A Quick and Dirty Guide to Cross Country Skiing near Boulder

Christine Warner Hawks
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Boulder is teeming with avid cross country skiers who aren’t deterred by the fact that snow doesn’t stick around the city for long. They know that to seek the real bounty, you head for the hills west of town. Many resorts offer groomed trail networks for traditional cross country as well as skate skiing. If touring is more your thing, make a run for the woods. Trails meander through public lands off Peak to Peak Highway, beckoning you to explore a winter wonderland where time slows down under and a blanket of white. On bluebird days, lose yourself in the azure sky as your skis slide across a snowy landscape that sparkles like it’s studded with diamonds.

North Boulder Park

When there is enough snow, the Boulder Nordic Club grooms a track around North Boulder Park for classic and skate skiing. The ephemeral nature of the ski track is based purely on the whims of Mother Nature, which makes it all the more special. Expect the coldest days of January and February and the late snows of March and early April to provide the best conditions—and be sure to jump on the opportunity when it comes.

North Boulder Park is located between Alpine and Dellwood and 8th and 9th streets. The 2-kilometer loop is fairly flat. It’s a great place to get an hour-long burn while taking in the festive atmosphere of dogs, kids, and sleds. Bring a headlamp if you’ll be skiing after dark.

If you need to rent gear, head to Boulder Nordic Sport in the 3600 block of Arapahoe Avenue.

Caribou Ranch

James Dziezynsky

Nestled below the towering summits of Indian Peaks Wilderness, Caribou Ranch offers a fun, easy 4.5-mile loop just outside of Nederland and just an hour from Boulder. The trails follow former railroad beds and pass by several old homesteading sites, making for a scenic and casual day in the mountains. Head to Caribou for a quiet retreat away from the crowds, which tend to migrate towards nearby Brainard Lake in the winter. Caribou Ranch is perfect for the first-time skier, families, or those looking to get in a few laps for fitness.

When you’ve finished exploring, stop off in nearby Nederland for a hot toddy, local craft brew, or early dinner on your way home.

Moffat Road

James Dziezynsky

Just 29 miles from Boulder, the old Moffat Road was built to support a train that went up and over the mountains and connected the Boulder Valley to Winter Park. The railway was abandoned in the 1930s, but the modestly graded road remains, making it the perfect tour for cross country skiers who don’t mind making their own tracks. It’s 9 miles to the top of Rollins Pass, which sits at 11,680 feet—but you don’t have the make the full trek to enjoy great views and a solid workout. More modest skiers will enjoy the simple out and back along relatively safe avalanche terrain.

Wind often greets you at the start but dissipates once you’ve climbed the first mile and turned north into the woods. Tall pine trees block the breeze yet let in views of western peaks and the northern Rocky Mountains. Skiers hardy enough to crest treeline are treated to the isolated beauty of Yankee Doodle and Jenny lakes. If you’re feeling especially burly, you can ski up and over the pass and descend into Winter Park (car shuttle recommended). Be prepared for some snowmobile and showshoe traffic on winter weekends, although it’s generally pretty quiet.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch

Devil's Thumb Ranch

Just two hours from Boulder, the privately owned Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash offers more than 77 miles of cross country ski trails, the majority expertly groomed, that cater to all levels of cross country skiers. Easy-to-follow maps and signs make navigation a breeze, so you can focus on the stunning scenery—a quiet, dreamy valley surrounded by towering mountains. Stick around for the magic hour when the long shadows of the Gore Range to the west linger during an alpine sunset.

Casual skiers and first timers will love the groomed green trails. Those looking for a hearty workout can challenge themselves to cover as much ground as possible. If you are inclined to indulge after your ski day, a spa and lodge, restaurants, and other amenities are a great way to wind down.

Frisco Nordic Center

Frisco Nordic Center

Located about an hour and a half from Boulder on a peninsula in Lake Dillon in Summit County, the Frisco Nordic Center is one of the closest Boulder-area Nordic centers that offers quality, dependable cross country skiing all season long. Cross country skiers of all levels will love the scenic, groomed terrain and variety of well-maintained trails. For beginners, there are flat, easy options right out the door. Intermediates should head to the Frisco Bay Loop—unless it’s windy, as Frisco Bay is battered by winds that come across Lake Dillon, causing drifting snow and chilly fingers. There are also plenty of great loops for advanced skiers. Some fast sections that lead to intersections, so use caution when descending steep hills.

The Nordic center offers equipment rentals, ski service, snacks (including hot soup), friendly services, and a small selection of clothing, gloves, ski wax, and tools. For those who like to work on their own skis, there is a public wax bench outside the lodge.

Resources

Races: Eldora Nighthawks and Boulder Nordic Junior Racing Team
Group: Boulder Nordic Club
Retailers: Neptune Mountaineering and Boulder Nordic Sport
Also check out: Eldora Nordic Center

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