I’m not going to lie my first experience with cross country skiing was challenging. I had spent the majority of the winter living in Panama swimming in the warm 80* waters of the Pacific Ocean, cool morning hours I’d spent running along deserted beaches and even reached the highest point in Panama Volcan Buru solo and watched the sun rise with the Caribbean and Pacific to greet my accomplishment. So in early March when I returned home to Colorado and was invited with “family friends”, AKA in-laws, to cross country ski at Wolf Creek Ski Area, I was excited to get back into shape at altitude and try a sport that seemed to fit well into my lifestyle.
First stop the rental shop to get our equipment; I was really excited to be honest. Unlike downhill skiing with the stiff, heavy boots the cross country boots were really comfortable like a pair of well worn hiking boots. Cool, I’m a good skier I thought this is going to be cake. We proceeded to the “beginner” loop and this was where the joy quickly vanished. Of course when you look at a pair of traditional wax less cross country (XC) skis a few features will be obviously different to downhill skis. They are very narrow, the pair I was rented were actually narrower than my foot. Next I noticed the fish scale pattern on the ski directly under my foot which acts to grip the snow when you kick and last was the missing metal edges. I hope I don’t have to turn I thought to myself. So there I was at 10,000 feet on beautifully manicured corduroy, I stepped my toe into the thin metal rod and clip I was in, now for the second ski and click and boom! Down I went and hard. Shoot I thought well this is embarrassing as I laid there steps from the rental shop, I literally had not gone an inch. The plot thickened.
I attempted to get back on my feet and 5 minutes later, floundering on the snow like the delicious dorado I had made into ceviche for the last few months I thought why do I suck so bad? I’m in shape; I have good balance you should see my tree pose! My partner, at the time, was not the athletic type and was doing just fine mind you. Finally with a bit of encouragement and reminding that unlike stiff downhill boots I would not be able to stand by using the rigidity of my boots that I was accustomed to in downhill skiing. Eventually I mastered getting back on my feet/skis and we were off. Luckily falling was happening less and less instead of every time I got up. Progress.
The morning was gorgeous as southwest Colorado is. The Rio Grande National Forest with thick old growth Engelmann Spruce scented the crisp air and blue skies kept my spirits high. Despite my troubles my group stayed positive and it seemed as though we had the trail to our selves. I wiped out countless more times and thanked the stars when the lodge and rental shop came into view. The Steel Toe Caucasian…an innovation of bar tending through college, think white russian with a splash of stout to increase the yummy factor, had never tasted so good or was so well deserved.
That was years ago and that day I could have never imagined in a matter of a few years would I grow to love XC skiing and actually prefer it over downhill skiing. The progression wasn’t overnight and how does the saying go, all good things are worth the wait? I think the breakthrough came when I had the opportunity to work and live at a Dunton Hot Springs a high end resort tucked deep into the San Miguel Range, a sub range of the Mighty San Juan Mountains. You probably have seen this range unknowingly if you ever enjoyed a Coors Beer as they grace each and every can. Located 22 miles down a snow packed mountain road at 9,200 feet I worked hard and was lucky because the resort had snowshoes, cross country skis and even fat tire bikes to play with. The cross country equipment was similar to Wolf Creek and being an adventurous person I would often take the skis meant solely for the groomed track into the crust, crud and powder of the snowed in mountain pass that connected us to Telluride in the summer months. As I grew to love my time spent miles away from civilization with only the occasional buzz of a snowmobile I started to search the internet for “backcountry XC skiing” (there are some crazy Scandinavians out there check out YouTube) and I was amazed at what I found. There were actually XC skis designed for backcountry use as well as for use on groomed trails. They had the same concept of traditional “trail” XC gear yet they were a touch wider, a touch stiffer and they had metal edges! I thought to myself where have you been my whole life!? The next day I had off of work I made the 3 hour drive to the booming metropolis and my home of Durango, Colorado. Pine Needle Mountaineering set me up with everything I needed in one stop. I invested in Alpina Discovery “backcountry” XC skis with a Rottefella backcountry binding and last year’s rental Rossignol backcountry XC ski boot. I left with all the essentials for under $500 I was stoked my downhill/alpine touring set up cost well over a couple grand.
My XC skis although a little wider than traditional trail XC gear still fit into a groomed trail which is great when I am invited out Nordic skiing with friends, however, in my free time I can fully embrace the sport of backcountry XC skiing that I love dearly. Three feet of fresh powder no problem, dust on crust no problem, hills no problem and turning well I’m still working on that but hey they say there are two kind of XC skiers; “those that have fallen and those that have yet to fall”.
Now to the present; I live and work in one of the best states for XC skiing I mean the license plate even says we have the best snow on earth. Working for All Seasons Adventures I am truly blessed as I have the ability to guide, I’m a Naturalist by training FYI, and office work helping others make great memories with friends and loved ones when they are visiting Park City. I love discussing options from the intrepid caller about winter activities especially XC skiing. Because we use a Rossignol BC 70 Backcountry XC set up I know my clients will pick up the sport much quicker than I did. It also helps that our tours are guided by patient knowledgeable guides, not your in-laws… Most XC ski trips we take a scenic ½ hour drive to the Uinta Beaver Creek trail that offers the ability to get out of town and to ski in the second highest contiguous alpine wilderness in the lower 48. Well don’t actually go that high as we ski at about 7,200 feet, the Mirror Lake Highway is closed a few miles past the trail head. Once you get out there you will see why many Utah implants say “you come to ski the deep powder and stay for the unforgettable summers”. On weekends families from Salt Lake City may also be on the trails and weekdays you will probably have the place to yourselves. Living in an outdoor recreation mecca we also have the ability to utilize the Round Valley Nordic system managed by the Mountain Trails Foundation. Minutes from downtown and very popular with locals this trail system has endless opportunities for skiers of all levels.
So what are you waiting for? There is never a better time than now. Give us a call and learn something new or add to your list of incredible places you’ve cross country skied.