In Colorado, a pair of cross-country skis can transport just about anyone from their everyday life into a peaceful forest environment of snow-laden trees, white meadows and trails running along frozen creeks. A hidden world of winter beauty and sensational settings can be unveiled throughout the Peak to Peak Region and neighboring Clear Creek, Grand and Summit counties, by visiting the region’s Nordic centers and easily accessible backcountry trails.
For residents and visitors to the region, there are no shortage of places to get out and put a pair of free-heeled skis, and their bodies, to work. Winter is a spectacular time to visit the area’s forests, wilderness areas, state park and Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s also the best time to visit a Nordic center for great trails and plenty of additional activities and amenities close at hand.
As amazing as it can be, hazards exist when in the backcountry. Skiers must be prepared for avalanches, quick changes in weather and exhaustion. Skills and gear to handle the risks are essential. Always dress in layers with insulating, waterproof clothing, protect your eyes and skin with sunglasses and sunscreen and carry water.
Backcountry options abound throughout the region. In the Estes Park area, private lodges and resorts offer groomed trails for cross-country skiing and thousands of accessible acres are available in Rocky Mountain National Park. Non-profit Rocky Mountain Conservancy and other Estes Park-based outfitters provide guided backcountry treks.
The Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests and the Indian Peaks, James Peak and Mount Evans wilderness areas—which run from the National Park south to Clear Creek County and from western Boulder County to Grand County—provide a lifetime of backcountry skiing options including the popular Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Huts, yurts and cabins located in the area are also accessible to skiers.
There are more than 12,000 acres of forest, rocky peaks and aspen-rimmed meadows with miles of trails for winter sports enthusiasts at Golden Gate Canyon State Park in Gilpin County while Clear Creek County offers several outstanding backcountry options including Old Squaw Pass Road, South Chicago Creek Trail, Echo Lake, Bakerville-Loveland Trail, Mount Evans Scenic Byway and Argentine Railroad Grade Trail.
Even more prime, backcountry skiing exists in the thousands of acres of public land between Estes Park and Georgetown.
Avoid backcountry hazards, get on the snow quickly, try additional snow sports and have top amenities close at hand by visiting the region’s many Nordic centers.
Eldora Mountain Resort Nordic Center, which plans to open on weekends beginning Dec. 2, is adjacent to the downhill ski area and offers 40K of groomed classic and skate trails through alpine meadow and pine forest. It provides cross-country and telemark ski lessons while the Nordic lodge offers food and Nordic rentals.
Summit County is home to several cross-country skiing options including Breckenridge Nordic Ski Center, Gold Run Nordic Center, Frisco Nordic Center and Keystone Nordic Center. All are either currently open, or plan to begin operations in early December. Join the staff of Gold Run, Dec. 3-4, for its annual, free Open House event.
Many more Nordic center options exist in nearby Grand County including the C Lazy U Ranch, Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Granby Ranch, Grand Lake Nordic Center and YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch. Most open by mid-December and host a variety of early season events.
Devil’s Thumb Ranch is celebrating its 15th year of Nordic skiing on the 75-year-old ranch. Until Dec. 15, enjoy $15 trail passes, $15 cross country and snowshoe equipment rentals, and 15 percent off annual passes. The Tommelfest and Holiday Gift Market is Dec. 10, while annual Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve celebrations return again this year.
Guests staying at YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch receive complimentary trail passes. New this winter are Break the Ice Weekends—Dec. 17-18, Dec. 31- Jan. 1, Jan. 14-15, Jan. 28-29, Feb. 4-5 and Feb. 18-19. They include free guided ski and snowshoe hikes and other activities.
The Grand Lake Nordic Center offers all Grand County residents and second home owners a free trail pass, Dec. 3; hosts a Full Moon Ski Event, Dec. 10; and provides free Nordic ski lessons, Dec. 18.
Granby Ranch opens Dec. 17 and hosts a Locals Appreciation Night the same evening. Also, donate a bag of non-perishable food items, Dec. 18, and receive a free adult lift ticket.
There are also many outfitters in the region that lead trips and still more that rent and sell equipment. Most offer knowledgeable advice on local trails for any specific ability, and current conditions.
During a normal season, there is plenty of snow to access any of the most popular trail systems by December, but this year is different. While some areas are receiving plentiful snowfall, others are getting next to nothing. Be sure to check conditions before planning an outing.
REGIONAL NORDIC SKIING AREAS & RESORTS
Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests
303-541-2500 • http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/arp
Breckenridge Nordic Ski Center
970-453-6855 • http://www.breckenridgenordic.com
1200 Ski Hill Road, Breckenridge
C Lazy U – Guest Ranch
970-364-0411 • http://www.clazyu.com
3640 Hwy. 125, Granby
Devil’s Thumb Ranch Nordic Center
970-726-8231 • http://www.devilsthumbranch.com
3530 County Road 83, Tabernash
Eldora Resort Nordic Center
303-440-8700 ext. 267 • http://www.eldora.com
2861 Eldora Ski Rd #140, Nederland
Frisco Nordic Center
970-668-0866 • http://www.frisconordic.com
616 Recreation Way, Frisco
Gold Run Nordic Center
970-547-7889 • http://www.goldrunnordic.com
200 Clubhouse Drive, Breckenridge
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
303-582-3707 • cpw.state.co.us
92 Crawford Gulch Road, Golden
888-850-4615 • http://www.granbyranch.com
1415 County Road 48, Grand Lake
Grand Lake Nordic Center
970-627-8008 • http://www.grandlakeski.com
1415 County Road 48, Grand Lake
Keystone Nordic Center
970-496-4275 • http://www.keystoneresort.com
100 Dercum Square, Keystone
Rocky Mountain National Park
970-586-1206 • http://www.nps.gov/room
1000 Highway 36, Estes Park
YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center
877-683-3082 • http://www.ymcarockies.org
1101 County Road 53, Granby
Originally published in the December 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly