The Sandy High Freestyle Ski team consists of just two 16-year-old skiers, but they’ve got some serious skills.
It's a blue bird day at Teacup Lake Nordic area and the sun lights up the snowy peak of nearby Mt. Hood. I push off on a crust of perfectly groomed Nordic track on my classic skis, trying to catch up with my friend Kelly, who’s sprinting ahead of me on skate skis.
I’m doing the classic cross-country kick and glide while her skate style is a faster paced pole and stride. As she hits a descent on the Lakeside Trail, I know I won’t ever catch her, but that’s no problem at all. Teacup Lake Nordic area takes all comers.
Set on a small patch of land in the Mount Hood National Forest a mile south of Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area, the Teacup Lake Nordic area comprises 20 kilometers of groomed trail for cross-country skiing — both classic and skate styles. Trails are groomed four times a week (more often during winter and spring break) and are ranked green, blue and black to denote difficulty.
On a given winter afternoon like this one, the little ski area is alive with chatting couples, young parents herding small children and the occasional retired Olympian swooshing by. The strong community vibe is accentuated by the fact that Teacup Lake Nordic is run by a volunteer organization of people who love the sport.
Paul Blackburn, president of Teacup Lake Nordic Club, says the mission is plain.
“It’s a simple organization: groomed trails, a cabin and outhouses,” he says. “We all just want to ski. It’s a natural, generous, celebratory thing.”
A small day use hut called the Ray Garey Cabin is a great spot to warm up or break for lunch. The building is ADA-accessible for adaptive skiers. And it only takes one heavy snowfall to appreciate the shelter of the covered port-o-potties.
Blackburn, who is also the mayor of Hood River, has been an avid Nordic skier since college and got involved with the organization when he moved to the area 17 years ago. He says Teacup’s geography makes it particularly special.
“It is easy for Nordic trails to be too steep. We have a fortunate location — high enough but flat enough.”
Here the varied terrain draws everyone from beginning skiers to experienced racers and grade school kids to octogenarians.
Teacup Lake Nordic Club has 1,200 members. The annual fee is $75 for adults and free for children under age 18. The adult day use fee is $10 and kids ski free. Two-thirds of its members live in Portland while the rest live in the towns of the Columbia River Gorge. (Teacup does not allow dogs or snowshoes, both of which damage the groom.)
Founded nearly 40 years ago as part of the Portland-based Oregon Nordic Club, Teacup Lake Nordic Club operates on national forest land through an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service.
Hood River resident Doug Archbald has been a Teacup Lake Nordic Club member for three years and has been skiing at the area for even longer. He and his wife Meg enjoy classic and skate skiing with their seven-year-old daughter. Archbald says they value the outdoor access Teacup brings.
“We love it because it can be a quick workout or we can make a day of it,” Archbald says. “We enjoy how it’s away from the hubbub of the alpine area.”
You can check out Teacup Lake Nordic area in full celebration on March 12 when it throws its annual Teacup Tea Party. Usually held in January and delayed because of heavy snow this year, the event offers free ski lessons along with tea and cookies.
“We’re calling it ‘The Glides of March,’” Blackburn says. “It’s great. The more experienced skiers teach the newer skiers.”
Eileen Garvin lives and writes in Hood River, Oregon. When she’s not hunched over her keyboard or digging in the garden, you can find her mountain biking, kiteboarding, hiking, skiing or camping somewhere. She served as editor of Travel Oregon and is the author of How to Be a Sister.