Photo: About 1.5 miles up Preston Creek Road. Stormy Mountain coming into view.
have so many people given up on this type of cross-country skiing?” I ask Matt
Dahlgreen as we stride up the Preston Creek Road above the Entiat River. It’s a bluebird
day in mid-March, the sun is warm on our shirts, the snow underfoot is transitioning
from an early morning crust into corn, it’s absolutely silent outdoors, and the
views across the Entiat Valley are Switzerland gorgeous.
mean, why would you choose to spend sizable chunk of change to ski around in
circles on a groomed track with loads of other people when you can be alone and
ski miles of road for nothing?” I say, popping the camera up to capture yet
another big-scenery image.
Photo: Tyee Mountain, rising precipitously from the far side of the Entiat Valley, provides a dramatic backdrop for sking the Preston Creek Road.
me, Matt doesn’t ‘get it’ but we brainstorm possibilities. “Technique.” Maybe groomed skiing allows people to work on
their skating and that technical challenge trumps the aesthetics of the experience.
“Safety.” Even though following a
snowed-over road is low on the danger scale, maybe the sanitized risk of a groomed
trail system speaks to percentage of the Nordic population. For a different percentage, maybe roads are just
too mellow so we don’t see the true backcountry skier using them.
a former Forest Service employee, wonders whether his former employer is partly
responsible. The agency does little to promote and market these road systems
to non-motorized recreationalists. “There are no advocates for this. If the
Forest Service helped plant the seed, maybe they’d harvest more use.” His no-advocates theory takes a slight turn. “Having
Asplund Sports go out of business years ago hurt as well. Bill promoted this
kind of skiing but no one else around here really pushes it.”
are the next scapegoat. Part of the
decreased use pertains to the way snowmobiles have supplanted other users on
snowed-over roads. Between the noise, smell, and speed of snowmobiles, it’s just
not fun to ski road systems that see heavy snowmobile use. Many Nordic skiers don’t
know which road systems escape snowmobile use and, rather than risk a lousy experience,
have simply migrated to managed Nordic trail systems.
conversation stalls as both Matt and I ponder the situation. On this March Sunday
the Preston Creek Road, a road system that gets some snowmobile use in
mid-winter when the snow level is lower, does not have a single machine on it. In
fact, the lack of tracks indicates it’s been well over a week since motors
roamed this road.
our wives chatting amiably about family issues, we ski 5.5 miles, gaining
elevation every step of the way. The mountains are soaking in the warmth of
spring sunshine when we reach a viewpoint high on the divide between Brennegan and
Preston creeks. It’s a lofty place to enjoy the fruits of our efforts and to
call the uphill quits.
Photo: On the divide between Brennegan and Preston creeks.
turn around and start gliding downhill through granular corn snow. “Skis are
just such amazing tools,” I comment to Matt as he glides beside me and gravity
suck us back downhill with very little energy expenditure. This would be so
tedious to walk or snowshoe. But gliding on skis with sun on shoulders and mountain
views in our face…”This is pure pleasure,” I tell Matt. “So why aren’t we
seeing tons of people out here enjoying it?”
ended up back at the start of our conversation.
has concocted a new theory in the interim. “Specialization.” He posits that some
people want to skate as fast as possible on toothpick skis, others want to go
as fast as possible on fat downhill skis, and others still want to use
specialized backcountry systems that let them climb and descend steeper ground.
“This is a form of skiing that’s neither fish nor fowl. People used to do it
but they’ve moved onto a specialty. Maybe this is an evolutionary step headed
Photo: Gliding downhill with corn snow underfoot, sun on the shoulders, and views in the face. What kind of crazy person wouldn't love this skiing?
are kernels of truth here. In my own case, my first love is finding my way around wilder terrain on backcountry gear. Yet today’s trip, even if it doesn't form the apex of my pyramid, is high on the pleasure scale. This has been a fun day
with my wife who used to backcountry ski more adventurous with me but gave that up 20 years
ago. It’s been a great day with Matt’s wife
who used to downhill ski more but who gave that up four or five years ago. It
seems that serious skiers tend to specialize, but the world is full
of casual winter recreationalists who would love what we're skiing today.
than specialization killing this type of cross-country skiing, it seems like
road skiing has simply been overlooked in recent years. I’m back on Matt’s earlier comments about lack of
advocates. People aren’t skiing road systems like they did 25 years ago
because few people talk about this. The buzz has moved elsewhere.
