Cross Country

The Skinny on Nordic Skiing in Aspen, Snowmass, and Basalt

From the nine best trails to the top gear picks to try.

By Allison Pattillo February 15, 2017 Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2017 issue of Aspen Sojourner

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Sixty miles of free groomed Nordic trails connect Aspen, Snowmass, and Basalt, offering easy access to a lung-busting skate ski workout or several hours of meditative kick and glide. US Nordic Ski Team member and native Aspenite Simi Hamilton says the sheer volume of trails and exemplary daily grooming make for some of the country’s best cross-country skiing. Here, our top nine picks for getting acquainted with the variety of terrain.

Nine Top Trails

Tops for Starting Out: Aspen Cross Country Center
Notes Ben Dodge, Nordic coach for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, the almost 5 miles of free trails on the Aspen golf course “are flatter than most, which makes for a more forgiving and pleasant experience.” Plus, you can make a variety of loops.

Step It Up: Snowmass Cross Country Center
The center sits among more than 6 miles of free groomed trails along the Snowmass golf course, with dramatic views of the ski area and Mount Daly. Most of the terrain is intermediate, so you’ll find a few hills to challenge your balance.

Town to Town: Rio Grande Trail
The Roaring Fork Valley’s popular bike path is groomed in winter from Aspen to Basalt. For an epic outing, ski the 20 miles of gentle downhill between these two towns and catch a bus back upvalley. Pick up the trail near the Aspen post office.

More Critters Than People: North Star Loop
Aspen’s North Star Nature Preserve offers a “pristine and quiet experience,” says Dodge. A scenic and easy 1.5-mile loop passes through Difficult Campground and meanders along the Roaring Fork River. Begin from the North Gate parking area 2 miles east of town (from Gondola Plaza) on Highway 82.

Worth the Excursion: Spring Gulch
West of Carbondale, this 13-mile ski-only trail network ( is Nordic heaven. “I’ve travelled to 18 different countries throughout the world to train and race, and these trails are still no. 1 in my book,” says Hamilton. Warm up on the flat loop near the parking lot before testing your skills on twisty, undulating trails through sagebrush, Gambel oak, and aspen. Highball and Big Dipper include thrilling descents, while Finlandia is a dreamy cruiser with great views of the valley.

Glide through History: Ashcroft Ski Touring
This privately owned cross-country center (; $25 full day, $15 half day) in the upper Castle Creek Valley grooms almost 22 miles of rolling trails near the ghost town of Ashcroft. Two warming huts serving hot drinks and the Pine Creek Cookhouse restaurant (try the buffalo momos) merit stops along the way.

Iconic Views: Maroon Bells Road
The road leading up to Maroon Lake, and the 14,000-plus-foot Maroon Bells, is closed to vehicular traffic in the winter, but Nordic tracks along it are groomed daily by T-Lazy-7 Ranch, where you’ll park. It’s 6 miles to the lake, but a shorter out-and-back is still impossibly scenic. Your dog can accompany you, too. Be aware that a few avalanche paths cross the road.

Point-to-Point Adventure: Owl Creek Trail
This 8.5-mile route from the Snowmass Cross Country Center to the Tiehack Bridge in Aspen provides expansive views and an amazing workout. Drop a car at each end, have a friend shuttle you, or use Roaring Fork Transportation Authority ( bus service to make the return trip.

Best Skier Cross Simulation: Aspen High School Trails
“One of my favorite memories is doing hard sprint workouts through the ‘Haleakala Crater’ here,” says Hamilton. “Pouring through the 90-degree banked corners at 40 miles per hour was one of the best on-snow feelings you can find.” We recommend dialing it back, but the 3.6-mile intermediate loop trail still provides thrills. through ups and downs and tight turns.

Après Nordic

After a session at the Aspen Cross Country Center, stop by the new Home Team BBQ in the Inn at Aspen for a plate of sublimely crispy dry-rubbed, smoked chicken wings and a Swanky’s Sideshow—an easy-sipping rum-based cocktail with hints of spice and almond. A house-brewed Yo Bro Midnight Porter and warm pretzels with beer cheese sauce at Carbondale Beer Works is a satisfying way to end an afternoon of plying the trails at Spring Gulch.

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Gear Picks

Fischer’s Twin Skin Race ski ($380) incorporates two mohair strips in the base for wax-like grip and glide with no prep time required.

Swix’s C2 carbon pole ($250) has a comfortable cork grip and interchangeable baskets.

Fischer’s RC7 Classic boot ($280) borrows performance features from race boots for efficient power transfer from foot to ski.


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