“The cross-country skiing industry expects a significant increase in skiers this season due to the increased interest in outdoor activities,” says Reese Brown, managing director of the cross-country skiing association. But don’t worry: there is plenty of space for everyone to spread out. If you’ve never thought about cross-country skiing, this may be the winter for you. It’s a great way to get outside and explore, and it’s a deserted activity, of course. While you can drive through the forest on your own, a designated cross-country ski area offers grooming, trail maps, equipment rentals, and instructions. In any case, imagine empty paths through a vast forest and, unlike ski resorts, few lines, lodges and expensive tickets. Here are seven of our favorite places to enjoy the sport.
(Photo: Courtesy Jeff Dow)
Tahoe City, California
Tahoe XC (day passes starting at $ 36) isn’t the biggest area on this list – it has around 30 miles of groomed trails, about a quarter the size of the better-known Royal Gorge, 45 minutes away – but it’s full of character and charm. The hotel is located in Tahoe City, California, about three and a half hours from San Francisco. From the top of the Lakeview climb, get panoramic views of North America’s largest alpine lake and a wooden bench to catch your breath. You will find three heated huts, snowshoe-specific trails, and six miles of dog-friendly trails. The homemade chocolate chip cookies, usually available from a jar at the lodge, will be served to take away this year.
Devil’s Thumb Ranch
(Photo: Courtesy Devil’s Thumb Ranch)
The best way to explore the 75 miles of cross-country ski trails at Devil’s Thumb Ranch is to stay on the property. The resort has 15 private cabins of various sizes as well as lodge rooms (from $ 279). Spa treatments such as massages and body baths are currently only available to Lodge guests, with COVID-19 protocols in place. However, you don’t have to be an overnight guest to enjoy the trails, which are open to day visitors for a $ 30 ticket. Equipment rental and instruction can be added. There’s also an option to ride the trails on fat tires, as the resort offers bike rentals and guided tours. You are just 20 minutes from skiing at Winter Park Resort and less than two hours from Denver.
(Photo: Courtesy Methow Trails)
It takes four hours to get to Methow Valley from Seattle, but it’s well worth the trip. This remote corner of northern Washington looks like Switzerland with its jagged, snow-capped peaks. Methow Trails is home to the largest cross-country skiing area in North America and offers more than 200km of trails (day passes from USD 25; skiers under 17 or over 75 ski for free). Sections of the system allow biking with fat tires, snowshoeing, and skiing with your dog. The piste rendezvous huts, which you can combine for a skiing experience from hut to hut, are booked months in advance. Instead, check out the six sleek, architect-designed Rolling Huts (starting at $ 145) nine miles northwest, or look for other accommodations in the nearby towns of Winthrop, Twisp, or Mazama.
Theodore Wirth Regional Park
(Photo: Courtesy of the Loppet Foundation)
There is no better cross-country skiing near a large metropolis. The extensive network of trails in the state’s Theodore Wirth Regional Park (day tickets start at $ 20) features over 20 miles of hiking trails that meander through remote forests, all of which offer views of the Minneapolis skyline. The Loppet Foundation, a partner of the park, offers cross-country skiing courses for all ages. A World Cup cross-country event was scheduled to take place here in March last year – it would have been the first Nordic World Cup in the United States in almost two decades – but it was canceled due to COVID-19.
(Photo: Courtesy of Galena Lodge)
You get to Idaho’s Galena Lodge (day passes from $ 18) for cross-country skiing – there are over 30 miles of perfectly groomed trails through a breathtaking stretch of the Sawtooth National Forest – but you stay for the food. The in-house restaurant serves steaming bowls of curry, soup and chilli as well as European-style sausage platters and freshly baked pastries. This winter there will also be a food truck in a vintage RV with a simple take-away service. Stay in a yurt on the property (from $ 150) or in the nearby town of Ketchum. Skiing in the Sun Valley is only 30 minutes away.
(Photo: Courtesy Green Woodlands)
Dorchester, New Hampshire
Green Woodlands, a property between the towns of Lyme and Dorchester, New Hampshire and about two hours north of Boston, has so much to offer. The family, who run the Green Woodlands Foundation, opened the country up to mountain bikers in summer and skiers in winter, groomed around 30 miles of trails and stocked four warming huts with hot chocolate. There is no fee for skiing here – all you are asked is a positive attitude on the trail. Skis and boots are even borrowed for free through an honor system. The routes were designed by a longtime Dartmouth College ski trainer and an Olympic biathlete named John Morton.
(Photo: Golero / iStock)
You can also ski for free at Meissner Nordic Ski, a network of trails on US Forest Service land 14 miles west of Bend along the Cascade Lakes Highway on the way to the Mount Bachelor Ski Area. However, you will need a $ 4 Sno Park permit to park here. Donations for the use of hiking trails are welcome. The club, which maintains the area, also supplies the hiking huts along the way with firewood. Visit us for a full moon night ski when the trails are lined with lighted candlelight bags, or opt for the free ski learning days where volunteers give lessons and local ski shops hand out courtesy rentals.
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Main Photo: Courtesy of Daphne Hougard