Try Nordic Skiing and avoid queues

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions


cross-country skiing as the sun sets

cross-country ski-ing as the sun sets

Rocky Mountain National Park, established in 1915, is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. The Park shows off the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, with elevations ranging from 8,000 feet in the wet, grassy valleys to 14,259 feet at the windswept top of Longs Peak.  It is close to such iconic towns as Estes Park, Grand Lake, Boulder, Nederland, and Winter Park and includes breathtaking road tour, such as Trail Ridge Road (a feat of 1930’s engineering, one of 10 America’s Byways in Colorado, and a nationally designated All American Road,) that crosses the Continental Divide. If you go, you’ll almost surely see alpine tundra, wildlife galore such as elk, mule deer, big horn sheep, moose, beavers, and if you’re lucky, bears and more.

A delightful way to see the Park and the surrounding wilderness area is to get out of one’s car and do some active touring – whether hiking, climbing, cycling, or, if lucky enough to visit before the end of April or so, Nordic skiing (also called cross-country skiing.)

More than 40 percent of the people in the U.S. who Nordic skied in last year’s season are also alpine downhill skiers, but according to the SnowSports Industries America trade association, some will never turn back. Our aging “baby boomers” are seeking safe, enjoyable, affordable (a Nordic skiing day pass typically costs about $20US, versus over $100US for downhill skiing) and aerobic activities and Nordic skiing, for many, fits the bill.

But is it more appealing than downhill ski-ing? Dee, an avid skier who moved to the Rockies from Ohio to be close to the mountains, claims that – for her at least – the serenity of cross-country skiing is nothing like downhill ski-ing. She says that cross-country ski-ing makes you totally aware of nature as well as the birds and the silence of the trails without people around you.

some prefer to walk or glide...

some prefer to walk or glide…

Many alpine ski resorts are opening Nordic centers, and Colorado ski areas are following that trend, catering to baby boomers who seek something outdoorsy, fun, and invigorating, yet safe and easy on the joints. Best of all, there are no chair lift lines and much lower prices for both equipment rentals and trail passes. One can learn how to Nordic ski in minutes, renting equipment is very speedy as well, and, if so inclined, more adventurous types can find suitable terrain on their own and ski for free.

The Colorado Cross Country Ski Association is a non-profit organization made up of 17 Nordic ski resorts, ski clubs and guest ranches. Colorado has a combined total of 547 Km of groomed cross-country skiing trails, as well as average mountain snowfalls of over 300 inches annually and 300 days of sunshine each year, with almost six months of cross-country skiable conditions in some of the most spectacularly beautiful mountain terrain found anywhere. Some of the resorts with Nordic centers include such downhill ski resorts as Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Eldora, and Vail, with others, such as Devil’s Thumb, specifically offering only Nordic skiing. The Home Ranch, Latigo Ranch and Vista Verde guest ranches also offer Nordic skiing, and also offer horse-back riding and western ranch experiences.

My husband and I visited Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Colorado last weekend to experience Nordic skiing. We’re now converts – lifelong downhillers both, we’ll probably always opt for Nordic skiing in the future.

...others are more athletic...

…others are more athletic…

Just a bit less than two hours from Denver International Airport,  (which has direct air links with the UK)  drivers avoid the nasty I-70 ski traffic by veering off to Highway 40, which takes them up Berthoud Pass (just a bit scary!) and through the bustling, very popular ski resort town of Winter Park (which also offers world class white water rafting and mountain biking in the summertime, with more than 600 miles of marked and mapped trails.) One can stay here at many smaller establishments, such as the Vasquez Creek Inn, conveniently located next to McDonalds (for those traveling with little ones) and across the street from the Visitors Center, which has free maps and advice on what to do  in the area.

Winter Park is about a 45 minute drive from the less traveled west entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, and Devil’s Thumb Ranch is some 15 minutes from Winter Park, on the way to the Park. The original ranch, built in 1937, was turned into a vacation ranch in 1946, and was modernized and expanded when the current owners bought it in 2001. Now rather posh, the 6,000-acre Ranch sports geothermal heat, reclaimed wood and many other environmental features. Features include stables for horseback riding, a full spa, events center and upscale dining. The area around the ranch is named Devil’s Thumb, according to local legend, due to the rocky outcropping towering high over the ranch.

...but the Devil's Thurm Ranch is hwere we all meet for a good meal and a drink and then bed.

…but the Devil’s Thumb Ranch is hwere we all meet for a good meal and a drink and then bed.

With more than 100 kilometers of groomed trails for Nordic skate and classic skiing and snowshoeing, the Nordic center offers private and group lessons and full rentals. Dogs on leashes are welcome on the dog-friendly trails, and if you and your dog desire, you can take up the sport of skijoring, (also known as ‘ski driving,’ in which one’s dog pulls them on skis.) Day visitors to the Ranch are welcome, at $20 each for unlimited skiing, with rental packages going from $10 daily for youngsters and over 65’s, $20 for adults.

For more information on Colorado Nordic/cross-country ski resorts, click here.





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