Colorado is loaded with amazing downhill skiing and snowboarding options, but not everyone feels the need for speed. Some prefer the natural approach and the quiet comfort of a cross-country ski outing.
Boulder County is teeming with options for those who prefer to go skinny. It’s easy to hit a neighborhood park, trail—even a quiet street—when powder packs the ground.
Those looking to enjoy a cross-country outing should consider several nearby options—here are a few of our favorites.
Eldora Mountain Resort
More info: Eldora.com
The ski area has been in business for 60 years. For a quick and easy workout, it’s conveniently located just 35 minutes from Boulder and offers more than 40 kilometers of cross-country trails to explore. There are options for both classic skiing (on groomed, parallel tracks) and skate skiing.
The Nordic Center at Eldora has a range of cross-country options that offer skiers the chance to glide on green (beginner) to black (advanced) tracks, typically from November to April.
Eldora has expanded its parking lots, which should make life easier for weekend warriors, but weekdays are still the best option to avoid logistical hassles and crowds.
“On a Saturday, you can be in the base area and it can feel busy,” says Sam Bass, the ski area’s marketing director. “But if you strap into Nordic skis, head 30 yards in the woods, you are on a quiet, forested trail. You won’t see a lot of people. It’s a beautiful and peaceful experience.”
Given Eldora’s elevation at over 9,100 feet, you can bet that a short glide through the Nordic Center’s terrain will be a challenge.
“The trails call for some climbing,” Bass says. “You’ll gain a couple of hundred feet. It can be strenuous if you are not used to the altitude.”
Ambitious skiers can leave the groomed area and head into nearby U.S. Forest Service land, too.
“It’s very pretty, open land,” says Bass. “It’s not groomed. You are on your own.”
North Boulder Park
More info: bouldernordic.org/trail-conditions
Those who don’t want to travel far can practice their Nordic skills at any park. North Boulder Park (at 8th and Dellwood) is one of the most popular.
When the snow unloads on town, there are sure to be skinny skiers gliding around amid kids building snowmen and dogs romping in fluff.
With the blessing of the city, the nonprofit Boulder Nordic Club grooms the 1.25-mile track for classic and skate skiing. The route is flat and open, which creates the perfect setting for practicing cross-country skills or trying the sport for the very first time.
“The ski loop here is short, and it gets crowded, but it is still nice to do a short ski at a lower elevation,” says Nathan Schultz, founder of Boulder Nordic Sport. “It’s a very nice place to ski. It’s easy to get to and you’ll be in the city and have nice views of the Flatirons.”
There are also stores nearby to rent or buy gear for all the cross-country fun, including Crystal Ski Shop and Boulder Nordic Sport, to name a few.
More info: bouldernordic.org/cu-south-groomed/
The CU South campus at Table Mesa Road and U.S. 36 is another popular spot to skinny ski without driving into the mountains. This area, which is also groomed by Boulder Nordic Sport, has more trail options than North Boulder Park.
“I go there because there is a good amount of terrain and there are lots of trails to explore,” says Schultz. “The only drawback is there can be a lot of hikers out there and they can destroy the trails. But if you get there after the grooming, it can be very nice.”
The track here is not too rigorous. The route is flat and often filled with dogs or kids sledding on some of the small hills in the park.
More info: bouldercounty.gov/open-space/parks-and-trails/caribou-ranch/
Caribou Ranch, located about 31 miles from Boulder just outside of Nederland, has a 4.5-mile loop for cross-country skiers. The moderately difficult terrain is set in a historic mining camp and homestead, at about 8,000 feet of elevation.
“A majority of the trail is on an old railroad grade—it’s wide and flat,” says Sarah Andrews, the Boulder County ranger who oversees Caribou Ranch. “Having those nice, wide, flat trails allows people to cross country and not be too tight with each other.”
The trail takes skiers through pine trees and an open meadow with aspens at higher levels.
Expect crowds on the weekends and try to get there early to get a parking spot. And be sure to bring the little ones, too, if they’re interested in cross-country skiing.
“This area is also a fantastic place for families, it’s just a mellower spot,” says Andrews.
More info: fs.usda.gov/recarea/arp/recarea/?recid=28182
The Brainard Lake Recreation Area is also brimming with great Nordic action. It’s about 45 minutes from Boulder in the Indian Peaks Wilderness off the Peak-to-Peak Highway.
No dogs are allowed here, and it can get very windy at times. But there is lots of elevation gain to explore throughout the trail system, which means you can get in a great workout while skiing here. The elevation maxes out at 10,700 feet.
The trails can take you past serene frozen alpine lakes. There is even a Colorado Mountain Club Cabin near Brainard Lake that has coffee and cocoa on the weekends.