A lodge for cross-country

According to owner John Slouber, Royal Gorge Nordic Resort, located here in Soda Springs near Lake Tahoe, is one of two resorts in the US designed only for cross-country skiing.

When Mr. Slouber started Royal Gorge six years ago, nordic skiing wasn't that popular. Now cross-country is a skiing success story. But for many enthusiasts , the beauty of it all is that there's no need for lifts, mountains, or, indeed resorts. So what does Royal Gorge have to offer? Trails that wind through pristine snow-covered meadows; trails that wind around majestic pines. The air is always clean, and the only audible sound is that of long narrow skis cutting through the untouched snow.

Situated on 2,300 tranquil acres, far from the madding crowd -- and the madding snowmobile -- Royal Gorge has 100 miles of trails tailored for the beginner, intermediate, and the advanced skier. Included in the $95 weekend package are two nights lodging (Friday and Saturday), transportation to the lodge via snow-cat sleigh, five meals (country French cuisine), trail passes, lessons, and seminars. Rental equipment costs $10 for the weekend.

Also there are moonlight tours, sauna, hot tub, fireplace, library, and parlor games for the kids. The lodge is open only on weekends from Thanksgiving to mid May. But special five-day ski weeks, coinciding with Christmas, Washington's Birthday, and Easter are also available for $210 (children 14 years and younger $135).

The lodge itself, built in 1922, is cozy, informal, and rustic and does not offer private rooms. Originally it was used by hunting parties. Occupancy level in the dormitory, split-loft sleeping quarters is for 41 persons, who may choose from a bunk bed or single bed accommodation on a first-come basis. Though there is no privacy, the arrangement has not been a deterrent to business. On the contrary, Mr. Slouber literally has to refuse thousands of requests each season because there isn't simply enough room. "Even though we cannot offer a room to a couple, they still conform to the style and spirit of lodge. We've never had any problems about people not getting along," he said. But just in case, "if someone is unable to adapt, we'll arrange for a private hotel in nearby Soda Springs, which is just a 45-minute sleigh-auto ride."

Admitting that overcrowdedness can develop too in cross-country skiing Mr. Slouber said that such inconveniences can be avoided if proper track systems are designed. So Royal Gorge has added four new trails to its system just this year.

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