American Meccas Of Cross Country Skiing
Ask the general public to name an alpine skiing “Mecca” — described as a location where people, who share a common interest, yearn to go — even those who don’t ski can come up with at least Aspen or Vail, if not Killington and Sun Valley.
But mention the Gunflint Trail or the Methow Valley to cross country skiers and more often than not, you’ll elicit a blank stare. Yet these are just two of several cross country skiing destination resorts that devout cross country skiers revere. In fact, each of the following five regions is definitely an “cross country skiing Mecca” — each one, a destination that all traveling cross country skiers should put on their “must visit” list.
Comprising the small, picturesque towns of Conway, Sugar Hill, Bartlett, and Jackson in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the Mount Washington Valley has a half-dozen cross country ski areas, all at the base of the most majestic mountain in the eastern U.S., the 6,288-foot Mt. Washington. Here, the spectacular scenery is enhanced by hundreds of inns, lodges and restaurants, plus unsurpassed outlet shopping. Ski past mountain streams, a white-steepled church, or over a wooden covered bridge on the network of 150 kilometers (km) of trails that glide past numerous inns and stores and through the woods in Jackson Village.
Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center in Pinkham Notch features 40 km of trails for cross country skiing or snowshoeing and the visitors can take a snowcoach up the Mt. Washington Toll Road to unparalleled views. On the other side of Mt. Washington, Bretton Woods Nordic Center has its Mountain Road Trail, a 7-km downhill thrill that might be the most fun to be had on cross country skis in all of New England. There are other ski trail networks in the region, too along with dog sledding, snowmobiling, zip lines, and seven alpine ski areas to round out the snow sports offerings.
The Hills are Alive
The “Sound of Music” is more than 50 years old and another production by the Von Trapp family, America’s first cross country ski center at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont is just two years younger. Nestled beside Mt. Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak, the lodge is among the most famous and diverse cross country ski trail networks in the country. Three other Stowe cross country ski areas provide roughly 150 kilometers of groomed trails, and there’s a link from Trapp’s to backcountry ski 14 km to Bolton Valley via the Catamount Trail. Plus, with the variety of trails for snowshoeing around Stowe, it’s no surprise that the quintessential New England village is the original home of Tubbs Snowshoes, the largest snowshoe manufacturer in the world. Stowe's Recreation Path, which runs 5.3 miles along the river (and over 11 wooden bridges) and Route 108 is perfect for an easy snowshoe jaunt. Don't miss the Vermont Ski Museum in downtown Stowe or the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream headquarters (most popular attraction in the state) in nearby Waterbury, Vt.
Scandinavians settled by the thousands in Minnesota so it stands to reason that their national sport, cross country skiing, would abound in the state. The trails in northeastern Minnesota near Grand Marais offers more than 200 kilometers of groomed trails in the Laurentian Highlands adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Here, cross country skiers enjoy moose yards, overlook ridges, old trapper trails and railroad beds. The Gunflint attractions include extensive stands of white birch, spruce, and aspen and spectacular cliffs.
Of course, in the land of 10,000 lakes, there’s a multitude of frozen lakes and there is also a great chance that visitors in northern Minnesota will see the oscillating luminary curtains in the evening sky known as the Northern Lights. Perfect for those wanting to get away from it all, this area is less populated than other cross country Meccas and the region is sprinkled with many isolated lodges, bed and breakfast inns, lakefront cabins, and yurts (large circular heated tents with hard floors, bunk beds and room for 6-8 people). And count on hearing the distant howls of timber wolves.
For more than 70 years as a winter sports destination, the Sun Valley/Ketchum, Idaho, area was developed by railroad mogul, W. Averell Harriman to attract train travelers. Known for its alpine skiing, the area features more than 160 kilometers of trails and now it touts itself as "Nordic Town USA." The Sun Valley Resort includes the Sun Valley alpine ski area, a Nordic ski area on the golf course, and a selection of accommodations. The North Valley Trails run from the Galena Lodge back to town along the river. Expect to see colorful performance striders and skaters alongside snowshoers out walking the dog on this popular avenue.
For superb backcountry skiing amidst forests of pine and aspen, head to the Sawtooth Mountains and its high mountain reaches laced with granite spires and inviting cirques. Here cross country skiers can enjoy trekking and guide services, even overnight accommodations in backcountry huts and Mongolian-style yurts.
The Methow Valley in northwest Washington on the eastern slope of the North Cascade Mountains is one of the best-kept secrets among cross country skiers. A network of 200 kilometers of groomed trails for classic and skate skiing combines at Methow Trails with lodges like Sun Mountain Lodge and warming huts along the trails, which are surrounded by more than a million acres of national wilderness and forest lands.
Snowfall here is not only plentiful, but it is also dry thanks to the moisture traveling across 100 miles of mountains from the Pacific Ocean to get to Methow. And after the snow arrives, a crystal blue sky almost always follows revealing the incredible scenic mountain panoramas. Located only 2,000 feet above sea level, this 40-mile-long cross country skiing valley requires no altitude acclimation.
Many other North American regions could make the list of cross country skiing Meccas, including California’s Lake Tahoe, Colorado, GoMichigan and specifically the Grayling region of Michigan, and Lake Placid in New York.. Start your own list of “must visit” cross country ski destinations, and visit www.XCSkiResorts.com to explore the many choices and then make some reservations to explore different regions in your next winter adventure.