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Nordic Bliss How to escape the crowds on your cross-country skis 

Among those snowriders who don't allow a little uphill to get in the way, the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center and Virginia Meissner Sno-Park are inarguably the most popular local cross-country ski destinations. They are also, consequently, the most high-traffic. The Nordic skiier's choice partially depends on local grooming conditions, snow levels, and the preferred technique (skate or classic). But for those unafraid to bushwhack (er, snow-whack?), Central Oregon abounds with several lesser-known sites that allow you to escape the crowds and enjoy the quiet winter serenity that the skinny skis afford.

If you're looking to test your endurance, drive south to Paulina Lake, cradled in the Newberry Crater. While many flock to the trail on their bikes in the summer, it remains one of the area's best-kept Nordic secrets. Try the Paulina Lakeshore Trail, a seven-mile loop with a 230-foot elevation gain. Looking for something slightly less taxing? The Paulina View Trail and Ponderosa Rim Trail are both three-and-a-half mile ventures. The Paulina Nordic Loop offers a two-mile option.

Depending on the snow level,
Sunriver offers a fun and leisurely Nordic playground alongside this slow-moving, glassy portion of the Deschutes River. The area's three golf courses provide plenty of wide-open space to practice your technique as you glide down the fairways. Enjoy a warm drink afterwards in the Sunriver Village, or curl up next to the fire in The Lodge at the Sunriver Resort.

Does your skiing partner happen to have four legs and a tail? Wanoga Sno-Park now allows dogs (in fact - it's the only ski area in the Deschutes National Forest where dogs are permitted off-leash.) Although the three-and-a-half-kilometer trail has no set classic track, it is groomed especially for skate technique. The only downside? You may have to compete with snowmobilers for a parking spot.

Often overshadowed, quite literally, by nearby Mt. Bachelor, Dutchman Flat Sno-Park offers an entry point for numerous groomed and ungroomed paths, complete with intimate views of the Cascade peaks. For the skier who wants to get his or her heart rate moving and work on hill strength, the 1,400-foot peak of Tumalo Mountain proves a worthy destination. A shorter alternative with more manageable elevation gains can be found on the three-mile Todd Lake Trail. Or, if you are able to arrange a caravan, stash one car at the Swampy Lakes Area and enjoy the nine-mile ride along the Flagline Trail, accessible from Dutchman Flats.

Early in the season when the snow levels haven't quite begun to creep up, you'll be likely to find sufficient powder at Sisters' Ray Benson Snow Park, nestled at nearly 5,000 feet and one mile away from Hoodoo Ski Area. While the park is ungroomed, trails abound ranging from two to 10 miles, allowing you freedom to improvise and navigate your own path. At such high elevations, conditions can be variable, so be sure to check the forecast before you head up.

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