I recently took up the sport of Nordic or cross-country skiing and have been exploring the trails of the Vail Nordic Center. I am a long time Vail local, avid downhill and telemark skier, and have been a dedicated “gym rat” working out 5- 6 days a week pre-COVID. Like many, when COVID hit, I purchased an indoor spin bike and weights, setting up a small “home gym” in the corner of my bedroom. I wouldn’t trade in my bike, but the boredom of sitting on it more than 3 days a week has started to kick in, no matter how many new classes I find online! So, I was looking for an alternative to elevate my heart rate and a change of pace to skiing, especially on busy days or when the snow is not ideal. So, cross-country skiing was my answer. I purchased the whole package: boots, skis and poles (at a fantastic package price at the Vail Nordic Center), along with a Vail Nordic Center season pass…..and I’ve been out enjoying my new found sport 2 – 3 times a week!
I started out slow, learning that there is actually a technique and a lot to think about. But, the learning curve is fast and every time I go out with my skinny skis, I feel more comfortable and confident in my gliding, kicking, balance and speed. Mostly, I am really enjoying being outside, away from the noise, with the beautiful scenery, burning a ton of calories in a very rhythmic soothing activity!
The Vail Nordic Center is the perfect spot to start out, offering beginner, intermediate and more advanced terrain. As the Vail Golf Course in the summer, the terrain (for the most part) is flat and the few hills are not too steep or long. The crew does an amazing job grooming a beautiful cross-country specific track for the skis to follow over 15 miles of terrain. And, when it snows, the groomer comes around more than just in the morning in order to keep the track fresh, although I’ve found there’s something really special about cutting through fresh powder – a fun floating feeling!
I have explored all of the trails at the Vail Nordic Center and provided my thoughts and descriptions below. I invite you to explore on your own to discover your favorite route!
- The Teaching Loop is just that – a short loop to just get the skis under your feet, understand the fundamentals and ensure the equipment feels just right. The first time I ventured out, I played around with different lengths of skis and poles until I found the right fit!
- Sunburst Loop – Just off the Teaching Loop is the Sunburst Loop, with a very moderate hill that can be accessed in either direction. This combined with the Teaching Loop is a nice half mile of track.
- Stable Flats – Once you feel comfortable, venture out to Stable Flats, which are just what they sound like – flat track over 2.5 kilometers. It crosses snowshoe and fat tire biking paths, so be sure to stay on the cross-country cut track as you make your way east along the valley floor.
- Thirteen to Training Loop to Chicken Ridge to Gore Creek Flats – From the far easter end of Stable Flats, connect with Thirteen and cross the bridge to access the Training Loop and the incredible trails beyond. The trails follow the summer-time paved bike path along Gore Creek and over meadows for about a mile each way. The ascents and descents are a little steeper, but nothing that is too tough with a little extra push. And, there’s always the option to “duck walk” up and/or take the skis off if need be. This section of the trails tends to be less crowded and offers the solitude of nature and incredible views of the Gore Range. For an extra PUSH, give the Designator Hill a try – a very steep uphill and downhill just off Gore Creek Flats. I’m working my way up to the challenge! From the Nordic Center clubhouse to the furthest eastern end is approximately 2.27 miles!
- Training Loop to Fricker’s Freeway – On the way back from Gore Creek Flats (or can be done on its own), I like to connect with Fricker’s Freeway for some additional rolling hills. After a short downhill, the trail meets back up with Stable Flats that will lead you back at the Club House for a nearly 5-mile total loop. For a little extra, take a quick trip around Sunburst Loop, because “why not”!
- Sunburst to Soccer Field Connector to Ptarmigan to Ben Here to Soccer Field Loop To The Plunge and back to Sunburst – I’ve explored the western side of the trails. While fun and different, I found this section was not my favorite. On the west end of Sunburst Loop, you’ll find the first road crossing. When there is enough snow, you can simply ski across the road, but most of the time you’ll need to take off your skis to cross. From there, the Soccer Field Connector is a nice flat section until you come upon the left UP (it is steep) Ptarmigan. Atop Ptarmigan, there is another road crossing , a flat section and then another road crossing. At this crossing, be sure to walk up the hill to the left, where the Ben Here trail leads to the Soccer Field Loop. This section is really nice and a fun little loop, especially knowing that Ben Here is named after longtime local Ben Krueger, who built the Vail Golf Course and just recently passed away. Once you’ve looped the Soccer Field, there is another road crossing on the east end that takes you to The Plunge. Appropriately named, The Plunge starts with a short, very steep, narrow descent before it levels off and takes you back to the road crossing to Sunburst. This entire loop is about 1.5 miles and worth exploring, but be prepared for road crossings and steep hills up and down!
Before or after your cross-country skiing adventure, be sure to stop at the Gore on the Grill restaurant at The Vail Nordic center. The views of the Gore Range are majestic and the soup/chili bar hits the spot, along with a specialty hot or cold beverage.
The Vail Nordic Center offers complete cross-country rental packages (until you’re ready to purchase gear) for all ages and sizes for $29/adult and $24/kids under 12 years. And, the daily trail fee is just $20/adult, $15/kids (6-12 years; FREE for kids under 6) until you’re ready to commit to a season pass. A very affordable sport to give a try by yourself or with the entire family (you can even rent a sled to pull the littlest kiddos)!
It is also possible to rent the gear a The Vail Nordic Center and explore some of the other Nordic areas around the Vail Valley. These include Maloit Park in Minturn, the Eagle Vail Golf Course and the Cordillera Nordic Center (where rentals are also available).
I live in Eagle Vail, so get out on the Nordic trails there also. While the trails are groomed, the specific Nordic ski track is not cut and therefore it can be a little more challenging, especially just starting out. The trails are flat and scenic as they meander over the golf course terrain and through the neighborhood, just know that there isn’t a cut track and you’ll hit several road crossings. Easiest access is to park at the day lot at Mountain Terrace condos.
I have not yet explored Maloit Park or Cordillera, but am looking forward to getting out there soon and will update this blog with details!
Until then, happy Nordic cross-country skiing – I hope you enjoy this activity as much I have come to!