Best Places in the Western United States for Nordic Skiing

The Western United States is a hub of winter sports activity, but Nordic skiers from around the world travel here to experience perfect conditions, breathtaking views, and rigorous, varied terrain. Each state has its share of beginner, intermediate, and expert Nordic trails, and many areas offer backcountry exploration opportunities. No matter your ability or adventurousness, there’s a trail for you; if you’re heading out west in search of great cross-country skiing, you won’t be disappointed. Below, we have listed the best places in the Western United States to strap on some skis and explore the wilderness.


Soldier Hollow

Rated one of four top Nordic resorts in North America, Soldier Hollow is one of the most renowned cross-country destinations in the United States. This was the site of the biathlon and Nordic events during the 2002 Winter Olympics, adding an extra special feeling to the 31 kilometers of classic and skating trail and biathlon range. Located in Midway, Utah ad Wasatch Mountain State Park, the facility offers lessons, clinics, rentals, snowshoe trails, a tubing hill, and a lodge. Visitors can choose from both easy-rolling trails or Olympic-level courses, all of which are immaculately groomed. Though not the only Utah skiing opportunity (didn’t know domain for Utah Ski Authority) , Soldier Hollow is certainly the first place to stop.


Sequoia Ski Touring Area

With over 800 miles of trail, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park is a cross-country skier’s paradise. Located in the heart of Sequoia National Park, this is the perfect place to learn or hone your Nordic skiing skills. More advanced skiers are encouraged to try an overnight Nordic trip; though wilderness permits are required for all overnight trips away from designated campgrounds, this is a unique way to experience one of America’s most beloved forests. Visitors can purchase maps of ski trails online or at any of the visitor centers. Additionally, cross-country skis are available for rent at Wuksachi Lodge. California skiing already has a lot to offer, but there’s nothing like gliding through towering Sequoias.


Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area

As New Mexico’s largest full-service cross-country ski area, visitors to Enchanted Forest can experience over thirty kilometers of wide, groomed trails of varying difficulty. There are five dog friendly trails, fifteen kilometers devoted to snowshoes, and terrain for all ability levels. These meandering forest trails are set against the backdrop of stunning mountain vistas, and—though groomed and patrolled—the ski area has a backcountry feel. There are several Yurts to take rests, and this area is located amidst some of the state’s best Alpine skiing—if you’re in the mood to switch it up.


Bohart Ranch Cross-Country Ski Center

Just sixteen miles from downtown Bozeman, this ski center is set within the serene and spectacular Bridger Mountain Range. All thirty kilometers of trails are impeccably groomed, and they remain open all winter, weaving through both scenic and secluded sections of the wilderness. The Center offers on-site lessons for skiers of all levels, and clinics are held for more intensive, personalized instruction. This is a great place to experience Nordic skiing if you’re in the area to experience the alpine thrills of Bridger Bowl.


Bear Basin

Bear Basin offers a trail system operated by the Payette Lakes Ski Club. With around thirty kilometers of groomed trails, these sinuous paths wind their way through the forest. Perfect for Nordic skiers of all levels, these trails are groomed for both skate and classic skiing. The area also offers after school programs, summer events, and lessons for every ability. Their mission is to provide an affordable, accessible, and sustainable winter recreation facility, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. Idaho may be known for its alpine skiing, but they have plenty of Nordic opportunity.


Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is one of America’s most iconic National Parks, and winter visitors love to take advantage of the incredible Nordic skiing opportunities. Cross-country skiing is allowed on all unplowed roads and trails, and there are several ski trails in the Mammoth, Tower, Old Faithful, Northeast, and Canyon areas of the park. Though Yellowstone may not have the frills of a standard ski resort, there are plenty of beginner and intermediate trails perfect for those just starting out.


Frisco Nordic Center

One of the Rocky Mountains premier Nordic ski destinations, Frisco is the first place we’d recommend for cross-country skiing in Colorado. The Nordic Center offers 27 kilometers of ski trails and10 kilometers of snowshoe trails. Daily trail passes are $15 for youth and $20 for adults. You can double these prices if you plan on renting skis from the center. Season passes, individual and group lessons, and plenty of events during a season that typically starts sometime in November and is in full swing by the year’s end. Beginner ski hills and tubing are also just steps away…..Find more places and information about skiing in Colorado.

