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The story of echo ridge is one of passion, cooperation and the splendor of mother nature

By on January 28, 2019 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments
A skier at Echo Ridge takes in the view of a fog-covered Lake Chelan.
Ken Dull at Echo Ridge: ““It was quite extraordinary, really. From the beginning, everybody … was supportive and enthusiastic.”

By Lief Carlsen

In the winter of 1988, forestry technician Ken Dull considered himself a lucky man.

After 10 years of scraping by on seasonal work for the U.S. Forest Service, he was now a full-time employee with the impressive title of Wilderness and Trails Coordinator for the Chelan Ranger District. Icing on the cake, he had just received an assignment to scout possible locations for cross-country ski trails on the district. 

Back-country hiking and skiing had long been his passions, Ken told me in a recent conversation, and now they were paying him to do just that.

With help from fellow Forest Service employee Dick Kendall, himself an avid skier, the two men checked out various areas around Chelan. 

One area easily outclassed the others — a series of rolling ridges about eight miles north of town in the vicinity of Echo Peak. The area was just then recovering from the devastating Fourth of July Fire of 1968.

Dick was ecstatic when he and Ken skied through the area. 

“You’ve really got something here,” he told Ken.

The three necessities for a cross-country ski area, he explained, were: adequate snowfall, reasonable access and rolling terrain. Not only did this area meet those requirements but it was blessed with stunning vistas of Lake Chelan and the distant peaks of the North Cascades as well as blue skies much of the time — a rarity for Washington ski areas.

Ken wasted no time writing up a proposal. The Forest Service and the community quickly signed on.

“It was quite extraordinary, really,” Ken explained to me when I asked him about it. “From the beginning, everybody including the Forest Service, the Lake Chelan Nordic Ski Club, and the Lake Chelan Snowmobile Club was supportive and enthusiastic.”

The considerable job of marshaling the various factions and submitting the necessary paperwork fell to Wilderness and Trails Coordinator Ken Dull but he said he was happy to be involved in a project that would be such an asset to the District and the community.

By 1991 enough grant money had been scraped together to construct 12 miles of trail and an access road. Echo Ridge, as it was named, was ready to receive visitors by the winter of ’92/’93. The initial daily user fee was $5 per person.

Community support was crucial, especially in the early years.

 Manson resident Wally Peterson volunteered to plow snow from the access road. The Nordic Club assumed responsibility for grooming the trails and bought a vintage Thiokol tractor and grooming sled for that purpose. The Snowmobile Club provided logistical support. Day-to-day operations and maintenance became Ken’s responsibility. 

I believe Echo Ridge had become a textbook example of how the Forest Service and the community can work together to use national forest land for the common good.

But many are the projects that ride into existence on an initial burst of enthusiasm only to wither into extinction over the years for lack of a steady guiding hand. Ken supplied that steady guiding hand for Echo Ridge. 

An additional 10 miles of trails were added in 2004 and many trails were widened to accommodate skate skiing. That same year a second parking lot and permanent toilet facilities were installed. State money purchased an enclosed-cab LMC grooming tractor. The Nordic Club erected a warming yurt with a wood stove. 

In short, Echo Ridge has grown over the years from a rather primitive “classic” x-country ski hill to a first-rate venue. 

I have skied at more than 20 Nordic ski venues over the years, including former Olympic sites, and I can honestly say that none outshines Echo Ridge — not for scenery, not for variety of terrain, not for price.

In recent years, Echo Ridge has widened its appeal to an entirely different group of outdoor enthusiasts — mountain bikers. 

When Paul Willard joined the Chelan Ranger District staff in 2013 he brought his love of mountain biking with him and he realized that there isn’t a lot of difference between a Nordic ski trail and a mountain bike trail (even though single-track purists may disagree.) 

For those who insist on a shoulder-width channel through the vegetation, 10 miles of single track have been constructed over the last few years.

Echo Ridge opens after the first foot of snowfall allows for decent coverage (usually in December) and stays open until the spring sunshine exposes bare ground (usually late March). The daily user fee these days is a bargain-basement $10 (17 and under free). Compare that with $19 for Leavenworth and $24 for Methow Valley. Season passes are $70. There is no user fee during the summer.

Special events include a Ski Loppet (Feb. 9), Winterfest Snowshoe Run/Walk (Jan. 27), Evergreen Trail Runs (June 15), and Mountain Bike Race (June 8).

But perhaps the greatest draw of Echo Ridge, certainly for me, is the serenity to be found on the trails. Visitors numbered over 4,000 in 2017 but when you stretch 4,000 visitors over 22 miles of trails and a 100-day season, your chances of encountering more than a handful of skiers on any given day falls to near zero. 

Couple that statistic with the expansive views of the snow-covered Cascade peaks and the magical sight of Lake Chelan covered by a blanket of cloud that has to be a dead ringer for the long-ago glaciers that carved the lake and you’ve got a day you’ll never forget. 

And speaking of unforgettable moments — I’ll never forget a night Mary and I skied Echo under a full moon. The clear night sky was filled with stars and an occasional shooting star. The still air was crisp and so cold that my beard iced up with frozen breath. The moon shadows of pine trees were black etchings on the moon-lit snow. 

And all of it transpired in near total silence. It was like a dream.

Ken Dull retired from the Forest Service in 2016. He still thinks of himself as a lucky man to have been paid to hike and ski and tend to his beloved forests. 

I think the rest of us are lucky to have access to the wonderful ski trails of Echo Ridge that Ken and countless volunteers have nurtured over the last 30 years.

Lief Carlsen started Nordic skiing 45 years ago dressed in knickers and on wooden skis. These days he skate skis at Echo Ridge.

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