Tim Grier is predicting a great winter for cross country skiing.
It's not just wishful thinking for the owner of the Forest Lakes Touring Center.
"I'm quite a weather buff. I have been seeing all the folklore signs: shaggy elk, woolly worms, tall sunflowers," Grier said.
He has been in the cross country tour business on the Rim for 24 years, so he has had plenty of experience with seeing the signs Mother Nature sends.
But, he admits, after five or six years of having a deficit of snow, there might be a little bit of wishful thinking in his forecast.
Grier has the longest operating cross country business in the state. He started his ski tours in the Rim country in 1978, working out of the Kohl's Ranch Lodge, then he was based at the Christopher Creek Lodge.
The business did well enough for him to buy property and build a cabin in Forest Lakes in 1980 for a touring center. The cabin is now the equipment shop and there are seven cabins available to rent for $75 to $85 a night.
There are both one- and two-bedroom units, all equipped with kitchens, color televisions, with satellite service, and everything else you will need for a mountain get-away.
Generally booking just a week in advance is enough time to reserve a cabin, but around the holidays, Grier suggests making a reservation at least a month in advance.
You don't have to wait for the snow to enjoy the touring center though. Fall has already arrived in Forest Lakes and the nine trails used for cross country skiing are great for hiking too, Grier said. In fact, because they were used for fire lines during the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, they are wider than they used to be. The fire did not reach the area though, so the beauty remains untainted.
To prepare for the snow he is expecting, Grier is remarking the 36.2 miles of trails now. When they were widened, some of the markers were lost, he said.
Each trail was hand-picked by Grier and he named them as well. Some of the names are Wedding Day for the white trail; Feelin' Blue for the blue trail; and Dare Me for the red trail.
He explained the color codes for cross country trails are not the same for downhill skiing, where the varying colors signify the skill level recommended for a trail's use. The cross country trails are mostly flat. The only difference is their length, he said.
Grier said cross country skiing is accessible to everyone. He has more than 400 sets of skis, boots and poles available for rent, including skis for children as young as 3, as well as more than 200 pairs of snowshoes. With such a large inventory, Grier can accommodate large groups, such as scouts and church organizations.
"You just put the skis on and go. If you can walk, you can cross country ski. The Mogollon Rim is really flat, you can walk along and be successful right away," he said. But introductory lessons are available as well. The lesson is about 90 minutes and costs only $10.
To rent all the gear needed, and get a trail pass too, costs $16. With your own equipment, the trail pass is only $8. Snowshoe rentals are $10 for the entire day.
With cross country, you can go at your own pace, stop, admire the view, even brush the snow off a log or rock, sit down, have a picnic lunch and enjoy the Rim country in a very personal way.
Grier and two employees operate Forest Lakes Touring Center. The employees are at the center full time, while Grier is there weekends. During the week, he is Payson's assistant town attorney. Grier also has a bachelor of arts degree in English from Arizona State University and for a time in the 1980s did a lot of substitute teaching at Payson schools. He did seasonal work for the Forest Service for several years. This summer, he was one of the media contacts during the Rim forest fires, taking over for Jim Paxon when he finished his two-week rotation.
Over the years at Forest Lakes Touring Center, Grier has seen some boom days. One day the center had more than 400 skiers come through. It was also a favorite destination for large groups of Girl Scouts. There was a time when 50 of them would show up at once for cross country skiing.
"It has been quiet for quite awhile," he said. "It has been hard for everyone in the ski business, both downhill and cross country operations. It will take a while for people to remember Arizona has great skiing. We have the advantage of not being a fledgling company."