Add variety to your cross-country skiing with a visit to these Nordic ski areas
Routines are great if you want to form a good habit. Routines are not so great when they morph into little mental prison cells. Raise your hand if you’ve been diligently touring the same Nordic ski areas season after season ad nauseam. Well, if you’re up for a jail break this winter, plug these destinations in your navigation system and hit the road.
Grand Mesa – Grand Junction, Colorado
If Grand Junction has been on your radar, it’s likely because of its emergence as a hub for outdoor recreation – in part, due to a growing mountain biking scene. While the iconic mesa stretching across the city’s horizon contains a plethora of single track, in winter it’s home to an expansive cross country ski area. At 11,332 feet elevation, Grand Mesa is the largest flat-top mountain the world and receives upwards of 300 inches of snow annually.
The Skyway/County Line and Ward Nordic areas offer 50 kilometers of groomed skate-classic trails, as well as endless views of the San Juan Mountains and Battlement Mesa. In the Skyway/County Line area, most trails are easy to moderate, although there are some steep descents. To the East, the Ward area offers a mix of steeper groomed and ungroomed backcountry touring options, as well as a few loops for your pooch. For maps and more information, visit the Grand Mesa Nordic Council’s website.
Arizona Nordic Village – Flagstaff, Arizona
Who says you can’t visit the Grand Canyon and ski in the same day? Just north of Flagstaff sits the Arizona Nordic Village, where over 40 kilometers of skate and classic trails wind through the Coconino National Forest and glimpses of the surrounding mountains peek through the ponderosa pine and aspen. While this is an excellent option for day recreation, we recommend renting one of several backcountry yurts for a full weekend. In addition to rental skis for adults and children, the Arizona Nordic Center also offers lessons for both skate and classic skiing.
Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area – Red River, New Mexico
At nearly 10,000 feet elevation in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area is nestled just below the summit of Bobcat Pass. While this part of northern New Mexico is the epicenter of the state’s downhill ski industry – with four resorts within easy driving distance of one another – it’s also home to an excellent variety of Nordic trails.
Enchanted Forest features over 30 kilometers of easy to very steep classic and skate trails, five kilometers of which are open to dogs. If you don’t have your own gear, rentals are available, as are group and private lessons. Starting in November, Enchanted Forest offers two yurt rentals with a pulk – or sled – included. Check out the trail map online.
La Sal Mountains – Moab, Utah
As if you needed another reason to visit Moab. The La Sal Mountains – those lonely white peaks growing out of the red rock desert – offer an unexpected mix of groomed Nordic ski areas and backcountry skiing terrain. Winding through aspen groves and passing through quiet mountain meadows, this secluded trail system just off the La Sal Mountain Loop Road offers a variety of easy to challenging terrain.
Volunteers from the Lower Utah Nordic Alliance maintain trails around Geyser Pass and Gold Basin, but it’s also possible to venture into the backcountry. If you plan on doing so, be prepared to navigate avalanche terrain. Visit here for more details on Nordic skiing in Moab.
Cumbres & La Manga Winter Recreation Area – Chama, New Mexico
Yes, we know the Cumbres & La Manga Winter Recreation Area is in Colorado, but the easiest access point is through the small town of Chama, just south of the border in New Mexico. This isolated area is often blasted by the same legendary storms that hit Wolf Creek and therefore has reliable snow throughout the season. Located on Highway 17 between Cumbres and La Manga Pass, this winter recreation area is open to snowmobilers, as well as Nordic and backcountry skiers. Don’t worry, there are numerous user-groomed cross-country trails winding throughout the forest, most of which access rentable yurts for overnight adventures.
If you’re feeling a bit competitive, Ski Chama organizes the annual Chile Ski Classic – a two-day event with numerous classic and skate ski races in addition to snowshoe and rookie events. The course is a 6-kilometer loop that includes a section of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad track. The 2020 event will take place on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, January 18-19. The course will continue to be groomed by volunteers for roughly a month after the race. Head over to www.skichama.com for more info on the trail system and the Ski Classic.
MARGARET HEDDERMAN writes essays, screenplays, and the odd bit of fiction. She also produces multiday experiential events like the Women Outside Adventure Forum. Her work is available at www.margarethedderman.com.