Fresh snow, groomed tracks and miles of trails – Nordic skiing is one of the best, off-the-beaten-path alternatives to downhill skiing in Colorado. While Nordic skiing looks deceivingly like a leisure sport – the skill and technique required to glide across the snow does take some work. But with a little determination and knowing what equipment best suits your interests – you’ll be ready to ditch the crowded slopes and gondola rides on your next day trip to the Rockies. The best part is – there are miles of trails and designated Nordic centers all within a day’s trip from Denver. But before sending you off on your first trek – here’s a quick breakdown of the different types of skiing you can choose from. A successful day spent cross-country skiing often depends on what gear you choose. So, what’s the difference between classic skis and skate skis?
Types of Skis
If you’re planning on spending the day on groomed trails or you’re a beginner to the sport – classic skiing is the way to go. Unlike downhill skis – classic skis are much thinner. They also differ in that the boots are slimmer, lightweight and come up just above your ankle. More importantly – the heel of classic ski boots is never bound to the ski, which permits flexibility and movement. The motion of classic skiing is similar to jogging as it propels you forward in the tracks.
Skate skiing on the other hand can be challenging. Similar to ice skating – skate skiing requires a v-shaped technique that is accomplished through practice and training. While you don’t have to ski inside of tracks like in classic-skiing – skate skiing is normally done on a groomed trail.
For more information on how to choose the right Nordic skis – visit this guide at REI. And remember – it doesn’t hurt to try a new sport out without fully committing to buying the gear. Most Nordic centers and ski rental shops offer day-rentals. This gives you time to figure out whether you’ll be back for more serene trips across the snow or training for the next winter endurance event.
Now that you’re ready to hit the trails – you might be wondering where to go. On the bright side – you don’t have to book a trip to Northern Europe. Instead, here’s a list of where to Nordic ski near Denver.
Bakerville to Loveland Trail
Distance from Denver: 53 miles
The Lowdown: Located near Idaho Springs – the Bakerville to Loveland Trail is a 9.7 mile out and back trail rated easy or good for all skill levels. The trail takes you through the Arapaho National Forest – gaining 1,128 feet and leads to the Loveland Ski Area. According to recent reviews on AllTrails – there are new port-a-potties at the trailhead and snow conditions have been good as of January 2021. While parking is conveniently right off the highway – tuning out I-70 traffic tends to be the only downside to this Nordic adventure.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Distance from Denver: 64 miles
The Lowdown: Although there are no groomed trails or private tours available at Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) – you can certainly rent a pair of cross-country skis and ski for free in the National Park. There are no fees to enter the park beginning in October. And as a reminder, because there are no tracks within the park, skate skiing is a better option when visiting RMNP. Additionally, the park recommends heading to the west side for better snow conditions.
Many of the main trails within the park are good for Nordic skiing. A good moderate-level trail is Bierstadt Lake Trail off of Bear Lake Road – which offers rewarding views of the park. For more information on winter recreation in RMNP – visit its website here.
Frisco Nordic Center
Distance from Denver: 73 miles
The Lowdown: The Frisco Nordic Center (FNC) offers 30 kilometers of ski trails and plenty of nearby, family fun. Private lessons are available three times a day and are $65 per person or $50 per person in a group of five or more. If you’re looking to build on your cross-country ski skills throughout the season – FNC also offers a Lesson Punch Pass. This pass is good for four lessons and saves skiers $10 per lesson. Other opportunities at FNC are the skate ski clinics which range from $120 to $150 per season. For more on lessons and clinics go here. Both classic and skate ski rentals are also available, ranging from $10 to $30.
Breckenridge Nordic Center
Distance from Denver: 82 miles
The Lowdown: A day trip to the Breckenridge Nordic Center (BNC) is family friendly fun. Lessons are available four times a day and are for skill levels and ages. Group beginner classic lessons are $70 per person which includes a trail pass (value of $25) but not gear rental. Groups are limited to eight people. Group private classic and skate lessons are better for larger groups and children under 12 and cost $120 per person. For those who wish to work one-on-one with an instructor – BNC also offers private classic and skate lessons. Go here for more information on gear rental, trail passes and reservations.
Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center
Distance from Denver: 82 miles
The Lowdown: Snow Mountain Ranch (SMR) boasts more than 1200 kilometers of world-class Nordic skiing terrain. From the hilly trails sought by elite skiers to loops around the Nordic center for beginners – SMR offers something for everyone in the family. An adult single-day pass costs $25, children six to 12 years of age $10 and children five and younger ski for free. Classic ski rentals are offered at full day and half-day and lessons are available for $40 at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Interested in a 12 to 24-kilometer ski trek? Check out the SMR Facebook page for more information on skiing from Granby Ranch to Snow Mountain Ranch this February.
Tennessee Pass Cookhouse and Nordic Center
Distance from Denver: 110 miles
The Lowdown: Tennessee Pass Cookhouse and Nordic Center (TPCNC) offers a unique experience just outside of Leadville near Ski Cooper. This cabin-style hidden gem is tucked away in a remote location and offers a family-style meal and cozy yurts to rest your head. Private 90-minute lessons are available for $50 and group lessons are $50 plus $35 per additional skier. TPCNC also offers $18 daily trail passes and $95 season passes. Learn more about their menus and specials here.
Distance from Denver: 102 miles
The Lowdown: For those who are up for a challenge – with an elevation of 10,152 ft. Leadville is the perfect place to go. America’s highest-elevation city is home to breathtaking views of Mt. Elbert, Mt. Massive and Mosquito Range. No matter the skill level – Leadville has nearly 100 miles of groomed trails and some of the deepest snow in the rockies. For more information on the trails and gear rental – visit Leadville Ski Country. And don’t forget to check out the comprehensive Grooming Report.