Skiers plunging down Buck Hill's 15 open runs face east as they swish-swash on the slope toward Interstate 35. Since about Thanksgiving, if you've looked at the resort from any direction it's hard to miss the high-powered snow-making.

The result? While the rest of the area has mustered brown lawns for the majority of late fall and winter, skiing at Buck Hill has been a powdery mass of magnificent.

The status of the fifth annual Buck Hill Invitational was never in doubt.

"It's surprisingly good," said Julie Welsh of the Buck Hill racing department. "Even though [it's been] a little warm, the snow conditions are just fabulous. It's always a little difficult, but we're just bearing through the warm weather."

Welsh said area teams and ski enthusiasts from across the state have filled Buck Hill's terrain on a regular, normal basis.

This Friday 22 high school teams will gather at Buck Hill for one of the largest days of racing before next month's state meet at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.

One of the runs at Buck Hill is known as "Olympic Dreams," but just having the opportunity to ski during an unusually warm season is reward enough.

"I don't like driving in it, I don't like shoveling it. But it sure is nice to ski," Blake coach Bob Teslow said last week via phone from, ironically, a holiday vacation in Arizona.

Teslow, a past president of the alpine ski coaches association, said most skiers on his boys' and girls' teams should be at Buck Hill on Friday. A number of teams will be missing skiers because of large-scale club-team events held this weekend in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and La Crosse, Wis.

"I made it known to our captains that we're looking to get out of our slump," Teslow said.

Blake's boys' team hasn't been to state since winning back-to-back team championships in 2006-07. The girls' team has missed out on state two consecutive years. "This should be a pretty good measuring stick," Teslow said.

Burnsville, the host school, is looking to get back on track with its boys' program. The Blaze -- somewhat of a surprise entrant into last year's state meet -- returns four top scorers from last winter but stumbled out of the gate this year.

Coach Derek Nash said the team's early-season scores "aren't what we're capable of."

What better than a day of skiing on their home hill to turn things around?

NordicRich Heilman, coach of Lakeville North's Nordic skiing programs, cracks the blinds in his bedroom each morning hoping to gaze upon bountiful amounts of snow.

But most of the winter it's been bare trees and yellow grass.

"I feel like I'm living a nightmare," Heilman said, half-jokingly.

The dry winter has forced metro-area Nordic skiing coaching into contingency plans, shifting schedules and adjusting workouts to ski on the small patches of available man-made snow locally or heading to Dresser, Wis., and Ironwood, Mich.

The impact of a challenging season will be felt at the Mesabi East Invite, the nation's largest high school race. This year's race takes place Saturday at Giants Ridge, also the site of February's state meet. Officials dropped the Giants Ridge Invite name after three years.

Close to 1,200 skiers have competed at the meet in the past, many using it as a warm-up for state. Pete Tremaine, Anoka coach and president of the Nordic Ski Association, fears those numbers, unlike the snow, will fall this year.

Barring an unforeseen dump of snow, skiers will be forced to make two laps on a 2.7-kilometer loop of man-made snow.

"I worry a lot of teams will stay home," Tremaine said. "There's been a lack of preparation, and it's a modified course that probably won't be like what they'll ski at state."

Added Heilman: "We'll make the best of it, but it's going to turn into more of a training meet for a lot of teams."

Heilman, who brought his skiers to Michigan last week, said he's relied more heavily than desired on training videos and dryland workouts.

About 40 of Tremaine's skiers enjoyed more than 100 kilometers of skiing last week in Dresser and Ironwood, making them a privileged minority in a winter of skiing discontent.

"You can roller ski and pole hike all you want, but nothing replaces being on snow," Tremaine said.

With an eye on showing well, Minneapolis Southwest coach James Dundon has tapered his skiers for the Mesabi East Invite in the past. He said the spirit of competition still exists this year, even if the conditions are less than ideal.

"It's still a big event no matter what," Dundon said. "It's still racing, and close to all of the top kids will be there."