Learning the Basics of Backcountry Nordic Skiing

As I’ve established in previous posts, backcountry Nordic skiing differs slightly from other types of XC skiing. In addition to having a separate style and equipment, the form must deal with different terrain. It is therefore essential to know how to address unexpected slopes and turns. You don’t need to hone your technique before heading out, but you should know the basics of how to deal with this type of terrain. Below, I have described the best methods (in my experience) for tackling level ground, uphill climbs, downhill slopes, and turns.

Level ground—Okay, this one is pretty easy. Most Nordic skiing is done on level ground—that’s why it’s called “cross-country.” On level ground, use the classic kick-and-glide. As one foot slides forward, push down with the opposite pole and kick forward with your back foot. Plant the opposite pole in front of you with each stride to retain balance, and work on keeping an even rhythm.

Uphill—If you encounter a steep uphill slope, try switchbacking instead of powering straight up. Never try to climb too steeply; most textured bases start to slip at just 15 degrees. Instead, put weight on your uphill edges to keep from backsliding. If the steep slope is short, utilize the “herringbone” step—with toes pointed out, put our weight on the inside edges and walk up. This should form a backward, downward-facing wedge with your skis, and the weight on your edges will prevent you from backsliding.

Downhill—If you’ve skied downhill on Nordic equipment, you know how necessary it is to have a game plan. Most newbies will assume they can attack a downhill slope as you might with alpine skis. However, the unattached heel means you won’t be able to turn and stop as easily. If you come across a downhill area, lean back slightly to keep your tips from diving under the snow’s surface. Assume an athletic stance with your feet shoulder-width apart. If the slope is very steep, step down while keeping your weight on the uphill edges. You can also “snowplow” as you would with alpine skis.

Turns—On gentle terrain, completely pick up your ski and put it down in the direction you want to go. If you are moving downhill, ease into a snowplow position and put additional weight on the outside ski. Move your skis back into the parallel position as soon as the turn is complete.

Choosing Your Backcountry Nordic Skis

If you’re familiar with Nordic skiing, you’re aware of the differences between Classic and Skate skis. One is longer than the other, one has a greater camber, one is heavier, etc. You may not be aware, however, of the third class of Nordic skis—backcountry. the backcountry Nordic ski style is very original, and the equipment has to be sturdy enough to support you during longer tours in untracked and dense terrain. Therefore, if you’re in the market for a new pair of XC skis, ask your retailer about their selection of backcountry skis.

These skis are wider than usual Nordic skis. This will allow you to float on top of both loose and packed powder, similar to how a snowshoe works. However, the edges comprise the biggest difference. Backcountry ski edges are made of steel, allowing you to have a firm grip on the ground no matter the terrain. The gliding surface is pretty similar to a general ‘no wax’ ski, and you can find equipment with built-in climbing skins. This will look like a fish scale (or similar) pattern on the undersides of the skis and is designed to add traction.

Backcountry Nordic ski boots are also available. They are sturdy, stable, and warm—similar to hiking boots. These boots are designed this way because, in most cases, you’ll have to do quite a bit of walking. Some boots even have integrated gaiters, which will protect you from falling into deep, untracked snow. The sole will attach to the ski through either a toe nip or a metal stick.

Even backcountry Nordic ski poles are different. They are often a bit shorter, which will allow you to be more agile. The baskets are larger than usual to prevent you from falling through untracked terrain. I recommend getting yourself a pair of height-adjustable poles with large baskets—you’ll be equipped for backcountry, Classic, and Skate.

If all of this backcountry-specific information is overwhelming, take a deep breath. If you’re not committed to the backcountry lifestyle, you can rent or lease equipment to test it out. When choosing your weapon(s), be sure to talk to the sales or rental associate at your retailers—they’ll be able to steer you in the right direction.