Nordic Skiing in the San Juans: What To Know

A trio of skate skiers on a sunny day in the San Juans.
A trio of skate skiers on a sunny day in the San Juans. Katie Klingsporn
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In Telluride, alpine skiing gobbles most of the spotlight with its flashy gear, bright colors, and photogenic powder turns.

But alpine’s less glamorous cousin—the cardio-heavy, skinny-ski pastime of Nordic—is also thriving in the little ski town. And with winter arriving on the back of frosty mornings and recent snowstorms, the hills and dales of summer will soon transform into the Nordic trails of winter. Some trails have already been rolled, and a big snowstorm this week could mean more groomed trails within days.

With a dedicated trail maintenance team, local events and a wide array of free trails, Nordic skiing is a fantastic—if underrated—winter pastime in Telluride. Here’s what you need to know about skinny skiing in the San Juans.

The Different Disciplines of Nordic Skiing

A skate skier glides up the freshly groomed Trout Lake track through falling snowflakes.
A skate skier glides up the freshly groomed Trout Lake track through falling snowflakes. Katie Klingsporn

Nordic skiing can be a serene tour through the winter landscape or a killer cardio workout that improves balance, strength, and fitness. While classic Nordic skiing utilizes ski traction and the push-and-pull motions you may remember from your mom’s NordicTrack, skate skiing is a lung-pumping endeavor that requires continuous use of legs and arms in V-shaped movements to keep momentum up.

A tour on a classic set-up is great for those who want to soak in the scenery; a good long skate will leave even elite athletes flattened. And maneuvering the lightweight skate skis through curvy sections or down steep hills can be flat-out thrilling. Telluride’s groomed trails all feature a wide skate track and classic track. It’s up to you to decide what you’re in the mood for.

One-Stop Nordic Shop

Looking for lessons? Need to rent gear? Or check the trails report? The Telluride Nordic Association, a small nonprofit that operates out of an old Victorian house in Town Park adjacent to the park's trails, is the go-to resource for Nordic skiing in the San Juans. It opens November 21

Along with keeping the free trails at Priest Lake and Trout Lake professionally groomed, the TNA offers classes, organizes events, rents equipment, tunes skis, and maintains a grooming report on its website. It's fueled by memberships, donations and a small army of loyal volunteers who care for a big system of trails.

A Rundown on Nordic Trails in Telluride

Classic skiing at the top of Lizard Head Pass.
Classic skiing at the top of Lizard Head Pass. Katie Klingsporn

Groomed trails of varying lengths and levels unfurl in meadows and forests across the Telluride region during winter, from the Valley Floor on Telluride’s doorstep to Lizard Head Pass south of town, offering a quiet escape, a killer workout, and an alternative to lift laps. Best place for lunch laps? Town Park's system of circles. Sunniest skate skiing? The loops of the Valley Floor. Looking for a lung-busting workout? Climb Boomerang. And for those who can carve out a few hours or spend a half-day on the trail, Priest Lake and Trout Lake are both absolutely worth the drive and effort.

With its steep hills and fast turns through the trees, Priest Lake offers the best destination for expert skaters out there. New trails and expanded parking—the result of a TNA plan approved by the U.S. Forest Service—will be available this season. Trout Lake, meanwhile, traces the old Galloping Goose railroad grade from a historic trestle to the top of the pass, where you can celebrate your accomplishment with laps in the sun. Since it's high-altitude and shady, Trout Lake is often the first, and last, place to Nordic ski of the winter.

Hone Your Skills

A classic skier hits the Town Park loops after an early season storm.
A classic skier hits the Town Park loops after an early season storm. Katie Klingsporn

For adventurers looking to nail their skate technique, or just learn how to clip into their binding properly, the Telluride Nordic Association hosts lunchtime clinics and demo days all winter long at Town Park, each tailored to a skill set. Classes are a great way to prepare skiers for the Telluride's two rootsy annual Nordic events: Full Moon Skiing on the Valley Floor, a moonlit tour of the open space land featuring a progressive meal and bonfire, and the Butch Cassidy Ski Chase , longtime tradition that brings a mix of elite skiers, kids, and families to Priest Lake every February to duke it out on the Nordic course.

One-day workshops start on December 20 with a Locals' Nordic Clinic, and weekly classes begin on January 4 with Beginner Classic. There's even a class for kids; SnowCats for students in grades 4-6 begins February 16.

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