Adventure of the Week: Nordic ski patrol: It's here to help

Once snow touches ground on backcountry roads in the Eldorado National Forest, the snow patrol begins its rounds.

Volunteers in the El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol make loops or trails for snowshoers and skiers.

The patrol members ski on open areas near Crystal Basin, Loon Lake, Echo Summit and Carson Pass – taking in views of the frozen lake, ice-covered trees, canyons and mountains.

"If I go up and back on alpine skiing, I'm not seeing those things," says Ted Lenzie, one of the ski patrol volunteers.

Ski Patrol president Monte Hendricks notes: "You get everything. A storm, wind, clouds, gorgeous blue-bird days when the snow just sparkles."

Since 1982, El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol has helped to form the backcountry paths and maintain the surrounding cabins and chalets in a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.

Its members also hang the familiar blue diamonds in plain view high in trees to keep skiers and snowshoers on the loops. And, they act as the eyes and ears for emergency crews.

Another item on their to-do list this season: winter skill classes.

The free all-day courses focus on proper clothing, avalanche awareness, hypothermia and how to winterize vehicles.

A variety of questions come up, Lenzie says.

"They might ask, 'How do you know when someone is getting hypothermia?' That's real important."

"People go out in cotton (clothing)," he says. "That's a big no-no and we discuss that."

Winter in the backcountry can be as simple as a stroll or as vigorous as ice or mountain climbing. And it offers something else Hendricks loves.

"When summertime crowds are gone," he says, "you also have much more opportunity for solitude and quiet."