With 120 kilometers of groomed trail, Snow Mountain Ranch ranks as one of Colorado’s largest Nordic centers and was the perfect home for this year’s Cross Country Skier gear test. We covered only a small portion of that network during our three-day visit, but it was easy to get a sense of how much terrain there is to explore.
It’s more than just a place to ski, too. Run by the YMCA of the Rockies since 1969, the 5,000-acre ranch attracts families with other winter activities like dog sledding, tubing, ice skating and snowshoeing. Plus, an alpine ski area, Winter Park Resort, is a half-hour drive to the southeast.
But in winter, cross country skiing is definitely the star. First, there are the views. The Continental Divide lies to the east, and its chain of high peaks dominates the skyline. Just as impressive is the variety of the trails, which are equally split among easy, intermediate and expert levels. Routes like Ten Mile Creek and Tabernash/Ute provide easy cruising, while what are referred to as the outer loops—Gaskill, Heckman and Lynch, to name a few—offer rolling terrain with challenging ascents and descents.
Eight kilometers of trails at Snow Mountain Ranch are dog friendly, too; the Nordic center even offers ski-joring lessons with pups from the ranch’s sled dog teams.
Since 1984, the Nordic center has hosted the annual Snow Mountain Stampede, which is known as the country’s highest Nordic marathon. The event format now includes a 50km freestyle race one day, followed by a 50km classic the next day. Skiers who complete both races earn a 100km belt buckle (in addition to admiration and sore quads). Those who aren’t keen to rack up quite that distance can also compete in 12.5km and 25km on both days.
With all the skiing available at Snow Mountain Ranch, it’s worth staying for a few days; the ranch, an hour-and-a-half drive from Denver, offers hotel rooms and cabins, as well as dining options.
There’s even more skiing nearby. Devil’s Thumb Ranch, 10 miles down the road, offers its own 100 kilometers of groomed trails, as well as luxury lodging, a restaurant and spa. Grand Lake Nordic Center, 25 miles north, has another 35 kilometers of trails. For more information on skiing, including many other trails, visit the nonprofit Grand Nordic Ski Club’s website.