- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2017

SWAMPY LAKES SNO-PARK, Ore. (AP) - Escaping into winter is not difficult in Central Oregon.

But escaping into winter and finding some solitude can be a challenge.

Century Drive west of Bend is lined with sno-parks and other areas where locals and tourists alike can revel in just about every snow-related outdoor activity: downhill skiing and snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fatbiking, snowmobiling, sledding and more.

Avoiding crowds is not always easy.

Last week I went in search of solitude on skis and found it at Swampy Lakes Sno-park.

The sno-park, at about 5,800 feet in elevation, is certainly not an unknown place for wintertime outdoors enthusiasts. But for skiers, Virginia Meissner Sno-park just a few miles away seems to be more popular.

One reason for those crowds is that the groomed trails at Meissner attract skate skiers, who require groomed trails for skiing. Swampy Lakes has few groomed trails, so the area attracts mostly classic skiers, who can cut tracks through deep snow.

But Swampy Lakes is also popular among snowshoers and fatbikers. Miles and miles of well-signed trails - some designated for skiing and others designated for snowshoeing - radiate from the sno-park. Fatbikers are allowed on the snowshoe trails but not on the ski trails.

I set out on the Swampy Loop last week, planning on a ski of a little more than 5 miles. Snow was falling but there was little to no wind, so conditions were fairly decent on the cold morning.

The narrow trails included tracks from previous skiers that cut through the Deschutes National Forest much like singletrack mountain bike trails.

In fact, many of the ski trails in the Swampy Lakes area follow trails that are used by mountain bikers when those trails are not covered in snow.

I am relatively new to Nordic skiing but have been a mountain biker for many years, so exploring these trails when they are covered in snow is an intriguing experience. The terrain is certainly familiar, but it has a completely different feel in the middle of winter.

About 2 miles into the ski I came to a sign for the new Swampy Shelter, which was finished this past fall and officially dedicated in December.

I had seen the new shelter when I was mountain biking in the area last fall. This time, I almost skied right past it. The roof was protruding out of the 6- to 7-foot snowpack, but the rest of the shelter was concealed by the snow. The entryway was clear, and I stepped down into the entrance, which included two sliding barn-style doors.

The new shelter - much like two other local structures, the Virginia Meissner and Swede Ridge shelters - provides a respite with a wood stove for winter sports enthusiasts to take a break and warm up.

The Central Oregon Nordic Club raised about $30,000 for the new log shelter and put in some 5,000 hours of volunteer work to build it.

The shelter made for a nice place to rest about halfway through the ski. I had the place to myself, and I also had the trails to myself for most of the day.

The classic ski trails from Swampy Lakes connect to more trails to the north near Vista Butte. They also connect to the Tangent Loop groomed trail, which leads south to Meissner Sno-park. Swampy Lakes is often used as overflow parking for Meissner on busy days.

As I continued along the loop, the trail led me deep into the forest that skirted the Swampy Lakes, which aren’t so swampy in the middle of one of the biggest winters for snowfall in recent memory in Central Oregon.

The lakes were simply a flat, snowy expanse, which I skied across to reach the other side of the loop. Through the gray clouds, I could just make out the east face of Tumalo Mountain.

The trail back toward the sno-park included a few rolling hills and some sketchy downhill sections. (I am still getting comfortable with going downhill on cross-country skis.)

When I finally made it back to the car, the snow had stopped falling and the sky began to clear - perhaps a brief break before the next winter storm would roll in.

I had encountered just two other winter outdoors enthusiasts on the trip - a fellow classic skier and a fatbiker.

Yes, it is still possible to find solitude on skis near Bend.

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The original story can be found on The Bulletin’s website: https://bit.ly/2kTDWcl

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Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com


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