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Experience the Rockies, one Nordic Center at a Time

Experience the Rockies, one Nordic Center at a Time

If you’re in search of snow and top-notch Nordic skiing, there’s one place where the climate, topography and ski culture all coalesce into a land of powder and adventure. I’m talking, of course, about the heart of the American Rockies, that band of icy peaks and precipitous gorges that comes alive each winter with snow lovers from all corners of the globe. While there is excellent Nordic skiing to be found along the whole chain of the Rockies, there’s a particularly dense and beautiful cluster of ski centers in Utah and Colorado. Because I wanted to maximize the skiing terrain that can be covered within a week’s road trip, I started my Rocky journey on the west end of this two-state region, in Salt Lake City, before heading east towards central Colorado. From Salt Lake I began the beautiful northern route around the loftiest peaks of the Wasatch Mountains, on whose slopes famous resorts like Alta maintain some of the finest Alpine ski terrain around.

In less than an hour I had made it to Park City, home to the first Nordic center on my list. White Pine Touring is unique in that it is both extremely accessible (located right in downtown Park City) and offers breathtakingly good skiing (not to mention their exceptional gear, lessons, and tours). Terrain runs the gamut from a beginner-friendly 3k loop to a strenuous 10k loop that climbs and overlooks the picturesque McPolin Farm. These well-groomed trails (prepared for both skate and classic skiing) already sit at Park City’s impressive 7,000 feet above sea level, and offer even more impressive views of the towering peaks above.

From Park City it’s a short drive on to the stunning ski town of Midway, home to the acclaimed Soldier Hollow Nordic Center. After spending the day scooting along White Pine’s trails, and before embarking onto Soldier Hollows I opted to spend the night in Midway (the description of the town as a “little Switzerland” was enough to make me want to spend more time there). Now, if Soldier Hollow rings a bell, that is because the Nordic Center was purpose-built for the 2002 Salt Lake City winter Olympics. It hosted all the Cross Country and Biathlon events, and even included a “Western Experience” village for spectators to enjoy.

Today, the incredible system of trails, features and lodges assembled for the Olympics is carefully maintained and open to the public. It includes 30 kilometers of crisp corduroy and classic tracks, tubing and biathlon facilities, and a stunning central lodge, built in grand alpine style. The trails too, as one would expect, are stunning. They wind in tight switchbacks up into the hills above “the hollow,” and plunge down again, offering the thrills and climbs that one expects of Olympic-level terrain, while balancing it out with generous gentle cruisers. As with White Pines, a look in nearly any direction offers sweeping views of the nearby mountains and gives one the sense that he is moving through them.

Though the skiing in the Park City/Midway region was stunning, in the spirit of adventure, I trucked on through the deserts and past Dinosaur National Park (and through the town, yes the town, called Dinosaur) to the massive Aspen Snowmass Nordic Trail System. Known for its eponymous alpine ski resort, celebrity scene, and high-end real estate, Aspen, CO is also home to one of the most exciting Nordic centers around.

By “center” I don’t just mean the Aspen Nordic Center itself; the place is also physically at the center of over 90 km of exquisite Nordic skiing terrain.  Following the European model, according to which cross country ski trails are used to connect villages in alpine valley regions, Aspen Snowmass connects Aspen, Snowmass Village, Woody Creek, and Basalt with accessible and exhilarating Nordic trails.

In fact, the trail system could hardly get more accessible. Not only do the trails edge up to any number of roadside trailheads, but over 60km of the trails are also free. This system allows for one of my favorite ways to ski: Aspen Snowmass offers long, beautiful point-to-point and looped ski tours, which, combined with a backpack of water and snacks, can offer a day of new views and interesting terrain, as well as a sense of real accomplishment at its end. With free shuttles operating between many of the points included in the trail network, you can also easily plan a destination ski—say, a lunch in Snowmass—and take the bus back to Aspen in time for dinner.

Obviously, there’s enough Nordic terrain in the Aspen area to occupy a week’s stay. However, if you’re like me and part of the fun of travelling is coming across as many new and interesting sights and skis as possible, then there’s (at least) one more Colorado destination to add to the list. This last spot is not one Nordic center, but a famous Colorado ski town that serves as home to an impressive list of top ski centers. Breckenridge sits two hours east of Aspen, and boasts both the Breckenridge Nordic Center and the Gold Run Nordic Center, each of which has its own unique appeal.


We’ve written about this before, but it is too special not to mention again. If you are in the Breckenridge area, be sure to catch up with Nordic Director Gene Dayton and let him set up the mountain tour of a lifetime for you. While this is hardly a replacement for a ski tour, it is a great way to soak in the natural splendor of the Cucumber Gulch Preserve, including all those little details that become blurry during a brisk-paced ski. Additionally, if you are travelling with those who don’t ski, the Cat is also an excellent way to for them to get a window into the skier’s perspective.

Returning my rental car before boarding a flight out of Denver, I reflected that there were few better ways to see the Rockies than from a pair of cross country skis. Thanks to the impressive array of Nordic centers scattered across the region, one can easily while away a week’s vacation on the trails, taking in the diverse and often other-worldly beauty that the heights of Colorado and Utah have to offer. Happy trails!

About The Author

Pete Wilson

Pete is a Vermont native with a lifelong love of being outside. Ever since he bushwhacked a ski trail through his parents’ property, he’s been hooked on getting into the woods--whether it’s on skis or snowshoes, or going out for a trail run or a long hike. He studied English at Carleton College, and now after four years in Minnesota is back in the Green Mountains exploring the endlessly beautiful and intriguing locales across the Northeast.


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