Many moons ago, when we first dipped our toes into the winter recreational experiment, AKA,”Pilot Program”, that has evolved into the current Round Valley Winter Trails program, we really had no idea what we were building. There were a lot of question marks in those early days with the biggest X-factor being that of the cold, white variety. Would Round Valley hold enough snow to groom??? Climate change awareness and “Save Our Snow” forums at the time, added to the doubt.
In those early years, we had one old, high-mileage, ex-resort snowmobile chained to the gate near Wyatt Earp on the Rail Trail, and a beat up, Yellowstone box drag parked beside it. A short segment of the Rail Trail along with a trail around the tennis courts at Solamere, were the only things being groomed in town those days beyond the Nordic Center. I was pretty green to Mountain Trails at the time and as part of my new, year-round role, our director, Carol Potter, along with some fine folks at the City, encouraged me to pursue winter trails, with the Round Valley open space being the low-hanging, snow-covered fruit.
Soon we would buy our first new snowmobile, a cleaner and quieter, 4-stroke with electric start, no less, and the city would purchase a grooming drag from a company called Tidd Tech out of Winter Park Co. The learning curve was a quick one, with a big winter, a lot of flailing, getting stuck, shoveling out, cursing, rinse, and repeat. But we were off and running with several kilometers of groomed trail, utilizing the old Round Valley jeep roads, and soon, some newly built soft-surface trails.
The early success was taken to a new level in 2009/10, when the City purchased a brand spanking new Piston Bully 100 cat(la Pantera Roja) to replace their old cat. I was given a quick, two-hour, crash-course on intricacies of cat-driving by the crusty old City parks manager, Dave Urban, and we were off to the winter rodeo… until I ran out of gas on day one, in the furthest reaches of the inner valley, and as far away from fuel supply as I could be. Sigh… it seems that during my two-hour training sesh, I missed the chapter about the fuel gauge.
In 2010, local outdoor rec icon and super-hero, Charlie Sturgis was at the helm, and with his background operating the White Pine Nordic Center, we took the Round Valley grooming program to the next level. We would “up our level of service” as Charlie liked to say. Soon we were grooming 20Km of trail daily, and as one long-time local who flagged me down in the cat described it… “you are creating joy”. Well, it doesn’t get much better than that!
Mountain Trails would attempt to organize a Nordic race/fundraiser, beginning in 2011- the infamous Round Valley Round-Up. Year one brought white-out, blizzard conditions and near frost bite. Years two and three offered unseasonably warm conditions, slurpy-like snow, and numerous water features to negotiate- pond skimming on skinny skis. We decided the event was cursed and reluctantly pulled the plug.
During the winters of 2016 & 17, our good friend, Alex Stoy, purveyor of joy, would join the grooming team of two. With his glass half-full enthusiasm, creative wit and offbeat sense of humor, Alex would take the simple concept of a grooming report to a whole new realm, one that we’re still trying to emulate. Suddenly, a contingency of loyal followers were eagerly awaiting the latest caffeine-induced, early morning report, complete with great photos and “Stoyisms”.
About that same time, fat biking was starting to take off and Mountain Trails was one of the first orgs to groom singletrack for this new user group. Early on, we were using our big, clunky, grooming snowmobile with an old, weighted-down spare Suburban tire in tow. We still occasionally use that same tire, but we now have a stealth and light, yet powerful, singletrack snowmobile- Little Red, and multiple grooming implements for varying conditions.
Throughout this wild ride, we have experienced some great snow years, and some dismal ones. There have been wind events that would bury the trails in wave-like, 5-foot tall drifts, and many years that we were fighting all winter to hang on to a 2-inch base.
We have seen some of the most stunningly beautiful sunrises and bluebird days, along with vertigo-inducing, flat-light days, where you felt like you were floating in the Land of Oz. And numerous wildlife sightings including the resident elk herd, coyotes, golden eagles and moose are always a highlight of the early mornings.
More recently, we’ve added “ski only” areas like Land Of Oz and Hanscom’s Hollow, along with many miles of year-round singletrack. Through necessity, we have added winter staff, and additional equipment.
One thing for certain, the world’s largest dog park, Round Valley, remains a unique and spectacular environment for winter recreation, wildlife viewing, human interaction and of course, the spreading of joy. And none of this would be possible without the generous support of the local community. As the faded old sign on the cat window says, we are literally “fueled by your donations”.
So, circling back to the original question… will Round Valley hold snow? 16 years in, as we contend with nearly 3 feet of snow to kick off the new year, I think we can put that one to rest.
Wishing you all a healthy and joyous New Year filled with many miles (and Km’s) of smiles.