For most people, alpine skiing is what they refer to when they talk about sliding on snow. You ride a chair lift to the top of a hill and glide down to the base to be carried back to the summit on the lift. But there’s another way to get around on snow, one that predates the invention of the ski lift by 5,000 years: Nordic skiing, also known as cross-country skiing.
Nordic skiing, named for the region of Europe where the sport is thought to have originated, is a great way to enjoy the peace and solitude of the mountains in winter. The skier provides the forward momentum with gliding or skating motions on skinny skis clipped in at the toes. For those new to the sport or looking to for safe place to ski with maintained trails, there are Nordic centers all over the Rockies, where you can rent gear, take lessons and enjoy slick, groomed trails.
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1. Breckenridge Nordic Center
Play on 1,400 acres of terrain in the shadow of the mighty Tenmile Range that forms this ski town’s dramatic backdrop. This Nordic center is just minutes from Breckenridge but offers a quiet wilderness experience, and there’s a warm lodge and tavern for when you can no longer feel your toes. For more information, visit breckenridgenordic.com.
Price: $20 per day for adults, $15 for seniors and children
2. Crested Butte Nordic Center
If you’re looking for an alternative activity to downhill skiing or some good cardio, enjoy a quiet day on the more than 30 miles of groomed trails. This Nordic center also has a large yurt that hosts dinners and music, ski-in. For more information, visit cbnordic.org.
Price: $20 per day for adults, $16 for seniors. Passes and rentals are free for children 17 and under.
3. Aspen Snowmass Nordic Trail System
The Roaring Fork Valley is home to 55 miles of groomed Nordic trails, making it one of the largest free trail networks in the country. There are gear shops in Aspen and Snowmass, and skiers can explore the area around either town or go from town to town. For more information, visit aspennordic.com.
4. Wolf Creek Ski Area
Most people come to this remote southern Colorado ski area for its huge dumps of snow, but the ski area also grooms 10 miles of trail winding around the base of the mountain for cross-country skiers and snowshoers. There’s a burger shack along the way or you can warm up in the main lodge at the base area. For more information, visit wolfcreekski.com.
5. Beaver Creek Nordic Center
You’ll have to ride the Strawberry Park Lift to access the 20-mile trail network in McCoy Park, but that just means better views. The posh resort of Beaver Creek will feel miles away as you skate and glide on the groomed trails. For more information, visit beavercreek.com.
Price: $38 for adults, $26 for kids 12 and under
BONUS: If you’re ready to challenge yourself…
Leave the comfort of the Nordic center behind for a true backcountry skiing experience. These three trails offer pristine mountain scenery and plenty of solitude. Skiing in the backcountry requires different gear and more attention to safety, so be sure to have plenty of layers, lots of water, a map and compass, flashlight, first aid kit, and a ski partner. Also be aware of avalanche conditions and avoid steep terrain above timberline when the danger is high.
1. Boreas Pass Road
This is the original railroad route into Breckenridge from South Park with a modest grade as it runs six miles to the old Section House. The Section House has been restored into a winter backcountry rental, available through the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. You’ll get a sense of the isolation the railroad operators and passengers must have felt up here, deep in the snow. For more information, visit huts.org.
2. Cottonwood Pass
This high alpine pass near Buena Vista closes to cars after the first snow, offering a pleasant Nordic skiing experience far from any ski area. Enough snowmobiles use it that the road is usually groomed, perfect for Nordic skiing.
3. Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area
Along Interstate 70 is a winter wonderland of 55,000 acres of snow-draped forest, punctuated with ridges that offer stunning views of the heart of the Colorado Rockies. There are 119 miles of trails, much of which is non-motorized, so leave the fumes of snowmobiles behind and escape into the woods. There are also several ski-in, ski-out overnight huts in the area, administered by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. For more information, visit fs.usda.gov.
Price: $6 per day
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