You aren’t below the mountains, or next to them, you are inside them, walled in on all sides by sky-high wilderness. And the terrain you are skiing is just as sublime: the luxurious meadows that rise from the parking area, and above that the forests and the frozen lake cupped in its windblown bowl, and above that an entire other wild basin with trails that rollercoaster through lonesome woods that might be in Alaska or Siberia for all you know.
Like so much in our far corner of the world, it’s as close to perfection as you can get. For the past few years, we Nordic skiing types have been enjoying this piece of Paradise courtesy of John and Betsy McKinney, who put the course in with the aid of an expert crew of Sherpa trail builders, and kept it plowed and packed between storms in return for the small monetary contributions of users.
Now the McKinneys have moved west to California in order to devote more time and energy to global environmental issues, and the fate of the Faraway ski course is unsure. Quite simply, it is up to us crosscountry skiers to contribute enough money to keep the course maintained.
We aren’t talking about millions of dollars here, or hundreds of thousands, or massive multiples of tens of thousands. If everyone who skis Faraway kicks in a reasonable amount, the course will stay open this season. It would be really nice if Telski contributed a fair share; ski resorts traditionally try to provide crosscountry skiing to locals and visitors, and there isn’t anything else in Faraway’s league around here. Priest Lake is all right, but it is small, lacking in views and often isn’t maintained. The Valley Floor has been off-limits for years, thanks to Snively Whiplash, a.k.a. Neal Blue and his childish “If I Can’t Destroy The Valley Floor Then No one Can Set Foot On It” mindset. And the X-C terrain on the ski area itself is mediocre at best.
Then there’s the Trout Lake/Lizard Head railroad grade. It’s fair to middling, but all too often skiers have to compete with flatland snowmobilers and their deafening machines.
I’ve had some skiing experiences up at Faraway that were right off the edge of the scale, out in the “Is this really real?” zone: afternoons in the warm sun, cruising through the timber and out into the great wide open, treetops dumping diamond powder; or evenings when everyone else is gone and it’s getting dark, a storm is rolling in across the Wilsons, a wild feeling in the air, and the privilege of feeling absolutely alone, racing the cold down toward the car, and the drive home in the wind and the guttering starlight.
This Tuesday the Nordic Association met to try and keep Faraway open this winter and in future seasons; hopefully some progress was made. But whatever happened there, all of the ancient community of ski nomads should put brawny shoulders to the wheel behind skiing at Faraway.
Again, it would be wonderful if Telski chipped in to help ensure the world’s most beautiful mountain town continues to offer the world’s best Nordic skiing experience. It would also be farsighted, and smart. General Schwarzkopf is just one of the many prominent part-time Telluriders one runs into on local X-C trails.
Beyond that, it’s up to us, the skinny-skiing pilgrims to do whatever it takes to get the job done. A winter without Faraway would be a second-rate season indeed, with a lot of the magic missing. Let’s not let this very special piece of the San Juans experience melt away and be lost; that would be a terrible shame indeed.