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A Winter’s Trail


If lift tickets aren’t in the budget, try Alpine’s skinny Nordic cousins—classic and skate. Nordic skiing is relatively inexpensive, convenient and can work your body like an SAS selection march.

Nordic skiing “appeals to a variety of people” says Mark Flolid, president of the Boulder Nordic Club. He says runners and cyclists gravitate to skate skiing for its off-season cardio benefits. Classic skiing attracts people of all ages and fitness levels. Visit any Nordic center on a weekday and you’ll see groups of seniors on classics.

To Skate or Classic?

This depends on what your goals are. Try them both if you’re not sure. Skate skis are shorter and thinner than classics and the motions are more akin to skating. Push out one ski, plant your poles, glide. Repeat with the other ski. When done properly, skate skiing is as graceful as ice skating. Well, maybe Chazz Michael Michaels on ice. To skate you need a groomed trail.

Skate skiing was pioneered by American Bill Koch in the 1980s. Koch noticed he could “skate” on classic skis faster than his European opponents who skied the traditional classic technique. He proved this by winning the 1982 World Cup. The two styles have since become separate disciplines.

Classic skis are more versatile. You don’t need a groomed trail. Though it’s typically done in parallel tracks, it doesn’t have to be. Just break new snow and make your own trail. The mechanics of the classic glide is more like a lunge or exaggerated walk with alternating poles planted at your side and pushed back. “It’s the easiest
thing to start but the hardest to perfect,” Flolid says.

Healthy Returns on Your Investment

In both disciplines you’re burning up to 700 calories an hour. You’ll feel muscles you haven’t used since high school. Because you’re out in nature with just the sound of your skis skimming the snow and your heart thumping, the hours pass quickly.

Good skis, boots, bindings and poles start around $300. With all the Nordic skiers in the area, it’s easy to pick up used gear. Rental packages start at $12. Some trails such as those in Brainard Lake are free, while others start at $7 for the day. To get started, take a lesson at one of the Nordic centers. There are dozens of trails, but these will get the beginner going:

Brainard Lake Area, with free admission, offers a variety of non-groomed trails. Most of the trails snake through fir and pine forest—a welcome relief from the often windy days. Stop by the cozy Colorado Mountain Club cabin, sit by the fire and drink a hot chocolate ($1 fee). The new parking lot helps with the heavy weekend crowds. fs.fed.us.

Haystack Mountain Golf Course has groomed trails for Nordic and skate skiing. Day pass: $7. Check golfhaystack.com for daily grooming report.

North Boulder Park, a 2 km loop, is flat, groomed and free. For daily conditions see bouldernordic.org.
Eldora Nordic Center has 40 km of challenging groomed trails. Day pass: $22. Lesson and rental package starts at $52. eldora.com.

Snow Mountain Ranch, north of Winter Park, has about 70 km of groomed trails. This is an excellent place to learn with its variety of terrain and knowledgeable Nordic center staff. Day pass: $15. Learn to ski package: $40. ymcarockies.org.

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