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The Observer paper 11/21/14

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COMMON GROUND

CHALLENGING TRAIL: Brenna Knowles and Doug Smith ski a portion of the Elkhorn Byway at Anthony Lakes. Knowles is from Haines and is a student at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. Smith skis regularly at Anthony Lakes. ().
CHALLENGING TRAIL: Brenna Knowles and Doug Smith ski a portion of the Elkhorn Byway at Anthony Lakes. Knowles is from Haines and is a student at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. Smith skis regularly at Anthony Lakes. ().

On New Years Eve cross country skiers traveled over a portion of Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort by candlelight. Skiers touring a short Nordic course were guided by candles planted in the snow.

The event, held to celebrate New Years, was conducted several days after a new trail, the Elkhorn Byway, opened at Anthony Lakes.

The groomed trail may have the staying power of an eternal flame.

The Elkhorn Byway trail is receiving an encouraging reception, said Richard Knowles, head of Anthony Lakes Nordic Center. At least 12 trips a day are being made on the 10-kilometer course that offers breathtaking views, and long, gradual climbs and descents.

It is just an absolute blast, said David Axelrod of La Grande, president of the Grande Ronde Nordic Club. There is beautiful scenery. You can see both ends of the earth.

The 6.6-mile trail starts near Anthony Lakes Nordic Center and goes up to the summit of the mountain. A section of about 3.5 miles of the groomed trail is also open to snowmobilers. Individuals riding snowmobiles are to stay on the north or west side, and skiers must always be on the east or south side.

The trail was established to keep skiers and snowmobilers off Forest Service Road 210, which winds around the back of the Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort area. Snowmobilers and cross country skiers had used the road extensively but conditions on the road were dangerous. A serious accident involving two snowmobiles about two years ago made this strikingly apparent. Officials hope the byway will keep prevent such accidents.

While the trail is gaining popularity, it is not for everyone because of its difficulty.

You should be in good health, Knowles said.

Even the trails gradual climbs can be taxing because of the altitude. It passes the 8,000-foot elevation level. The base elevation of Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort is 7,100 feet.

Individuals must purchase a pass to use the new trail and other Nordic trails at Anthony. Pass holders have the option of taking the ski lift to the top of the new trail. Or one can start on the Elkhorn Byway trail from the Nordic Center. Skiers who ride the lift and are expecting only a downhill descent will be in for a surprise, Knowles said. The trail has several long, gradual climbs from the ski lift to the Nordic Center.

The views available on the Elkhorn Byway are striking in part because the trail goes above the timberline. Knowles favorite time to go out on the trail is around 8:30 a.m. when the rising sun gives area peaks an unforgettable glow.

Its just inspiring. Its show time, baby, Knowles said.

Dianne and Rod Jones of Union are among those who have skied the trail. They have been impressed with the views it provides of Angel Peak, Gun Site Peak, Grande Ronde Lake and many other sites.

Some skiers go to the end of the trail and back, a distance of 12 miles. Charlie Gillis of La Grande is among those who have skied the round trip. It proved to be taxing.

It is a real enduro for me, Gillis said.

He noted that one can have a marvelous experience on the trail by just going out for about two miles and then turning back.

It can be a very satisfying experience. You dont have to do the whole thing to have a great time, Gillis said.

Passes for the use of cross country trails at Anthony Lakes are $8 a day and $4 if purchased after 1 p.m. Snowmobilers also must purchases passes to use the Elkhorn Byway. Anthony Lakes Nordic Center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Story and photo by Dick Mason of The Observer

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