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March 2, 2024

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Teacup Nordic remains a winter destination for all things cross country

Ski trails receive nearly 25,000 visitors each season

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The Ray Garey Cabin at Teacup Nordic has a warming stove plus benches and tables for eating lunch.
The Ray Garey Cabin at Teacup Nordic has a warming stove plus benches and tables for eating lunch. (Allen Thomas for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

As a body of water, Teacup Lake on the east side of Mount Hood is ordinary, just another small, shallow, high-elevation pond.

But Teacup Nordic — an almost 15-mile network of cross-country ski trails that gets snow early, holds snow late and is groomed four mornings a week — is anything but ordinary.

“It is a great set of trails to have access to,’’ said Elliot Solway, a mostly backcountry skier who lives in Underwood in eastern Skamania County. “They do a good job of grooming to keep the trails in good shape.’’

Teacup Nordic is along Oregon Highway 35, about a mile south of the road leading to Hood River Meadows, a part of Mount Hood Meadows ski area.

At 3,900 to 4,400 feet in elevation, Teacup is the highest and largest cross-country ski area within a two-hour drive of the metropolitan region.

Most years, skiing starts in November. In 2002, Teacup Lake was ready for skiers on Veterans Day. In 2003, the warm weather in December delayed full operation of Teacup until Jan. 7, 2024. Skiing likely will persist into April, possibly May.

Teacup has “one of the longest seasons in the world for venues at moderate elevation,’’ said Noel Johnson, president of the nonprofit organization.

And it’s hugely popular, with more than 25,000 skier visits per season, and multiple U.S. Ski-certified programs, races and events. Karl Andersson, Teacup’s head technical coach, has trained generations and is a Mount Hood icon, Johnson said.

Teacup Nordic has 8,700 followers between Facebook and Instagram.

Starting on Jan, 7, when the snow finally arrived in feet at Mount Hood, staff at Teacup groomed 11 of 12 days. That was 97 grooming hours and 313 miles, a little more than 12 hours per day on average, said Jason Lemieux, Teacup general manager.

Here are four key facts about Teacup Nordic:

  • Highway 35 is constantly plowed, so getting to Teacup even hours after a big snow dump is not a problem. Teacup has a 150- to 200-car parking lot, depending how tightly skiers park their vehicle.
  • The trails are groomed Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, so the labor-intensive work of breaking trail is almost never an issue. Both classic and skate skiers get conditions as good as possible, considering west-side snow tends to be wet and gets icy later in the season.
  • Teacup is all cross-country skiing all the time. There are no snowshoers, snowmobiles or sharing the trails with walkers and pets. The trail network is about equally split between beginner, intermediate and expert terrain.
  • There’s a cozy warming shelter. The Ray Garey Cabin has a wood stove and is a nice spot to warm up or eat a snack or lunch out of the weather.

Lemieux said Teacup users often skate and classic ski during the same trip.

“Many skiers spend half their time skating and half their time classic skiing, so it really depends on the conditions and the specific day,’’ he said “My guess is that on a busy weekend day we have about 75 percent classic skiers and 25 percent skate skiers.’’

Teacup operates the trail system under a special-use permit from the Mount Hood National Forest.

Grooming typically starts between 2 and 3:30 a.m., depending on the number of groomers and the snow conditions, Lemieux said. Several times a week Lemieux posts a report with photos on the conditions via Instagram and Facebook.

The club requires a $25 trail fee per day from skiers age 18 and older, plus has sponsors to help pay for grooming, programs and race events, Johnson said. Teacup also offers a $200 season pass for adults.

Teacup’s use has doubled during the past four years.

“That we are a 45-year-old, community-based organization working to get families outside to enjoy nature in an affordable way is a cool thing,’’ he said.

Teacup is in the final year of a capital improvements campaign, he added.

Upgrades so far include new restrooms, two reliable grooming machines and electricity to the venue.

“We have been waiting three years on approvals from the U.S. Forest Service for improvements to our trails to make them more modern, safer and accessible,’’ Johnson said. “That will be our next project.’’

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