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Nordic ski boom in Central Oregon

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 1, 2021

By Mark Morical (Bend, Ore.) Bulletin

BEND, Ore. – Mike Schindler assumed it would take a couple weeks to sell out his seasonlong Nordic ski gear rental fleet.

But the co-owner at Bend’s Sunnyside Sports sold out in less than eight hours one day in early November.

“We made it reasonable pricing and sent out an email,” Schindler said. “It was probably 100-plus setups. We had people lining up. That was the real lever of like, oh, wow, there’s a lot of people who are wanting to do this. It was crazy how many people came in and how many people took advantage of that.”

Due to the pandemic, more and more folks are hitting the cross-country ski trails this winter or trying the sport for the first time. Much like bike shops this past summer, ski shops are struggling to maintain their nordic ski gear inventory.

Sunnyside implemented the seasonlong rental program and is not offering daily rentals in order to limit crowds in the shop amid the pandemic.

“Instead of doing daily Nordic rentals like we’ve always done, we didn’t really feel comfortable having that much traffic, so we decided to turn it into a season rental program,” Schindler said. “Come in, get your gear for the entire winter, and we don’t see you again until you bring it back.”

With daily rentals either limited or not offered at other shops as well, many nordic skiers must buy their gear. But finding gear could be a challenge this winter.

“As far as sales go, the big story is the availability of products, just like it was with bikes,” Schindler said. “How much could I have sold if I could get all the inventory I wanted? I don’t really know, but I know people have been coming in and looking for the standard (classic) touring setup and we just … we’re doing our best with our vendors.”

Schindler said his inventory for skate ski gear is still OK, but inventory for classic ski gear has been hard to keep on the shelves. A reason for that, Schindler said, is more Nordic skiing beginners want to try classic skiing because it’s easier to learn the technique.

“Skate skiing is harder to figure out, more technique driven, while touring you can just go on out and have a good time,” he said.

The increased interest in nordic skiing is a national trend as well, according to Schindler.

“Things have sold out so quickly,” he said. “Rossignol is our main brand here. For them to be out of so many things so early, I’m sure it’s because of nationwide sales.”

Outside of the ski shops, evidence of an uptick in Nordic skiing can be seen at the packed parking lots at area sno-parks. Meissner Sno-park west of Bend off Century Drive is popular for Nordic skiers.

“The parking lot is more crowded, but once people get out on the trails they get pretty spread out,” said Larry Katz, operations manager for Meissner Nordic, the nonprofit that grooms ski trails at the sno-park each winter. “On weekends, the parking lot’s completely full from 8:30 a.m. to past lunchtime. I would guess there are 10% to 20% more people (than normal years). It’s hard to tell because fewer people are going to Bachelor because of the parking reservation system there. Some of the extra bodies and cars are because of that.”

For those skiers who struggle to find parking or simply want to avoid crowds, Katz recommends parking at Swampy Lakes Sno-park, just a few miles up Century Drive from Meissner. Trails at Swampy Lakes connect to the groomed trails at Meissner.

He also suggests skiing later in the afternoon after the morning crowds have dwindled. The parking lots have not been full on weekdays, Katz added, but have been noticeably busier during the week compared with typical years.

The trails at Meissner are groomed every day except Mondays, for both skate and classic skiing. Katz said some of the lower-elevation trails were being groomed for the first time of the season this week but the area should have all of its trails groomed by this weekend.

Meissner Nordic’s grooming operation is funded by donations from skiers.

“People have been very generous in their support this year,” Katz said. “Part of that is more people and part of that is that we started early and Bachelor wasn’t open yet, and people just appreciated that. We got a good jump on the year with 2 feet of snow before Thanksgiving. People turned out right away, whether it was groomed or not.”

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