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  • MIke McGrew

The Great OSCR Debate

A storm is raging in the sacred confines of the Great Meade Hall of the Seeley Lake Nordic Club. Logging operations forced a course change in the OSCR route, and the pros and cons are being debated ferociously. Before club members take up their cudgels and begin drunkenly flailing away at one another, let’s pause to reflect on the accomplishments of the Seeley Lake Elementary Ski Team.


Yesterday’s performance by all of our kids, and some of our graduates, really showed how far we’ve come as a program. Owen Hoag hung with the Glacier Nordic Club, taking third place in a hotly contested battle that was decided by mere seconds and is probably the toughest, most competitive 10k race we’ve had to date. Klayton Kovatch entered the 25k, an exceptionally long distance for an 8th grader, and made a strong showing, finishing somewhere in the top 10. My girl Cora Stone raced so hard she puked in the parking lot afterwards. She proudly offered to show me the evidence, but maybe some other time, Cora. Sam Ayers, a kid who should be everyone’s role model, showed once again that positivity and enthusiasm trump everything else, every time.

And now, back to our debate.


For the last, I don’t know, maybe 20 years, we’ve run the OSCR over the top of Rice Ridge. It’s a long, steady climb with a total elevation gain of 3302’, is extremely scenic and consists primarily of skiing on roads. The new route consists of two loops which gain 2562’ each for a total of 5124’ and use almost all of our existing trail system with the exception of the Auggie Cutoff road and a climb which roughly parallels Auggie that we call the 20k Addition. That’s 1822’ of extra climbing.


The two-loop option is not without historical precedent, having been used back in the mid-90’s for several years. I’ve raced both iterations and my personal preference from a skier’s standpoint is the two-loop option.


Two loops provide a showcase for the Seeley Creek Trails. We’ve got an outstanding, professionally designed trail system here, and two loops gives skiers the opportunity to experience it all. Tim Swanberg reminded me yesterday that I wrote a post years ago about the lemming effect, wherein skiers who come here to train ski a 10k loop over and over and over again because the math is easy. They miss out on Mountain View, Bear Tree, Hawkwoods, and maybe Roller Coaster and Larch Knob, all of which for my money are the most interesting skiing we have. It’s challenging, it’s tough and you can’t get by on endurance alone. You have to know how to ski to perform well. In contrast the Rice Ridge Loop doesn’t challenge your skiing ability as much as your fitness and aerobic capacity. It may be pretty, but nobody is looking at the scenery when they’re dying while climbing the switchbacks.


Using the Forest Service roads for the Rice Ridge race put us at the mercy of the snowmobile club who would groom the course for a fee. Last year they neglected to groom the Auggie Cutoff portion of the race, catching our groomers unawares and forcing them to frantically buff the surface right up to the starting gun. Additionally, snowmobilers use the course during the race which tears up the surface and raises safety concerns. One year when we were racing counterclockwise, I was screaming down through the switchbacks and encountered four snowmobiles flying uphill. They never even slowed down, and I squeezed by them with what seemed like inches to spare. The new course minimizes snowmobile conflict since we only use a short stretch of the Auggie road.


The new course puts grooming in the hands of the ski club and gives us more control over the quality. When it’s icy conditions we can use the ginzus to scratch up the surface as opposed to the pisten bully which essentially does nothing with the hard pack. It gives the club 5k more to groom, which in the grand scheme of things is minimal.


We’ve been discussing the possibility of officially incorporating Auggie and the 20k Addition into the trail system and have broached the subject with the Forest Service. Historically it was part of the ski trails but fell by the wayside when the current trail system was designed. Using the new route as part of the OSCR 50k could help give us leverage and might increase the likelihood of the Forest Service allowing us to gate either end of the Auggie Cutoff portion during ski season. The snowmobile club has abandoned grooming that stretch and the minimal use it does get provides a temptation to snowmobilers to trespass on the ski trails, which becomes a major issue in heavy snow years like last year.


The biggest knock on the new route is that it’s hard. Well, yeah. OSCR has never been easy. This is Seeley Lake, MT, a town of rugged individualists and dominant women. The kids on the ski team all have circles worn into their Wrangler hip pockets from their cans of snoose. What the hell did you expect? Our goal is to make Nordic skiing great again.


Those are my arguments, now we want to hear your input. The feedback I got yesterday was consistently positive, but racers also consistently reported that it was tough. Is it too tough? Would you ski the 50k again as two loops or would you downsize to the 25? Do you like the Rice Ridge route better?


Leave your comments below. Remember, this is the internet and the kid gloves can come off under the cloak of anonymity. If you use profanity, that’s fine, just try to display some wit alongside your f-bombs.

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