If you’re itching to ski but don’t want to drive to the mountains, cross-country skiing on a local trail may be your answer when the weather cooperates.
After a fresh snow, a variety of Pikes Peak region parks, trails and closed roads are options for cross-country skiing — Bear Creek Regional Park, North Cheyenne Cañon Park, High Drive, and Sonderman Park, to name a few.
Woodland Park resident Kim Wetzel has been cross-country skiing for 10 years and helps to teach the Colorado Mountain Club backcountry ski class the local Pikes Peak group offers. After having two knee replacements, she started cross-country skiing as a more joint-friendly alternative to running.
“For me, it gives me something I can do that’s equivalent to getting out there and jogging. It just gives me endorphins, happiness, stress relief — all of that,” Wetzel said.
When there’s snow cover, you can cross-county ski grassy school yards, golf courses, closed roads or trails, Wetzel said. She recommends about four inches of snow, but snow on grass is more forgiving than on hard surfaces.
Westside Colorado Springs resident Anne Ojennes, who’s been cross-country skiing since college, skis a grassy field below the Bear Creek Regional Park “sledding hill” in even just an inch of snow. She encourages people to give cross-country skiing a try — it’s easier than you’d think, she says.
“It looks scarier than it is. Really, you can just start out walking,” Ojennes said. “You’re never cold. That’s what I like about it the best. Hiking in the cold — you can get really cold. [Cross-country] skiing in the cold — you’re never cold. It’s the best exercise in the world.”
Conditions change fast and vary greatly in the Pikes Peak Region, so Wetzel recommends skiing soon after a snowstorm before the snow melts. If you’re brand new to cross-country skiing — also known as classic skiing — she suggests you take a lesson or a class like the one CMC offers.
“The simplest, if you have no equipment, is go up to a Nordic center and take a lesson. Then you’re set for a long time,” Wetzel said.
When there’s enough snow, the Woodmoor Nordic Center in Monument is a fine option for learning to cross-country ski. Michael Brothers, a competitive Nordic ski racer for over 30 years, opened the Woodmoor Nordic Center in 2015 so he and others could ski close to home. He grooms ski trails on the Woodmoor Golf Course, rents cross-country and skate-skiing gear, and teaches lessons by appointment.
“The biggest challenge is always the weather. While the Front Range does get its fair share of snow, we don’t get anywhere near the same amount as the mountain resorts. With 300-plus days of sunshine a year, the snow we do get can disappear pretty quickly,” said Brothers, who posts updates on changing trail conditions on the public Woodmoor Nordic Facebook group.
When there isn’t enough local snow, four Summit County Nordic centers also groom trails, rent gear and offer lessons.
Another nearby place to ski is Mueller State Park in Divide, which began grooming a few trails this year when conditions permit. To ski at Mueller State Park or any local, un-groomed trails, you’ll need to rent or buy gear.
During the pandemic, finding gear to buy has been a challenge because more people are cross-country skiing, Wetzel said. If you can find skis, she recommends a metal-edged ski with an NNN-BC binding and a compatible soft boot. That’s the setup she uses on local tails.
New cross-country gear is less expensive than downhill ski gear, and you can also buy it used to save more money. Mountain Chalet, REI, Gearonimo Sports, Mountain Equipment Recyclers, thrift stores, and websites like Craigslist all carry cross-country ski gear. Mountain Chalet also rents gear by the day.
According to Brothers, Ojennes and Wetzel, cross-country skiing has many benefits: the affordability compared to downhill skiing; the ease of learning it; the lack of crowds; the ability to ski nearby trails when there’s enough snow; the whole-body workout; and the fact that it’s low-impact and accessible to all ages.
If you’re on the fence about trying cross-country skiing, Wetzel urges you to go for it.
“Just do it. That’s my motto. If it’s cold and you don’t want to get up, just do it,” she said. “You will not regret it afterward.”
For Ojennes, cross-country skiing tops everything.
“To me there is nothing more delightful than that perfect kick and glide where you’re just motoring along under your own power,” she said. “Your arms are going and your legs are going. To me, that’s the best feeling in the world.”