WAPITI, Wyo. — A five-kilometer race, run or walk is a staple fundraiser for community nonprofit groups across the country. It’s relatively simple to organize, and draws a wide range of participants—some are zealous competitors, others show up mainly to support a beloved cause.
But the most exotic and popular 5K fundraiser in Cody doesn’t have any running, and it isn’t a race. Instead, it features stops at several points along the course to sample treats like artichoke dip or tomato basil soup.
And it all takes place in the dead of winter. On snowshoes and skis. Along an icy river in a snow-covered forest, 50 miles from town, at the edge of Yellowstone National Park.
Now in its 10th year, the Park County Nordic Ski Association’s (PCNSA) Taste of the Trails drew well over 200 nordic (or cross-country) skiers and snowshoers Saturday who sampled appetizers, entrées and desserts at five tasting stations across a three-mile path through the Shoshone National Forest.
Joy Ness was skiing with her granddaughter, Danielle Dearcorn, both from Powell, as well as her son. Mark Ness, and other granddaughter, Morgan Jacobs, who both traveled from North Dakota to visit her and participate in the event.
“I love the outdoors, so anything like this, I’m up for it,” said Ness, 76, who has attended the Taste of the Trails for the last five years. “The food is good, and we enjoy the stops where we can warm up along the way.”
The group liked the soups served each year, as well as a spread of dozens of desserts laid out at the end of the trail.
“I always get a kick out of how they make the tables out of snow,” Jacobs said. “It’s so adorable.”
The overcast day saw intermittent light snow and temperatures hovering around eight degrees. But participants didn’t seem to mind, and were thrilled with the surreal and delightful experience of enjoying hot, tasty, homemade food along the trails that wind around Pahaska Tepee Resort, where the event was based, and where U.S. Highway 14-16-20 ends in winter to become a route for off-road activities.
Wanda Webb, of Wapiti, is a PCNSA member, but had never attended the event before because she could never score tickets. But this year, she bought some for her group from a last-minute seller.
“It’s way fun,” she said while sampling cheese and sausages and warming up next to a mobile fire pit mounted on an old set of skis. As her group geared up to move on to the next station, Webb had only one question: “Where’s the hot chocolate?”
Despite the obvious challenges, organizers said they look forward to the perennial puzzle of staging Taste of the Trails each winter, a logistical and creative struggle they appear to now have down to a science.
“What happens is we get a group of people who have so much fun together that we forget that it’s hard work,” said PCNSA board member Karen Devenyns by phone Wednesday, as she joined five other volunteers who were preparing food for the event.
Early Saturday morning, volunteers groomed the snowy trails before loading sleds towed by snowmobiles to move tables, food and other supplies to the tasting stations. This year’s culinary theme was “comfort food,” featuring favorites like chicken noodle soup, meat loaf, mashed potatoes and green beans.
The group limits attendees to 300, with the $40 tickets routinely selling out well in advance.
“Every year, the money goes straight back to the nonprofit to maintain the trails and cover grooming costs. It is our only fundraiser.” Devenyns said. “We want to introduce people to nordic skiing and all the family fun that’s available at the end of the road.”
In addition to grooming and maintaining trails for use by the public, the group also installed and maintains a warming hut that is available to members.
Sherrie Frame, a personal chef and caterer who helped establish Taste of the Trails, praised a core group of volunteers she said was key to the event’s initial launch and continued success.
Frame has spent the past few winters in Texas to be close to her grandchildren, and said she misses the event and the camaraderie of “working with a bunch of women, all in their 70s, who make food for 300 people and then stand in the snow to serve it up hot.”
“If I had to use one word to describe that event, it would be ‘joy,’” Frame said by phone. “To see grown adults come skiing up with ruddy cheeks, out of breath, and watch their faces light up like little kids as you serve them beef bourguignon or soup with turkey and wild rice—it’s just pure joy.”
Reprinted with permission from WyomingTruth.com.