- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - Taking off from the Bradley-Taggart trailhead in Grand Teton National Park, cross-country skiers or snowshoers can explore a groomed road or untracked backcountry terrain, but with unpredictable weather and exertion, outings can carry an edge.

Beginning this year, winter warriors have some friendly faces to help them out of a bind or a binding malfunction. Seven days a week, a slew of volunteer Nordic Ambassadors are cruising the cross-country tracks, armed with hand and toe warmers, duct tape and plenty of maps to help anyone in need.

The Nordic Alliance, a group of cross-country enthusiasts whose goal is the promotion of the Tetons as a world-class Nordic skiing destination, began seeing the need for an ambassador program years ago. Member Phil Leeds, co-owner of Skinny Skis, kept hearing his customers talk about skiers’ need for a helping hand.

“Can’t we do more?” he asked. “People get lost and don’t know how to get into bindings.”

Clad in clearly marked red jackets, these volunteers take three-hour shifts greeting guests as they click into cross-country skis or help people find their way. Generally, the dangers of cross-country skiing are low, but Sue and Steve Morriss know that sometimes old bindings can give out or people need some extra wax to get them back to the parking lot. Others can get cold, tired, hungry or lost when a sudden storm blows away tracks.

“People just kind of lighten up, their eyes, when they see a friendly face out there,” Steve Morriss said.

The idea came from the summer’s Grand Teton pathways ambassadors who offer similar services to cyclists in need of assistance, park spokesman Andrew White said.

“It’s just kind of expanding the idea onto a snow-covered landscape,” he said. “We’re really blessed with a great group of people who want to volunteer in the park.”

Services extend to the internet. Last year, another Nordic Alliance member Nancy Leon launched JHNordic.com to offer all visitors a comprehensive source for trail maps, difficulty and grooming reports.

“My real goal is for JH Nordic to be a trusted, reliable information source and resource for not only the local community but also for our seasonal guests and also potentially vacation guests,” she said.

The site offers overviews of roughly 80 winter trails including Cliff Creek-Wyoming Range, The Big Holes, East Jackson and the Stilson to R Park trail. Elevation profiles with images and features have also been added to the site. Last year, JHNordic.com had 6,000 users. This year, 1,500 users visited JHNordic in the first month of winter alone.

Even with online resources, people can still lose their way after setting out on the trails, and it is not uncommon for Steve Morriss to come upon someone who just wants to know how to get to Jenny Lake.

But, on a clear Friday or Monday, travel to and from is as easy as following the freshly groomed tracks. Twice a week, the park grooms the trails into a smooth track for snowshoers, walkers and cross-country skiers. The machines even set cross-country tracks to guide skiers kicking and gliding.

This isn’t a new idea. For almost a decade following the turn of the century, multi-use tracks were groomed regularly. However, the park’s funding tightened up around 2010 and grooming lost its consistency. Then last year, both of the park’s groomers broke down.

“Visitors had expectations of grooming and found disappointment,” Leeds said. “We can do more about grooming.”

Passionate nordic skiers and partner organizations, like the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, Nordic Alliance and Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation, got together last summer to find a way to offer this bit of custom service.

They raised over $10,000 of a $20,000 goal to plow every Monday and Friday, weather permitting. Each plow run costs around $850 to clear the 28-mile loop from Taggart lot to Signal Mountain.

Through these concerted efforts, snow folks of all skill levels, from expert skiers to first-day amateurs, can enjoy the park.


Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, https://www.jhnewsandguide.com

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