Cross-country skiing is having a moment. While cross-country skiing doesn’t come with the speed, excitement, and culture of alpine skiing, it’s seeing huge growth. “The best guess is that we’re going to continue to see enormous growth of interest in cross country skiing,” says Jonathan Wiesel, a ski instructor, backcountry guide, journalist, and passionate advocate for all things cross-country skiing. Wiesel, owner of Nordic Group International, is a North American cross-country skiing expert who has written more than 1,000 articles on the sport. His book, Cross Country Ski Vacations; A guide To The Best Resorts, has served as an invaluable guide for cross-country skiing enthusiasts.
Increasingly, ski towns and ski resorts are elevating their experiences off the slopes, which includes that of cross-country skiing. As founder and Director Emeritus of the Cross Country Ski Areas Association, Wiesel is helping see to that, as he promotes the industry’s growth, and is working toward improving the quality of cross-country ski operations. Recently, we caught up with Wiesel to get his top picks of cross-country ski areas across North America. See his picks below.
Jonathan Wiesel’s cross-country skiing recommendations
Mont-Ste.-Anne Cross Country Ski Area, Quebec – affiliated with Mont-Ste.-Anne Resort. Mont-Sainte-Anne’s trail system is vast and varied, mixing classic and a lot of skate-groomed trails. Mont-Ste.-Anne offers direct access from the alpine area onto 184 km of trails, making it one of the largest linked trail systems in North America. One of the coolest things about this trail system are the multiple heated cabins, a.k.a. refuges. A couple of them you can even stay overnight in.
You’ll find a full-service day lodge at Mont-Sainte-Anne, with most of the easy, short loops nearby. Additionally, there are plenty of intermediate and advanced cross-country skiing trails.
Mont-Tremblant Cross Country Skiing, Quebec – independent from Mont-Tremblant Resort. While many skiers are familiar with Mont-Tremblant, located less than two hours from Montreal, they may not be as familiar with the cross-country terrain here. Mont-Tremblant’s cross-country terrain is extensive, featuring more than 120 km of trails, much of which is also available for fat biking and snowshoeing. Skiers will find an inviting mix of boulevards and winding narrower routes, some of which pass by lakes. Most skiing is great for beginners and intermediates, although there’s some challenging routes too. Nearby are 40 km of trails, along with rustic wood-heated shelters, at Parc National du Mont-Tremblant.
Sun Peaks Nordic, British Columbia – affiliated with Sun Peaks Resort. Sun Peaks Nordic is a great, but little-known cross-country ski destination with 30-plus km of classic and skate-groomed trails. It features superb flowing terrain through meadows and forest, fantastic views, and reliable snow. Holy Cow is one of the more unique cross-country experiences, as it’s a lift-served downhill run in which skiers lose 1,150’ feet of elevation over 6.2 km, ending up at the McGillivray Lake Outpost.
Bretton Woods Nordic Center, New Hampshire – affiliated with Mt. Washington Resort. Bretton Woods Nordic Center is huge, home to a full-service day lodge and 95 km of groomed trails that wind across fields and through fir and spruce forest. It’s marvelous for beginners and intermediates but offers challenge too, like the Black Diamond Tim Nash. Split into three distinct but linked trail networks, Bretton Woods is a beautiful cross-country skiing destination, dominated by the Presidential Range to the east and the majestic Mount Washington Hotel below. Pro tip: Ride a detachable quad up the alpine area and take blue or black trails to lower elevations. It also offers fat biking.
Mount Van Hoevenberg Nordic, New York – affiliated with Lake Placid Olympic Sports Complex south of Whiteface Mountain. Mount Van Hoevenberg, a.k.a. Mt. Van Ho, is part of the Lake Placid Olympic Sports Legacy, heir to the first Olympic Winter Games held in the U.S. (1932). It has recently undergone millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades, including upgrades to trails, the base lodge, snowmaking and more. Mount Van Hoevenberg has 55 km of classic and skate trails, including a substantial number of easy/intermediate routes that are groomed daily.
Woodstock Nordic Center, Vermont – affiliated with Woodstock Inn (Saskadena Six Ski Area, formerly Suicide Six). Woodstock Inn & Resort holds most of the land used for cross-country trails as well as the nearby but separate Saskadena Six Ski Area. The 45 km of groomed trails are composed of the Mt. Peg trails, starting at the Nordic Center/golf clubhouse, and the distinct Mt. Tom network, which has splendid views. Woodstock Nordic trails are also distinctive in that they’re part of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park. The Nordic Center carries rentals as well as a selection of equipment and apparel for sale.
Crystal Mountain Cross Country, Michigan – affiliated with Crystal Mountain Resort. Crystal Mountain Cross Country Learning Center is great for beginners and experienced cross-country skiers alike. Skiers can start right off on a number of green or blue trails, and when they want a little challenge, take one of the blue trails that links with black diamond routes. All told there are 25 km of cross-country skiing trails. Bonus: There’s lighting for night skiing, plus routes shared for fat biking and snowshoeing. For a unique cross-country skiing experience, check out the Michigan Legacy Art Park, inside the cross-country trail system, which can be enjoyed by snowshoe.
