If it weren’t for the 150 cars lining County Road 501 at the southern end of Vallecito Reservoir, there would be no hint that something was happening at the water’s edge. But a short walk through the winter woods found a miniature tent city on a lake of ice.
Hundreds of skiers of all ages, snowshoers and their four-legged friends met at the Vallecito Nordic Ski Club trails on Sunday for the annual Vallecito Nordic Ski Club’s Demo Days, in which local venders set up lake-side shop and sent skiers out on brand-new gear.
“People love it,” said Diane Legner, president of the ski club and chairman of the ski club board. “Shops bring out their gear, and people can try skate skiing, classic skis, snowshoeing. And we have all these dogs out here enjoying being here, running around. We just kind of do our own thing out here.”
Three local shops – Backcountry Experience, Pine Needle Mountaineering and Second Avenue Sports were on hand, helping beginners to experts find what they were looking for. Campfires burned before the expansive soft plain of white, and the aroma of chili and gumbo hung by, steaming ladles being poured throughout the afternoon.
Legner, who’s been involved with the nonprofit ski club for nine years, said the club began around 20 years ago with two men who wanted a place to ski close to their homes.
“It was pretty casual,” she said. “They started grooming the trail with a piece of old chain-link fence they would drag behind a snowmobile, and then they’d go ski on it.”
The club has since grown and organized, with 9.3 miles of trails and a great deal of support form the Nordic ski community.
Twenty miles east of Durango, it’s quiet most afternoons. The body of water, frozen or not, offers its tranquillity, and its mountainous landscape is a fitting backdrop.
“It’s hard to put in to words,” Legner said. “Having this beautiful terrain and floating around on skis. We have Osprey, and we have eagles. There’s nothing like it.”
Therese and Russell Geter came out to shop for snowshoes. The couple has plans for winter backpacking and hoped to test some shoes on the steep hillside slopes surrounding the ski trails. To them, there is something about winter.
“It’s gorgeous out here,” Therese Geter said. “Especially when you get in the snow in the backcountry. In the winter, it’s a little more serene. There’s more solitude.”
The base camp tent city was a flurry of activity, a constant stream of skiers coming in and out of camp. Dogs chased one another, some in jackets and sweaters, others with their own snowshoes.
Ron Thompson, recreational guru and manager of Second Avenue Sports who brought the bulk of the kids gear, said he thought it was the biggest turnout he’s seen in his seven years.
“Durango people, they love to get outside,” he said. “The vibe is strong.”
As Sunday’s fog and clouds drifted over the lake, fleeting beams of sunlight broke through and touched the snow. Skiers could be seen gliding through the trees.
“I love being in the woods,” Legner said. “And without any machinery to get me to the top – I can do that myself. This is a pretty special activity. It’s a dance.”