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Cross-Country Skiing in Aspen, Colorado

Posted: 17 Feb 2015

Cross-country skiing, aka XC or Nordic skiing, in Aspen, Colorado, is yet another winter activity to enjoy in the Roaring Fork Valley. And it is truly a unique experience. Aspen and the surrounding White River National Forest offer an amazing assortment of trails for a range of skill levels; everything from beautiful, serene trails to more challenging ones that will test your strength and endurance. We've put together this Aspen Cross Country Skiing Guide for Nordic and XC enthusiasts coming for a visit. We even recruited three of our own local cross-country skiers for the Q&A: Frias Properties Managing Partner Chuck Frias, Property Manager Ken Ryan and Concierge Mariya Mitsinova. Below, they help us answer all of our questions about where to go, what to wear, and what not to miss while cross-country skiing in Aspen.

Q: When was the first time you tried cross-country skiing?

Chuck: 1974.

Ken: The 2012-13 season - once. My wife and I rented equipment and gave it a go at the golf course. She then gave me skis for Christmas the following year after I hemmed and hawed over purchasing a bit too much for her liking. Ever since, I go a couple of times per week.

Mariya: Three years ago. My apartment is located across the street from the Aspen Golf Course and I decided it would be silly not to try. I love outdoor activities and cross-country skiing is a great work out to enjoy outside during the winter, especially on a sunny day.

Q: How does it compare to downhill skiing?

Chuck: Cross-country skiing is far more peaceful and aerobic. There are two types of cross-country skiing,: freestyle/skate skiing or classic/diagonal. Freestyle is more difficult and faster requiring more upper body strength and balance. Classic can be done by anyone and is easy to pick up and enjoy.

Mariya: Well, the terrain is completely different. Speed and adventure seekers definitely prefer downhill skiing. Cross-country skiing is way more mellow in terms of 'excitement' but still a great work out. Going uphill on skis can be challenging and will certainly get you in good shape. Also, there are different types of cross-country skiing. I prefer groomed trails and the classic style. Skating can be exhausting if you are a beginner. It requires more skill and some people choose to take a lesson first to learn the correct technique. The best part about cross-country skiing is that it's free! As we all know - lift tickets are far from cheap!

Q: Is cross-country skiing more physically demanding than downhill?

Ken: The cardio workout is far greater with Nordic. You have to keep moving, but much like Alpine it can range from pedestrian to very aggressive.

Mariya: It depends on the terrain. Cross-country skiing -- especially when you are climbing up the hill -- will challenge your endurance. There are trails available at The Aspen Golf Course, for example, which is a good place for beginners. You do not need any advance training - I recommend it mostly to people who want to be outside in nature, enjoingy a beautiful day cruising around an easy flat terrain. If you want to challenge your physical abilities, choose an expert trail -- Owl Creek Trail or Terminator Trail in Snowmass for example.

Q: What type of skis do you use? Ken: Skate skis. Skate skis don't have any edges nor do they have the scales of a classic Nordic ski. Skating is done on a wide groomed track (the same corduroy you know and about the width of a single snow cat) versus the double ski tracks for classic.

Mariya: This is the greatest difference between downhill and cross-country skiing. I bought my skis and shoes second hand and the cost was $100 for both. I prefer the classic style of cross-country skiing (Traditional stride-and-glide), not skating. The brand is Rossignol - they have really good equipment. You can probably buy decent brand new cross-country skis for $90 - $150. Good quality downhill skis tend to be way more expensive and you will also need a good pair of boots, goggles and a helmet. The full equipment might cost you from few hundred dollars to thousands.

Q: Where do you like to cross-country ski?

Chuck: I have been on the multitude of Aspen area tracks - and we have many, as well as up to the high mountain huts overnight. I actually prefer to take my dog on the dog friendly tracks and cruise around during lunch break.

Ken: Primarily, I skate ski at the Aspen Golf Course. The best part is -- it's free! The gold course links up with the Moore and Marolt open spaces across the highway via a snow covered underpass. You can also cross the bridge behind the ARC and connect to the Maroon Creek Club trails or take the Owl Creek trail all the way to Snowmass, although if you choose the latter it's far easier the other way. Spring Gulch in Carbondale is a longer trip, but well worth it. I have yet to ski Ashcroft, but it is beautiful up there and I hear only good reports of their trail maintenance. Ashcroft is a private outfit and there is a trail use fee. You can get a lesson and rent equipment at the golf course as well.

Mariya: Aspen Golf Course because of its location. I have sent a lot of our guests on a guided cross-country trip to the Pine Creek Cookhouse and they all loved it. The terrain is beautiful and is a good workout due to the uphill parts of the trail and the well-deserved lunch after that is yummy.

Q: What's the best advice you can give someone going cross-country skiing for the first time?

Chuck: Don't be timid. Rent before buying. Start with Classic style and equipment. Take a lesson from a professional. The Aspen Golf course tracks and ski shop offer lessons and equipment.

Ken: If you are an Alpine skier, remember what you know about snow but forget what you know about skiing. Your muscle memory will have you leaning into your boots; forward, to the sides, even back - none of these work with a cross-country boot. You will just end up on your butt. It's all about balance, rhythm, and technique. As I mentioned, you will end up on your butt... you might need to prepare your ego.

Q: How is cross-country skiing on a powder day?

Chuck: Difficult until the tracks are groomed. Great going downhill but only for advanced skiers.

Q: When is the best time of day to cross-country ski?

Chuck: It can be beautiful any time of day or night. Best to do whenever you normally prefer to exercise. Or if you want to get sun or stay out of the sun.

Ken: It doesn't really matter. I like to let it warm up a bit, but you can start early or go after a day of downhill.

Mariya: Not too early or too late - take advantage of the sun as much as you can.

Q: Do you enjoy cross-country skiing alone or in a group?

Chuck: Both and for different reasons. Alone so I can listen to music, take my dog or go at my speed. In groups for a different experience and for safety if going to remote areas.

Thanks, everyone! For more information about cross-country skiing in the Aspen area, or to plan your adventure while staying with Frias Properties, contact Mariya at (970) 429-2449 and she can help arrange your outing! Or view properties and book now with Frias Properties.

Places to Cross-Country Ski:

Aspen Nordic Center


Snowmass Nordic Center

cross country skiing aspen winter activities