If you want to glide across Colorado’s perfect powder, but you don’t want fight long lift lines, consider taking your skis in the backcountry.
Cross-country skiing, also called Nordic skiing, comes with extra peaceful scenery and a more old-fashioned, serene atmosphere.
Colorado has more than 20 Nordic centers, and many of the most popular ski resorts, from Aspen to Vail, offer cross-country options. There are also dude ranches with groomed trails, free trails, nonprofit organizations, clubs, lessons, plus special Nordic events and races throughout the state. You will find a network of trails dotted with warming huts in between.
Cross-Country Skiing Tips
Before you head out, make sure you heed these recommendations:
- Check avalanche conditions in the area you want to ski to make sure it’s safe. If you’re unsure, consult a park ranger or ski resort.
- Pack water and food to keep you energized and hydrated.
- Make sure you wear sunscreen. Yes, even in the winter. The high altitude means it’s easier for you to burn.
- Dress in layers, with the bottom layer a wicking material to keep you from getting too cold after you sweat.
- Check out the Colorado Cross Country Ski Association for more information.
- Ask the association about season punch passes that give you access to multiple resorts and discounts.
- If you love cross-country skiing, check out the Colorado Nordic Race series.
Where to Go Cross-Country Skiing
There are so many places to go Nordic skiing in Colorado that it's hard to narrow it down and pick just one. Here are four of our favorite places to go cross-country skiing in Colorado, all a little different—you'll find free trails, extremely remote destinations, and all-inclusive, luxurious resorts that will plan your cross-country adventures. Pick the one that's best for you.
Breckenridge Nordic Center
Breckenridge is known for its pristine ski slopes, but don’t overlook the Breckenridge Nordic Center, which offers 1,400 acres of groomed terrain. Although it’s not far from the bustling town of Breck (you can even take the free Ski and Ride shuttle to get there), the Nordic center feels like it’s a million miles away. There are few places in Colorado that rival the backcountry near the White River National Forest, with its sweeping mountain vistas and breathtaking forests.
Sign up for lessons before heading out on the trails by yourself, or go on a guided cross-country tour. The Nordic Center welcomes skiers of all ages, including children (who can even be pulled by special covered and ventilated sleds), and abilities.
The town is higher than many, at 9,600 feet above sea level, so this means some of the finest powder out there, and the Nordic center does a great job at keeping it all groomed and ready for adventure.
After a relaxing day gliding across the fresh snow, warm up in the lodge and tip back a pint in the tavern. Fill up on food specials before snuggling up by the oversized stone fireplace in the lounge.
Never Summer Nordic
If you want to skip the busy ski resorts, the traffic up Interstate 70, and instead, find some peace and solitude in nature, consider this option.
Never Summer offers remote backcountry yurts and huts in private locations in the state forest park near the small town of Walden. Stay in a yurt, take in the serenity, and then head out to go cross-country skiing whenever you want. No lines. No parking. No ski town hubbub. Just the mountains, the snow and your skis. Outside your door, you’ll find tons of old trails and roads for all levels of experience.
While the yurts are rustic and remote in the wilderness, they do have beds, a stove, cooking facilities (with propane stoves), and outhouses, so it’s like camping, but better. Each circular yurt is slightly different, and they have accessible ones for guests with wheelchairs.
This is a destination you will want to stay at for a few days, if not longer. But note that you can’t rent your skis and gear on site, so make sure you rent some from an outfitter before you get there. Don’t worry; it’s well worth the trek.
Vista Verde Ranch
If you want to plan a cross-country skiing adventure with personal attention in ultimate luxury, head to the all-inclusive Vista Verde Ranch near Steamboat Springs (in the town of Clark). This is one of the most high end (yet authentically Colorado) ways to get in the backcountry.
Vista Verde is an AAA Four Diamond resort with a variety of other awards, including being named a Fodor’s Choice.
For skiing, the ranch boasts more than 18 miles of groomed trails ideal for Nordic skiing, right in the heart of the Routt National Forest. For classic and skate-skiers, the trails are best for beginners and intermediate skiers.
Or go "Backcountry Touring," a type of skiing that’s sort of in between classic cross-country skiing and telemarking, and allows you to ski across frozen lakes, as well as up hills, across meadows, and more.
Sign up for a guided ski adventure to assure your safety (and learn something new, too), or take a ski class and higher level clinic. No need to rent before you arrive. The ranch’s Adventure Center has complimentary equipment for all kinds of skiing. Everything you need is right outside your cabin door with experts on hand to help guide you to have the best experience.
After your adventures in the backcountry, head back for made-to-order food—the three-course, candlelit dinners with wine are a food highlight. Then retreat to your private log cabin to soak in the hot tub. The homestead was built in 1935 and offers just 12 cabins.
Aspen Snowmass Nordic Trail System
When you think of Nordic skiing in Colorado, you have to include the amazing Aspen Snowmass Nordic Trail System, one of the country’s biggest, free trail systems. It offers more than 55 miles of groomed, free cross-country trails, funded by the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Program.
Enjoy these trails via skate and classic skiing, as well as on snowshoe, of course. The trails are appropriate for Nordic skiers of all levels.
Follow the trails between the beautiful towns of Aspen, Snowmass, and Basalt; the best way to do this unique trail system is to stop in each town for a food break. You will also find two centers (in Aspen and Snowmass) where you can rent your gear, sign up for lessons, and learn more about the trails.
You can find group classes (for all ages), private lessons, and group tours. Pick a tour that fits your level and needs: Owl Creek between Aspen and Snowmass and Moore Open Space to High School Tracks Loop are both for intermediate skiers, but the other two tours (Ashcroft and Pine Creek Cookhouse; and the North Star Nature Preserve) are suitable for all levels.
Tours include everything you need, from rentals to snacks. Want an upgrade? Request lunch at the Pine Creek Cookhouse to refuel for an added cost.
This option is great because it's free, yet it’s not as remote as an isolated yurt getaway. You still have ties to the popular ski towns, and you get in on the winter action but without the hefty price tag. And you still get to skin the powder.
Nordic Ski Events
Local tip: This is a great place to catch some Nordic events. In February, there’s the annual Owl Creek Chase and Tour, a non-competitive classic ski race from Snowmass to Aspen. Mid-February, there’s the Ski For the Pass 7K Class, a benefit ski race for the Independence Pass Foundation. It welcomes competitive and non-competitive skiers. The races are a great excuse to plan a Nordic skiing adventure to Colorado.