Grit and Passion Fuel Gunnison Nordic's Volunteer Operation
Author: Stephanie Maltarich- a Gunnison based freelance writer
Since 2003, Gunnison Nordic, a 100% volunteer fueled operation, has provided grooming and access to roughly 45 kilometers of cross-country ski trails in and around the City of Gunnison. With seven board members and roughly 25 dedicated volunteers, Gunnison Nordic is an important asset in providing free access to winter recreation to the public.
“The goal of Gunnison Nordic is to provide high-quality groomed cross-country trails to the City of Gunnison and to sponsor events and activities that promote Nordic skiing in the area.”
The Nordic ski trails in Gunnison have a unique feel according to Gunnison Nordic’s board president, Joellen Fonken. “Sometimes we call it combat skiing,” she laughs when comparing them to the “Olympic experience” to the north in Crested Butte. Fonken believes the additional ski opportunities in the southern end of the valley allow residents to experience the best of both worlds. Between Gunnison and Crested Butte, the valley boasts 100 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails.
Ken MacLennan, a longtime Gunnison resident and former NCAA ski coach at Western Colorado University (Western), was instrumental in the foundation of Gunnison Nordic. MacLennan aimed to make Nordic skiing more accessible to the public. Alongside Joellen Fonken and Dave Meyer, the three wrote a grant to Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to purchase a grooming machine for Jorgensen Park. The successful grant, coupled with donated machines from Western, set the stage for Gunnison Nordic to begin grooming city parks and nearby public lands.
A key event in Gunnison Nordic’s history is the Kenny Mac Ski Fest. Established in 2005 (in honor of Ken MacLennan), the event aimed to be a race for everyone. Racers ranged from kids to experts to novice skiers. Location varied each year depending on snowfall; several locations that hosted the race included Hartman Rocks, Van Tuyl Ranch and even Mill Creek. On any given year, 50-100 racers arrived to ski regardless of the weather. One year, skiers forged on withstanding temperatures hovering around 18 below. In 2019, the organization decided to pivot from the race and shift focus to more low-key social events.
Each winter, a core group of 8-10 volunteer groomers evaluate snowfall and maintain cross-country ski trails (classic and skate) at each location. The groomers are a hearty group that enjoy hopping on their snow machines in cold temperatures.
Jon Nelson is a seasoned groomer. His retirement seven years ago coincided with Gunnison Nordic’s initial grooming operations on Van Tuyl Ranch; he has been an integral volunteer ever since. He notes the job is very convenient, Van Tuyl is practically his backyard. Door to door, grooming takes around 2.5 hours. He enjoys the work, “I’m an old farm boy, so when I put down the track and it looks nice and straight, that is rewarding.” His work depends on the snow cycles, which he keeps an eye on daily. “Everyone I see on the trails is appreciative,” he says. “I am grateful to have a chance to give back to the community.”
This winter, Gunnison Nordic will welcome a new piece of grooming equipment to its fleet, made possible by Met Rec’s Community Collaboration Grant Program.