Colorado cross-country skiing: Where to find affordable family fun, great views

When Todd Lodwick was growing up in Steamboat Springs, it was a no-brainer that he and his three brothers would join the venerable Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which has produced more than 80 Olympians since its inception in 1914.

And, given the costs associated with alpine skiing — whether for recreation or competition — cross country skiing was the affordable way to go.

“It was the cheapest of the sports that were offered at the Winter Sports Club,” said Lodwick, who grew up to become America’s only six-time winter Olympian. “To support four boys in a sport, cross country skiing is a fairly inexpensive way to experience the outdoors.”

Now Lodwick, 45, is in his first winter as Nordic director at Snow Mountain Ranch, which is part of YMCA of the Rockies. Located 14 miles northwest of Winter Park in Grand County, Snow Mountain has almost 75 miles of groomed trails when fully open. And it only costs $25 for a day pass.

“You go to an alpine resort, they’re $200,” Lodwick said. “Our rentals are $25. That is a huge draw when you have a family of six people who want to experience the outdoors. It’s a very fun place to experience the outdoors at a fairly inexpensive cost.”

That’s true at most of the state’s cross-country destinations. Only 10 miles east of Snow Mountain is Devil’s Thumb Ranch, a rustic,  upscale resort and spa that charges only $30 for non-guests to ski its 75 miles of terrain. Devil’s Thumb and Snow Mountain are the state’s largest cross-country destinations.

Then there’s Aspen Snowmass, where the non-profit Aspen Nordic Council maintains a 56-mile network of trails in the Roaring Fork Valley that is free of charge to ski. Elsewhere in the state, most Nordic centers charge $20 to $32 for a day of skiing.

Cross-country skiing is widely regarded by sports physiologists as a great cardiovascular exercise, strengthening arms and legs with minimal impact while increasing cardiac output, lung function and improving balance. It’s also pretty easy to learn.

Lodwick won a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics, a year after becoming a two-time world champion in the sport of Nordic combined, which is a dual event combining cross-country and ski jumping. He was coaching at the club in Steamboat that launched his career last spring when he heard Snow Mountain Ranch was looking for a new Nordic director. He was pretty sure “six-time Olympian” would be an eye-catching line on a resume.

“I think it was good for the Y,” Lodwick said, meaning YMCA of the Rockies. “I play that card in very small circles. Is it an earned privilege to use that card? Yes. But that didn’t come without hundreds upon thousands of hours of training, getting to the success that I had. This is a perfect opportunity to take the Y to the next level and use my name, use what I have done for the Nordic community.

“I think it’s going to bring some clout to what the Y is doing here at the Nordic center. It has been a great Nordic center, don’t get me wrong, but I’m taking it to the next level.”

Already he has widened trails and added trail signage. He wants to improve an area for backcountry skiing and has big plans for improving the Nordic center lodge.

“They gave me the freedom to create a ski shop that had a real Nordic understanding and feel to what a Nordic center should be. Instead of just skis, it’s an atmosphere,” Lodwick said. “I hit the ground running. I wanted to have everything done for this season. I’m coming to realize that it takes some time. It’s just a really good work environment, working with some great people, and they trusted what I had envisioned. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Currently Snow Mountain Ranch has about half of its terrain open for skiing, but that will increase soon.

The Colorado Cross Country Ski Association sells punch passes ($150) good for two-day passes at each of nine Nordic centers. The association also maintains a website that provides an overview of information and links to individual areas — but be warned: A  lot of its info is out of date — especially prices for trail passes.

Most Nordic centers also allow snowshoeing and some allow fat-tire snow bikes. Here’s a directory of Colorado’s best known Nordic centers:

  • Aspen Snowmass Nordic Trail System, 56 miles, free, 970-429-2039,
  • Beaver Creek Nordic Center, 12.5 miles, $50, 970-754-5313,
  • Breckenridge Nordic Center, 18.5 miles, $27, 970-453-6855,
  • Crested Butte Nordic Center, 31 miles, $20, 970-349-1707,
  • Devil’s Thumb Ranch, 75 miles, $30 ($25 for lodging guests), 970-726-8231,
  • Eldora Nordic Center, 25 miles, $32, 303-440-8700 (ext. 68510),
  • Frisco Nordic Center, 16.5 miles, $27, 970-668-2570,
  • Gold Run Nordic Center, 18.5 miles, $27, 970-547-7889,
  • Grand Lake Nordic Center, 21.5 miles, $20, 970-627-8008,
  • Keystone Nordic Center, 12 miles, $20, 970-496-4275,
  • Mount Massive Ski and Snowshoe Trails, 10 miles, $10, 970-640-4811,
  • Snow Mountain Ranch, 75 miles, $25, 888-573-9622,
  • Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, 16.5 miles, $20, 719-486-1750,
  • Vail Nordic Center, 10.5 miles, $20, 970-476-8366,

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