Nordic at Niccoli Ranch - Best New Amenity of 2007?
Saturday, January 20, 2007

We'll state our opinion right up front. The new nordic trail at the Niccoli ranch across from CB South is/will be the best new amenity for the upper East River valley in 2007. With 345 days left in the year and no clue about other community projects in the works this is a bold call. But we've skied the track. We've talked with neighbors, friends, and tourists on the track. We've watched skiers glide round and round from our home across the river. The scenery is spectacular and the track-setting and layout just perfect. So we stand by our claim - this new nordic trail is the best recreational addition, winter or summer, we will see all year long.


The track starts from the old Bob Niccoli homestead, just west of Cement Creek road on the north side of Hwy 135. A few ranch buildings mark the spot. There are specially marked parking spaces in this compound immediately on the left after you exit the highway. A local family lives here, so please be considerate in your parking. The trailhead begins behind the residence with a few reminders: You need a trail pass (day passes conveniently available at the CB South General Store), dogs are NOT allowed, and you may snowshoe on the side of the trail but please don't walk the track.

We skied the track in a counterclockwise direction, always staying right, and found that this was a nice way to experience the entire route. According to our GPS the course is 3.4K, so three laps gets you just over 10K. Here is a bird's eye view of the course overlaid on a summer satellite photo of the surrounding area. The residential area is CB South; the junction of Cement Creek Road and Hwy 135 is at the bottom; and the old homestead and trailhead is just north of Hwy 135. And if you squint your eyes just right, the trail resembles a limbo dancer with legs at the right and body leaning back to the left. Imagine that, a nordic limbo dancer shimmying under CB South!

If you have Google Earth this file will show you the route. Right click and Save Link As... to your computer, then run Google Earth.

Like the Town Ranch trail (aka Poop Loop) you can see most of the track from any vantage point (good for un-equally skilled groups). Unlike the Town Ranch this track has numerous gentle descents and short climbs. In our mind the area is classified beginner-intermediate, perfect for anyone with a little experience or a lesson or two under their belt. In one afternoon we saw all manner of visitors happily shuffling along in rental gear, professional ski instructors and other athletes working on their technique, and several parent/child posses. Not surprisingly, this last group was the most common - dad and/or mom with a kid or two gleefully sliding around where cattle grazed mere months ago. We predict this kind of parent/kid activity will be popular all winter long at the Niccoli nordic track. The convenience for CB South area residents cannot be beat.


Of course, there are a few niggling issues. Parking space looks tight given the instant popularity of the track. We strongly recommend CB South residents ride their bikes to the trailhead if possible (obviously not recommended for kids). You will ride on Hwy 135 for just a few hundred yards and the pedal is a good warm-up. We can't imagine skiing will be much fun in more than a light breeze - the course is wide open with  no tree cover or windbreaks. But check weather for the current wind and you'll be prepared. Finally, vehicle exhaust fumes can be annoying on the upper level, but certainly no more than at the Town Ranch track, and non-existent on the lower stretches of the track. However these small issues recede to a faint whisper as soon as you glide down the first gentle grade, pick up speed towards the river, and gracefully step around the sweeping left hand turn towards the awesome view of Crested Butte mountain.


Once again, the Crested Butte Land Trust and the Crested Butte Nordic Council worked together to make this happen. We send a deafening round of applause to the Land Trust for their vision of preserving Bob Niccoli's ranch as open space. The Land Trust always pursues maximum recreational opportunities on the lands they acquire and they have done a great job here. A big shout out to the Crested Butte Nordic Council who agreed to set and maintain the track. And heartfelt thanks to Bob Niccoli whose decision to allow this use will enrich the lives of hundreds of valley residents throughout the winter. Thank you all.

None of this happens by magic and none of it is free. Your contributions to the CB Land Trust and CB Nordic Council go toward this and other important projects in the Valley. The Land Trust still needs contributions to acquire the lower section of the Niccoli ranch on which a large part of the trail is located. Please support them both.

Update (2007-01-23)

Wow, was that fun! Mrs. Flyingcracker joined me Sunday for a few laps in the snowy track. She said Duke watched us from the dining room windows across the river. We saw at least one CB South resident who rode his bicycle to the loop:

Today I hit the track for a short workout before the 20K race this weekend. My times were better than ever, most likely because the Western State nordic team skiers were practicing their classic and heated up the track:

While the team obeyed coach Jesse's every wish, the groomer ginsu-ed the skating surface:

Earlier we saw an all-too-typical sight, dad pulling a trailer or something with young kiddie snugly ensconced inside:

An amazing view up valley, from the track.

Besides the Western nordic team we met a mom alone on classic gear. She drove down valley to pick up her kid at CB South daycare, but left home 1/2 hour early and stopped at the Niccoli loop for a short workout. Very smart indeed.