Leavenworth Winter Sports Club has replaced its troubled annual outing to Blewett Pass with a 26-mile ski trek near Lake Wenatchee.

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As I ski along trails in the Lake Wenatchee valley, it strikes me: I’m just two hours from Seattle, yet I’m in the middle of some of the best cross-country ski terrain in the Northwest.

Wide trails groomed with a corduroy pattern seem to stretch forever. They network and branch, some meandering through the woods, while others climb to panoramic openings.

The scrape-swish sound of my skis echoes through evergreens cloaked with heavy clusters of snow. Every so often, one of them sheds its load, triggering a small avalanche that momentarily blots out the sky.

The lake I round is frozen many inches thick, its shore studded with cabins. Ice fishermen dot the center like ants.

In a few weeks, these same trails will host hundreds of cross-country skiers for the second annual Moose Dewlap Citizen Trek, Feb. 27.

The 26-mile trek, organized by the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club (LWSC), will take skiers on a tour of the fabulous terrain I was previewing, gliding through forests and up hills to sweeping mountain views, with ups and downs of 2,525 feet of elevation in a single day.

The name of the event honors the moose families that have recently returned to the Wenatchee Valley, according to LWSC events and marketing coordinator Susan Woods. Several moose sightings have occurred in recent years near the trek’s starting point. For the uninitiated: A moose’s dewlap is that floppy bit of skin under the chin of a male, the size and shape of which may indicate dominance level.

Woods encourages participants to dress in moose-themed attire and other costumes to celebrate the animal’s return.

The Moose Dewlap Trek will be a “popsicle loop” — an out-and-back with about a third of the trail forming a loop at the far end. It starts at the local airstrip before rounding Fish Lake — with those cabins and fishermen — and then passes through a forest of cedar, spruce and Douglas fir trees before climbing into the Meadow Creek Drainage, where skiers will enjoy expansive views of the Chiwawa and Meadow Creek valleys.

It’s about community

Unlike many organized events, the Moose Dewlap Citizen Trek isn’t a race — it’s more of a relaxed, fun event. The point isn’t to be first, but to participate and enjoy winter with fellow-minded skiers.

Last year, the youngest skier was 12 years old and the oldest was 75. Four hundred skiers are expected for the Moose Dewlap, making it one of the largest ski events in the state.

Rather than an “after” party, the biggest celebration will take place at the high point of the route, at Aid Station 3, which sits at 3,350 feet.

“It’s a beautiful venue. The view up there is amazing. Last year the sun was out, and people would just hang out at the bonfire and visit with all the other skiers, enjoying warm food and hot chocolate. It’s a real social event,” says Woods.

New location

The Moose Dewlap replaces the popular Hog Loppet ski trek, which LWSC hosted for more than a decade. Woods says they changed the venue because the original route between Mission Ridge and Blewett Pass saw several years of poor conditions, which forced them to cancel the event.

“One year the wind was blowing so hard the chairlifts couldn’t run. One year there was low snow so skiers couldn’t get from one place to the next. Another year there was so much snow there was an avalanche danger,” says Woods.

By contrast, the trails near Lake Wenatchee are much safer, more reliable and ideal for cross-country skiing. Much of the route travels through tree cover, which helps if things are windy, and they’re sheltered from avalanche danger.

Even during poor snow years like last winter, there was still enough coverage to run the event.

The trails have been in great shape most of the winter and there’s plenty of snow on the ground.

Another up side to the new location is that it’s easier for skiers to travel only part of the route. If trekkers get tired, have equipment problems or suffer from blisters, it’s easy to turn around and ski downhill, or hitch a ride on a snowmobile, says Woods.

“On the Hog Loppet, skiing part of the route wasn’t an option because participants had to ride the chairlift to the top of Mission Ridge. Once they started, they had to complete the route. There was no turning back,” says Woods.

The LWSC will organize four aid stations to provide skiers with snacks and water. Volunteers from the Lake Wenatchee Recreation Club and Bavarian Boondockers snowmobile club will be positioned between the stations to assist skiers with emergencies.

Part of what the club wants to do is help the relationship between snowmobilers and skiers, she says.

“A lot of the time, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers don’t get along because of the trail issues. So we’re actually trying to bring those two groups together to have a better understanding about sharing the trails.”

The entire route will be groomed with wide corduroy for skate skiing, and grooved ski tracks for classic skiing.

Woods says that 98 percent of last year’s participants used skate skis, which require more technique to master. But it’s certainly possible to do the entire 26 miles using classic skis.

Woods recommends that beginners ski only the first third of the route, which is fairly flat and includes the scenic section around Fish Lake.

If you go

Moose Dewlap Citizen Trek

Where

Starting point is Lake Wenatchee Recreation Club (14400 Chiwawa Loop Road), near Lake Wenatchee, Chelan County.

No parking pass required at the Lake Wenatchee Recreation Club. A Sno-Park pass is required at the airport Sno-Park or on the shoulder of County Road 22.

When

Saturday, Feb. 27. Registration 6:30-8 a.m. Start time 7:30-8:30 a.m. No skiers will be allowed to start after 8:30.

If you’re a good skier and spend an hour at the Aid Station 3 bonfire, expect to take around 5-6 hours. If you’re a novice, the first third of the route (to the start of the loop) is a good goal.

Cost

Online registration by Feb. 5 is $55. Feb. 6-21, it’s $65. In-person, first-come, first-served registration on the day of the event is $70. Participation will be capped at 400 skiers.

Ski rental

Skis may be rented at Osprey Ski Shop, Leavenworth Mountain Sports, Der Sportsmann and Plain Hardware. While you usually can’t reserve skis in advance, Woods recommends renting them the day before the event to ensure you can get your size.

More information

See skileavenworth.com/events/moose-dewlap-citizen-trek-0