Cross-Country Skiing in Colorado

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Written by bike posted on Monday, March 1st, 2010

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Along with world-class downhill skiing, Colorado is the perfect place to glide through landscapes of white under cloudless bluebird skies.

Nordic skiing with the family in Colorado. (Colorado Tourism Office)

Colorado literally has hundreds of miles of trails, both groomed and ungroomed. Whether you’re looking for an afternoon activity out of Denver on well-maintained trails, or a secluded mountain retreat making your own ski path, this is the place for you.
Read below for some of the most popular places to cross-country ski in Colorado.
Brainard Lake
This might be the most popular place to cross-country ski in the Front Range Area. Just outside of Denver, this area has trails for skiers and snowshoers. Start at the trailhead at Red Rock Lake and head to Brainard Lake via Brainard Lake Trail, Waldrop North Ski Trail, CMC South Ski Trail or Little Raven Ski Trail. This area is apt for day trips or overnight camping trips. The trails are ungroomed, but usually already tracked by other skiers and snowshoers.
Chinns Lake
For a bit less crowded trail system, but one that’s still close to Denver, head to Chinns Lake. The trailhead is less than an hour from the capital city in the shadow of the Continental Divide. Winds off the Divide provide snow on this cirque to the east. Conditions are often fair to good, even in early season. The last 1.5 miles of the route are pretty steep and require good snow conditions to be enjoyed. The Continental Divide Trail crosses the path to Chinns Lake about halfway through the route.
Lost Lake
This trail system is popular to Denver and Boulder natives and visitors. The high alpine winter surroundings are a huge reward for skiers of every level who visit this area criss crossed with trails. Most paths have a moderate elevation gain and aren’t too long, perfect for beginners. There are a couple sections of the trail that become steep hills (like the one that leads to the lake). Tracks are ungroomed but well-tracked by skiers and snowshoers.
Peaks Trail
This cross-country trail runs from Breckenridge to Frisco, Colorado. Its challenging and famous amongst skiers in the state. The tour is beautiful, but gets a bit long, so isn’t for everybody. During the second half it is especially challenging, with sections with hills and a few narrow, curving downhill sections. Shuttles are available from Frisco to the Peak 8 parking area (1.3 miles from where most people park). The trails wind through the forest, but occasional views pop through of the 10-Mile Range and the Front Range.
Deer Creek
Head to Deer Creek for those of you who wait all summer just to get back in the snow. This Montezuma area gets nice snow early in the season, making it a popular choice for snowshoers and cross-country skiers across the state. To avoid the overcrowded trailheads within Montezuma proper, head to Deer Creek, about a mile south of town. The road to the parking area can be reached in normal cars in most weather conditions, as it is maintained by Summit Country.
Leavenworth Gulch to Waldorf
Cross-country ski this beautiful basin for a gorgeous high-alpine tour. The road up Leavenworth Gulch is just about an hour from Denver. It starts out steep, but the main shelf road has a more gentle pitch. The basin is a strenuous trip, but only because it’s fairly long. The route goes along the old rail bed of the Argentine Central, a railroad which had some 145 degree curves and very steep sections. After mining in the area stopped in the 1920s, Waldorf became the ghost town that it is today.
10th Mountain Division Hut
The famous 10th Mountain Division is an elite ski corps of soldiers who trained in Colorado to fight the Nazis in the European Alps. This trail system outside of Leadsville was where they skied under conditions of military secrecy. Over 15,000 troops skied the area with their 7-foot skis and 90-pound packs. If they could do it, you can with today’s lightweight gear! There are 12 huts along the trail system, known to be the most extensive and well laid-out in the state. The 10th Mountain Division Hut itself can be rented by up to 16 overnight skiers. Trails are ungroomed, but sometimes tracked.

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