Racing on skis down a cruiser run or bouncing through moguls can be a blast. But, let’s face it. Downhill skiing at one of Colorado’s downhill ski resorts involves a lot of logistics. Scoring a parking spot and waiting in lift lines takes patience.
If you’re looking for some snowy serenity and a great workout instead, try cross-country skiing in Colorado.
It costs far less than downhill skiing (also known as alpine skiing). Learning the basics is simple. And, along with great exercise, you can find some solitude on the many cross-country skiing trails in Colorado.
Once you get out on a trail, peace will envelope you. You’ll notice birds hopping around on snow-tufted pine branches. You’ll feel your heart pounding. And the sensation of skis gliding in smooth snow is utterly mesmerizing.
Here’s how to get started. Your best bet the first time is to try basic touring skis. The boots are lighter weight and more comfortable than clunky ski boots. You’ll simply lace them up, fasten the toes of the boots into the ski bindings, then essentially start walking through the snow. This is known as classic skiing. In the old days, cross-country skiers slicked their skis with wax so they’d glide better in varying conditions. But these days, you can get waxless skis, so you don’t need to worry about wax and weather.
People who love running can try skate skiing. Instead of just walking or gliding, skate skiers push off with each step, glissading on snowy tracks and getting a great workout in as little as 30 minutes to an hour. Skate skiing requires wider trails, so looked for areas with groomed trails.
And adventurous souls, who love to cover a lot of miles and ascend steep terrain, can invest in more expensive backcountry skis with skins that attach to the skis to make it easier to climb hills. But, don’t venture out into the backcountry without learning how to stay safe. Colorado nearly always has the grim distinction of posting the highest number of avalanche deaths in the U.S. each year. You should only head into the backcountry with proper avalanche training and safety gear. Learn more from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
If you’re a beginner, just try cross-country skiing on a flat spot.
Some cities and towns in Colorado open their public golf courses to cross-country skiers for free when there is enough snow. A large park is also a good place to start. Avoid hills until you get the hang of the basics because skiing downhill on skinny cross-country skis can feel very wobbly, and turning is tough without edges.
On the flats, once you get the hang of walking, you can try to kick the ski with each step and glide a bit. But you don’t even have to bother doing that. You can just go for a walk on skis, and since you’re busy moving both your arms and legs, you’ll get a great workout and will stay warm even on freezing-cold days.
Many kids think cross-country skiing is boring because it’s so quiet and you have to work harder than you do on downhill skis. But, for adults coping with busy lives, cross-country skiing provides a dose of meditative calm. And parents with babies can rent sleds and tow little ones wrapped in blankets behind them. Front packs and backpacks (for older babies) work well too. Infants and toddlers can snooze or feel the fresh air while parents enjoy a little adventure. Everyone is happy.
Give cross-country skiing a try at these excellent starter spots:
Aspen Snowmass Nordic Trail System: When you think of Aspen, you no doubt picture Hollywood stars dining in chichi restaurants and shopping at designer boutiques. The concept of “free” opportunities in Aspen hardly comes to mind. But Aspen and surrounding communities in the Roaring Fork River Valley proudly boast one of the largest free trail systems for cross-country and skate skiing in the U.S., thanks to funding from the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Program. The network of nearly 55 miles of trails runs from Aspen and Snowmass Village to nearby Basalt. Dogs are allowed on some trails, and rentals are available at two locations: the Aspen Cross Country Center and the Snowmass Cross Country Center. Enjoy!
Eldora Nordic Center: Located 21 miles west of Boulder in Nederland, the Eldora Nordic Center is a great place for both beginners and more advanced skiers. Both cross-country skiers and skate skiers will love the spectacular views of the Indian Peaks to the west. Eldora offers nearly 25 miles of trails along with rentals, lessons and clinics. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily during ski season. For information, call 303-440-8700. Located at 2861 Eldora Ski Road in Nederland.
Frisco Nordic Center: The town of Frisco in Summit County offers a great center for cross-country skiing where you’ll see young and old alike enjoying snowy trails. Rentals and lessons are available. Start with the easy Chickadee Loop (about 1.6 miles). You can graduate to tougher terrain if you feel more comfortable. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day in the winter. Call 970-668-2570 for more information. Located at 616 Recreation Way. Dogs and fat bikes are not allowed.
Breckenridge’s Nordic Center: The town of Breckenridge is one of Colorado’s highest-elevation ski towns at about 9,600 feet above sea level. So, you can get your heart pounding quickly at the town’s Nordic center, which boasts more than 18 miles of groomed classic and skating skiing trails. The center also offers trails for fat bikes and snowshoes, along with sleigh rides, lessons and rentals. Bonus: for under $10, you can get soup for lunch. Open daily throughout the winter from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 970-453-6855 for more information. Location: 9 Grandview Drive in Breckenridge.
Grand Lake Nordic Center: This center is special because you get to see the peaks on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, and you just might see a moose, too. Grand Lake offers nearly 22 miles of trails for both skate skiing and classic skiing. There’s a loop you can do with your dog, along with a free tubing hill for kids. The center has rentals, lessons and soups. Kids ski free on Fridays (except for holidays). Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 1415 County Road 48 in Grand Lake.
Haymaker Nordic Center in Steamboat Springs: Perfect for beginners, the Haymaker Nordic Center is a great place to try classic and skating skiing. It’s a small spot with just 6 miles of trails, but they’re groomed and ready to go. Lessons and rental gear are available, along with fat bikes and food at the Haymaker Bar and Grill. Dogs are allowed on the trails on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Call 970-879-9444 for more information. Address: 34855 E. U.S. Highway 40 south of Steamboat Springs.
Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center at the YMCA of the Rockies, Granby: Snow Mountain Ranch boasts nearly 75 miles of trails, including a couple where you are allowed to bring a leashed dog. The center also caters to people on fat bikes and snowshoes. The trails range from beginner to advanced loops. Rentals and food are available. Open daily during ski season from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 970-887-2152, ext. 4173.