Nordic Ski Colorado - The official cross-country ski guide
Article: Cross-Country Ski Centers ... Where to Get Started
groomed trail for cross country skiing
Cross Country Ski Centers groom trails for classic skiing in tracks and skate skiing on the middle corduroy groomed surface. Photo courtesy of Devil's Thumb Ranch.
By Jonathan Wiesel / Photo by Carter Photographics

I get asked a lot: What’s the best way to get started cross-country skiing in Colorado?

I think the real question is where to get started. I’ve worked as both a ski instructor and backcountry guide – and I can say with no hesitation that you’re going to learn a lot faster on machine-groomed trails, rather than breaking your own trail (what’s usually called ski touring).

If you’re about to ski for the first time, it’s worth knowing the difference. At a ski area, machines pack the snow so you’re riding on top of a solid surface, either in compressed tracks (track skiing) or on a wide flattened surface (skate skiing). When you’re in unpacked snow, one of your skis may ride up on top while the other nosedives – so it’s harder to keep from falling, as I’ve proven many times.

I learned to cross-country ski before there was machine grooming and I still love ski touring, whether it’s out in the real backcountry, over meadows, or at a local park or golf course. The thing is, after you ski on groomed trails and learn things like balance and gliding, it’s a lot easier to become a good off-track skier.

You can find groomed trails that are maintained by ski clubs, municipalities, or government agencies. Though sometimes the skiing can be great, they are usually pretty “bare bones” – basically parking, restrooms of some sort, and trails.

skate skiers at a Nordic Center
Skate skiers climb a hill at a Nordic center.
Another option is to visit a Nordic center (also called cross-country ski centers). Colorado has phenomenal variety – everything from day areas to self-contained destinations that deliver complete vacations. Services can include machine-groomed trails for skiers (and maybe dogs), instruction, guide service, equipment rental, clothing retail, snowshoeing, food, lodging, spas, ice skating, sleigh rides, and, in one case, a bowling alley. There are services ranging from heated restrooms to hot chocolate!

What’s maybe most remarkable is the diversity in the kinds of Nordic centers you’ll find in Colorado, each giving a different experience. There are golf courses, day areas that run only in winter, operations affiliated with downhill ski resorts, non-profits, towns, even real estate developments. And Colorado has the greatest concentration of winter guest ranches in North America, where you can not only ski but in some cases go horseback riding.

If you’re from out of state, there’s every excuse to visit Colorado for at least five days to get altitude acclimated and sample at least a couple of Nordic centers. And if you live here, you’re probably only an hour (or two) from great places to ski groomed trails.

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