Maybe we just need to remind the outdoor crowd about the fun factor associated with this old-school form of cross-country skiing. By promoting
it, telling new skiers about it, and informing old skiers about new road systems
they should sample, maybe we can ski back to the future. Or would this be a case of skiing
forward to the past? Who knows… suffice it to say that if you haven’t been
skiing our forest roads of late, you're missing out.
Details: Exploring the Preston Creek Roads
Preston Creek roads add another excellent cross-country skiing option to our
regional quiver of forest road systems to explore (see the Nordic guidebook for
over a dozen other local road systems to ski). Miles upon miles of roads here offer solitude and
spectacular views out over the precipitous peaks flanking the Entiat River Valley.
Nordic skiing and snowshoeing
1 to 3 (beginner to advanced). The
network or interconnected roads here can accommodate all fitness levels.
1+ to 2 (advanced beginner to intermediate). The start of this tour climbs the
steepest and, in icy conditions, could be treacherous on lightweight equipment.
Using skinny skins for the descent is recommended in icy conditions. Naturally you can also walk down steeper
sections of the road if icy conditions make the descent too difficult.
From Highway 97-A near the town of Entiat, turn onto the Entiat River Road and
drive up river. About 0.75 miles beyond the tiny settlement of Brief, park on
the right side of the road at approximately milepost 22.5. The county plows a
small parking area at the base of the Preston Creek Road (Forest Road 5501). No
permit is required to park here. Elevation 1,770’.
Instructions. There are a variety of tour options here and they’re all scenic.
by skiing 2 miles up the road to a signed intersection at an elevation of 2,760
you branch left, make a gently climbing contour to the west and, after a mile,
reach a shoulder with nice views out over the Entiat and down on Brennegan
Creek. This road keeps traversing into Brennegan Creek and continues on for
many miles. We’ve only listed this short side trip.
you continue on straight, the road contours above Preston Creek, eventually
crosses the creek, and comes to another intersection after a mile.
you stay to the right here, you’ll reach a pretty saddle above the South Fork
of Preston Creek after 2.5 miles (the road keeps going for many miles if you
want to carry on). If you branch to the
left at the intersection noted above, in 2.5 miles you’ll reach a saddle on the
high divide between Brennegan and Preston creeks. This saddle makes a good
turn-around point but, frankly, it’s worth persevering and pushing on another 1.4 miles until the road ends because the road follows a
high divide with spectacular views in all directions.
See our topographic map of the area. The topo map also shows some routes
backcountry skiers can use to ski Stormy Mountain.
No-wax cross-country skis are recommended.
Strong intermediate and advanced Nordic skiers could handle the road in
most snow conditions with general touring skis (roughly 50mm wide at the waist
and lacking metal edges). Such skiers should still have skinny skins along to
contend with icy conditions. Most skiers will be better able to contend with
the wide array of snow conditions they might encounter on such a tour if they
use metal-edged cross-country skis that are 60 to 70mm wide at the waist, are
outfitted with a 3-pin binding, and that are mated with a leather boot designed
to telemark down easy terrain. Carrying
skinny skins (1” to 1.5” wide) is highly recommended because no-wax skis don’t
always climb well in icy or very dry snows. Skins can also be a life saver when
descending icy or crusty snow conditions. If you’re unsure about how to get or
make appropriate skins for these skis, see this article.
Season: In mid-winter (early January to mid-February),
the roads here do get used by snowmobiles. Skiers we know who have used the
roads at these times have reported that the motorized use is usually not heavy,
but that you should expect to encounter some machines. In late winter (latish
February and March) the majority of snowmobilers are heading up to higher
trailheads and the roads here tend to be ignored.
Leave It Better Than You found It. This
should be every user’s goal. Don’t litter and pick up trash found
along the way.
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not
gospel. Conditions change and those contributing these reports are
volunteers--they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a
route. You are responsible for yourself, your actions, and your safety. If you
won’t accept that responsibility, you are prohibited from using our