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Steve and Martha Riley of Denver head out on the Nordic area at Eldora Mountain Resort last ski season. This year, resorts' Nordic areas sit empty as they wait for snowfall. File photo
Steve and Martha Riley of Denver head out on the Nordic area at Eldora Mountain Resort last ski season. This year, resorts’ Nordic areas sit empty as they wait for snowfall. File photo

E very year the Boulder Nordic Junior Racing Team spends Thanksgiving in Montana at the Yellowstone Ski Festival.

Usually, when the team returns to Boulder, they trade their dry-land training for actual skis on the cross-country trails at Eldora, or North Boulder Park.

But this year when they returned, Boulder looked exactly as they had left it — dry and mostly brown. No snow to be found, said coach Adam St. Pierre.

“This is the first time in seven years we’ve come home and not been on the snow,” said St. Pierre.

The lack of natural snow means fewer runs for downhill skiers to choose from, but for Nordic skiers, who can’t rely on manmade snow, it means no skiing whatsoever. Some nearby resorts say the start of season is always hit-or-miss with snow; others are calling it a late start.

The YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch purchased a new PistenBully 100 grooming machine earlier this fall, which is probably why it hasn’t snowed yet, said assistant director Laurie Spence.

“We’re trying to find who we can blame it on, or who we can sacrifice to the snow gods,” Spence said, laughing. “We’re trying to get everyone to do their snow dance.”

A few weeks ago, Spence said, the ranch had enough snow for some skiing, but not enough to officially open.

Spence said this is the first time in more than 30 years that Snow Mountain Ranch, north of Winter Park, hasn’t been open for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“If we’re not open before Thanksgiving, that’s rare,” she said.

At Eldora, Nordic season is usually hit or miss, said spokesman Rob Linde. For the last two years, the Nordic area opened on the same day as the alpine area, Linde said, but this year, the weather isn’t cooperating.

“Some years we’ll get enough snow to open, and some years we don’t,” Linde said. “It’s totally based on snowfall.”

“A lot of skiers are all dressed up with no place to go.”

Boulder Nordic Club operations director Matt Muir, who’s in charge of grooming North Boulder Park for skiers (when there is enough snow), said the dismal snowfall last season has made everyone extra anxious as November comes and goes without snow.

He added that a lot of skiers he talks to have adapted to the warm fall, staying on their bikes or climbing when they would normally be skiing.

“Boulder is a curious town,” he said. “Because people are active all year round, many of our members have simply adjusted to the conditions.” Igor Guziur, Devil’s Thumb Ranch activities manager and Cross Country Ski Areas Association board member, said the ranch has been getting “hammered” with phone calls asking when the resort will open its Nordic ski area.

“They are willing to ski on two inches or snow because they are so excited,” he said.

Guziur said it’s perplexing that by March and April, when Nordic skiing conditions are good, most outdoor enthusiasts have already moved on to golf, cycling, tennis and other spring sports.

But when the snow is even a few weeks late, everyone worries, he said.

“March comes and we have great conditions, it’s a snow month, it’s long days, the light is perfect, the skiing is perfect and you don’t see that much business,” he said.

Back in Boulder, St. Pierre said he and the junior Nordic team have been dry-land training since May, so everyone is getting a little antsy, he said. The biggest problem with no snow is that the team only has an hour each day after school to roller-ski before the sun goes down and it’s no longer safe to be on the roads.

“We can deal with the lack of snow, but we don’t have much choice with the daylight,” St. Pierre said.

The team planned to ski at Devil’s Thumb Ranch over the weekend, but cancelled the trip due to lack of snow. They’re still waiting to hear about races in Summit County on the weekend of Dec. 8, St. Pierre said.

“This time of year everything has to be really flexible,” he said. “We’re ready to go wherever the snow is.”

–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.

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