was groomed every day.The decoder is hilarious!! What is more hilarious (pathetic)is that,once you wade through the incomplete sentences and poor spelling, not to mention the un-inspiring daily pic, of the directors report, you still can not believe the conditions report-- I have been to WV 21 times this Winter and at least 12 of those days they groomed before it snowed,meaning they knew it was going to snow and still groomed at a set time anyway!! Why pay for grooming when you are not getting it--SKI the 2 FREE trails and bring your classic gear just in case (which is often!!)

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