Nordic skiing in Colorado

This winter, ditch the downhill for a day and check out Colorado's premier cross-country offerings.

Authored by Erin Malcolm

A person cross-country skiing past a cabin.
Courtesy Devil’s Thumb Ranch

Aspen Snowmass Nordic Trail System

Distance from Denver: 196 miles; 3 hours, 30 minutes
Trails: Six trails in Aspen, three trails in Snowmass, and two trails in Basalt
Terrain Level: Easy and intermediate
Other Amenities: Home of one of the largest free trail systems in the nation, Aspen Snowmass Nordic plays host to two fully equipped cross-country centers, run by Ute Mountaineer (the locally owned outfitting store), which offers a full suite of rentals, lessons, and gear. Private and group lessons available, along with cross-country ski tours.

Beaver Creek Nordic Center

Distance from Denver: 109 miles; 1 hour, 55 minutes
Trails: Nestled between Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch villages, McCoy Park features 20plus miles of groomed trails and vast views of three mountain ranges; it can be accessed via the Strawberry Park Lift, Chair 12.
Terrain Level: Beginner to expert
Other Amenities: Cross-country programs include introductory and next-step lessons, as well as McCoy Park afternoon tours and private instruction. The center offers classical, skate, telemark, and snowshoe equipment rentals, plus retail shopping and snacks.

A lady in a purple jacket cross country skiing.
Courtesy Breckenridge Nordic Center

Breckenridge Nordic Center

Distance from Denver: 80 miles; 1 hour, 30 minutes
Trails: More than 18 miles of thoroughly groomed trails, starting at 9,800 feet and winding through enchanting forests with spectacular mountain views.
Terrain Level: A destination designed for all types of Nordic sports and skill levels, the trail routes travel through the Cucumber Gulch Preserve and up into high country in the New Nordic World on Peaks 6 and 7.
Other Amenities: With the longest-running XC ski season in Colorado— from early November through April—the Nordic Center boasts steady snow conditions and set tracks for freestyle cross-country skiing, as well as 12 miles of trails for snowshoers. Get away for the night by escaping to the Hallelujah Hut or Kathy’s Viewpoint Cabin/Sauna, nestled near the upper trails.

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Crested Butte Nordic

Distance from Denver: 230 miles; 4 hours, 15 minutes
Trails: Dubbed the Nordic Ski Capital of Colorado, Crested Butte doles out 34 miles of impeccably groomed trails, with 20 scenic trail routes to explore around town.
Terrain Level: Aligns with its mission of “providing individuals of all ages and abilities the opportunity to learn, enjoy, and improve in the sports of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.” In other words, there’s a route for everyone!
Other Amenities: This nonprofit offers rentals, lessons, tours, and gourmet backcountry dining experiences, plus free trail passes for kids 16 and under.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch

Distance from Denver: 78 miles; 1 hour, 40 minutes
Trails: At the base of the Continental Divide, this spot boasts roughly 75 miles of pristine trails winding through the private Ranch Creek valley.
Terrain Level: A mixture of easy, moderate, and difficult trails, plus a kid-friendly beginner loop
Other Amenities: Ranked the third best cross-country ski resort in the 2017 USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards, Devil’s Thumb offers private and group lessons for novices, plus advanced technique clinics. Equipment can be bought or rented, and Fido (leashed) is welcome.

Eldora Nordic Center

Distance from Denver: 50 miles; 1 hour, 15 minutes
Trails: 25 miles of trails through pristine flora and fauna and serene mountain backdrops
Terrain Level: An array of groomed green, blue, black diamond, and double black diamond trails, with ungroomed sections scattered across the more challenging terrain
Other Amenities: Trails designed for cross-country, skate skiing, and snowshoeing, plus lessons available for all abilities, from beginner to expert. After (or before) havin’ a day of it, enjoy snacks and drinks and peruse outdoor accessories at the center.

A child snowshoeing through the mountains.
Photo by Bob Winsett

Keystone Nordic Center

Distance from Denver: 72 miles; 1 hour, 30 minutes
Trails: More than nine miles of groomed trails, plus access to more than 35 miles of trails in the White River National Forest
Terrain Level: Options for all XC ski abilities
Other Amenities: Get the group together for snowshoeing or old-fashioned tubing, perfect for families looking for some fun. Post-adventuring, warm up and refuel with hearty homemade classics at the Nordic Soup Bistro, or indulge in a little après at the bar, which serves beer, wine, soft drinks, and light snacks to munch on.

Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center—YMCA of the Rockies

Distance from Denver: 80 miles; 1 hour, 40 minutes
Trails: More than 74 miles of trails of exceptional terrain
Terrain Level: Short, easy loops through mountain meadows accessible for beginners, in addition to longer expert trails with steeper climbs for experienced racers
What’s New: Download the new Snow Mountain Ranch trails app to find all the ranch’s routes.
Other Amenities: This family-friendly spot offers snowshoeing and fat biking in addition to Nordic skiing. Pass options include a season pass, single-day and multi-day, with equipment rentals available, plus adult and children’s Nordic lessons. Bonus: Your canine companion is welcome to adventure in the snow with you (on a leash) on select trails.

Steamboat Ski Touring Center

Distance from Denver: 155 miles; 2 hours, 50 minutes
Trails: Nine miles of groomed trails (for both classic and skate skiing) winding through aspen groves alongside Fish Creek Falls
Terrain Level: A quarter of the terrain is beginner level, with the rest serving intermediate skiers.
Other Amenities: The Touring Center specializes in skate and classic lessons, as well as backcountry ski touring guides. The shop carries clothing, accessories, equipment, and a full line of skis from notable Nordic brands like Fischer, Rossignol, Swix, Craft, and Bjorn Daehlie. Seasonal and day passes and gear rentals available.

A close up on the foot of a cross country skier.
Courtesy Vail Nordic Center

Vail Nordic Center

Distance from Denver: 96 miles; 1 hour, 45 minutes
Trails: 10.5 miles of skate and classic track, groomed daily
Terrain Level: Eight loops and trails, ranging from beginner to expert level
What’s New: Eight miles of fat bike snow trails with fat bike rentals available, plus a new cozy Nordic lodge area for lounging before or after outdoor endeavors
Other Amenities: Daily lessons on classic and skate skiing offered, plus specialty clinics on technique and tuning for adults and children. Rentals available, plus peruse the shop for clothing, accessories, and a full line of Fischer, Salomon and Rossignol skis and boots.