Giants Ridge Cross Country Ski Area, Minnesota. – affiliated with Giants Ridge Ski Resort. When it opened in 1984, Giants Ridge Nordic was designed as a racing and training center, and has since hosted several World Cup events. Today, the 60 km of groomed trails are oriented toward recreational skiers, although there are still two routes defined as Most Difficult. Trails run below, up/down, and above the 500-foot-vertical ridge, with 40-mile views from the summit. Two trailheads minimize crowding. Many trails are conveniently and cleverly integrated within the alpine area; you can even reach some of the easier trails by lift.
Aspen-Snowmass Nordic Trail System, Colorado. – independent from Aspen Snowmass. The Aspen-Snowmass Nordic Trail System, the largest free municipal trail system in North America, offers more than 90 km of groomed routes, operated by the City of Aspen. Olympian Craig Ward had the immensely successful vision of replicating a European community-based Nordic network, often called “Aspen’s Fifth Mountain.” Here you’ll find a long season, varied terrain, great grooming, and the iconic ski culture that Aspen is known for.
Aspen Cross Country Center, located on a golf course, is a good starting place, as it offers a selection of beginner trails, rentals, lessons, and even guided tours. Snowshoers are welcome throughout the trail system, while dogs and walkers are welcome on a couple of routes. Fat biking is limited.
Breckenridge Nordic Center, Colorado. – independent from Breckenridge Ski Resort. Breckenridge Nordic is about a long snowball’s throw from Breckenridge’s alpine ski slopes. One of the oldest cross-country ski areas in North America, it’s family-owned and very kid-friendly. Breckenridge Nordic Center’s day lodge is the epicenter of 30 km of groomed Nordic trails and 20 km of snowshoe routes. The lodge offers rentals, lessons, food and drink options, and a good selection of apparel and gear.
The season here can start earlier and go longer than many destinations, since the cross-country trails begin at 9,800 feet. Count on winding your way through pristine forest, with peeks of the magnificent Tenmile Range. Try the unique snowcat adventure, complete with s’mores and hot chocolate.
Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center, Oregon – affiliated with Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort. Mt. Bachelor Nordic, located just outside of Bend, is famous for its long season (average snowfall an immense 462 inches), often starting in November and running into April. If you’re lucky, you may even see the U.S. Nordic Ski Team training in the shadow of Mt. Bachelor, an impressive volcanic cone, rising 3,000 feet above the trails. Unlike many areas in the Rockies, altitude acclimation is seldom an issue (highest elevation 6,400 feet) on the 56 km of ski trails, groomed nightly. You also can enjoy 10-plus km of dedicated snowshoe trails. The day lodge is the center for rentals, retail, instruction, and a cafe.
Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center, Idaho – affiliated with Sun Valley Resort. Beauty, varied terrain, and history all come together at Sun Valley Resort, where the Nordic Center’s 40 km of groomed trails make for a cross-country skiing playground. You start at a 58,000-square-foot clubhouse, which offers rentals, lessons, and food and drinks. From the clubhouse, you can hop on easy trails spreading over one golf course and across the road onto another, where you can experience tougher terrain. By and large, however, this is mostly beginner and intermediate terrain. Sun Valley also has 7 km of dedicated snowshoeing trails, along with 16 km of fat biking on the ski trails.
Sundance Nordic Center, Utah – affiliated with Sundance Mountain Resort. Sundance Nordic is a small gem with magnificent views, a small network of trails, and lots of Utah powder. Separate from but near its parent alpine area, the Sundance Nordic Center features state-of-the-art Rossignol demo skis and Tubbs snowshoes for those who are renting. Set in a high alpine valley with 12,000-foot Mount Timpanogos above, it features meadows and aspen groves along the 15 km of groomed trails (10 km for snowshoeing). Programming includes guided full-moon tours and daily lessons in classic and skate cross-country skiing techniques.
Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Center, California – affiliated with Tahoe Donner Community in Truckee. Tahoe Donner Cross Country is a major player in the vast Lake Tahoe Nordic region. It features a modern day lodge to complement 100-plus km of groomed cross-country and snowshoe trails, and even some dedicated dog trails. You’ll find meadows, forest, trailside huts, spectacular climbs and descents, and glorious views of the Sierra, along with beginner trails near the lodge. As with so many Tahoe ski areas, it’s wise to arrive early to find good parking.
Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center, California – affiliated with Mammoth Mountain. Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center is set in spectacular Mammoth Lakes Basin, featuring more than 30 km of groomed and marked trails, ski and snowshoe rentals, lessons, and guided tours. Among the headlining amenities: Lodging in charming, rustic cabins, and a restaurant on site. The cross-country ski season often starts as early as November and runs into April. It’s great for beginners, with some longer, farther intermediate trails, plus a half-dozen advanced routes. Elevation is as high as 9,000 feet, so take your time acclimating.
For more information:
Wiesel’s Book: Country Ski Vacations; A guide To The Best Resorts