Over the past two weeks and into the next two, resorts across Summit County are opening chairlifts to cheers and delight and long, endless lines. It’s just part of life early in the season, like riding your rock board and dealing with the White Ribbon of Death. Right?
Not quite. Downhilling on jam-packed slopes doesn’t have a monopoly on the ski scene, even early in November. Summit’s four Nordic centers are already prepping trails for snowshoers, cross-country skiers and, yes, even fat-bike riders. All four weave and wind through the area’s most pristine forests, giving Nordic faithful a calming alternative to the insanity on the slopes.
Here’s a look at the 2015-16 Nordic season in Summit. Leave the lift lines to the masses — the tracks are calling.
BRECKENRIDGE NORDIC SKI CENTER
Opening: Saturday, Nov. 13 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (trails TBA)
If you’ve taken a ride on the Breck SuperConnect gondola, you’ve seen the Breckenridge Nordic Ski Center — even if you didn’t quite know it. The center is home to 30 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails and 16 kilometers of mapped snowshoe routes, all nestled on the edge of the Cucumber Gulch Wildlife Preserve at the base of Peak 6 and Peak 7.
For years, pine beetles have decimated the forested areas in northern Breckenridge (and, sadly, Summit at large). But the Cucumber Gulch area has remained largely untouched by the blight and human development. It’s a well-used bird nesting area, with trails that wind through open meadows and dense pine stands over gentle, rolling terrain. There are very few steep hill climbs — perfect for beginners.
The center is operated by longtime locals Therese and Gene Dayton, who have been introducing residents and visitors to Summit’s Nordic trails for nearly 50 years. In 2013, the Daytons opened a new Nordic center, dubbed the “Oh, Be Joyful” Log Lodge. It’s found right off Ski Hill Road on the way to the Peak 8 base area and is home to hot chocolate, bratwurst, beer, wine, homemade soup and a cozy fireplace. Be sure to drop by after a day on the trails.
Find it: The center is found at 9 Grandview Drive in Breckenridge. The pro shop, lodge and all trails begin there, with free parking for Nordic center users. You can also get there on the free Breckenridge in-town line or the Summit Stage green line. Just ask for the Nordic center stop.
Contact: (970) 453-6855
FRISCO NORDIC CENTER
Opening: Friday, Nov. 20 from 9 a.m. to 4 pm. (trails TBA)
The Dayton’s other home base, the Frisco Nordic Center, is a robust alternative to the wooded trials and birding meadows of its Breckenridge counterpart. Found on the shore of Lake Dillon, the Frisco center boasts 45 kilometers of groomed Nordic trails and 14 kilometers of marked snowshoe trails, plus free family tubing through the Frisco Adventure Park.
Mountain bikers will feel curiously familiar with the Frisco center, and for good reason. Most trails follow the same routes on the Frisco Peninsula that MTBers love in the summer: Lakeshore Perimeter, Buzzsaw, the various Jody’s connectors. And, like the bike trails, the cross-country trails offer a little something for everyone. There are beginner-friendly trails on the baseball fields at the west end and competition-ready trails to the east and north. It’s home to the Summit Nordic Ski Team — one of the most decorated in the country — and stays impeccably maintained throughout the season, thanks in large part to snowmaking and regular grooming. It plays host to one of the longest-running citizen races in the country, the Frisco Gold Rush on Jan. 9.
The Frisco center is also home to a pro shop with skis, outerwear, waxing and tuning services, and info on local trails.
Find it: The center is located at 616 Recreation Way in Frisco (about 0.5 miles east of downtown Frisco on Highway 9), with free parking available at the Frisco Adventure Park.
Phone: (970) 668-0866
GOLD RUN NORDIC CENTER
Opening: Saturday, Dec. 5 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (trails TBA)
Found on the northern edge of Breckenridge, the Gold Run Nordic Center is overseen by the town of Breckenridge and taps into its vast system of year-round trails. The center has 27 kilometers of groomed Nordic trails and about 10 kilometers of snowshoe trails. All trails meander through the Delaware Flats and Gold Run Valley areas, with mellow grades and stunning views of the Tenmile Range.
Gold Run offers a little something for everyone: The classic Bronco Dave green route (1.5 kilometers), the iconic Gold Run blue (2 kilomters), the lung-busting Pegasus black (2.5 kilometers). The trail system is the only one in Summit where dogs are welcome, with winter-long pooch access on Peabody Placer (2.2 kilometers) and Preston Loop (0.5 kilometers).
This season, Gold Run is also open to fat bikes. The trails aren’t quite ready to handle bikes yet, but come December, a few of the blues and blacks will be groomed for bikes. Fat bike rentals (the Borealis Yampa model) are $15 per hour or $30 for four hours. The pro shop also has skis, boots and outerwear for sale.
Find it: The Nordic center lodge is located at 200 Clubhouse Drive in Breckenridge (at the Breckenridge Golf Course).
Phone: (970) 547-7889
KEYSTONE CROSS-COUNTRY CENTER
Opening: TBA depending on conditions
Not only is the Keystone Golf Club stunning in the summer, it also doubles as an expansive Nordic and snowshoeing center in the winter. The Keystone Cross-Country Center takes over The River Course clubhouse when the snow falls, acting as a central hub for roughly 11 kilometers of groomed Nordic tracks.
Now, if you’ve ever played golf in the High Country, you know that a combo golf course and Nordic center isn’t flat and open for as far as the eye can see. It’s a near-perfect venue for progression, beginning with the Learning Loop and Easy Does It trails just outside of the clubhouse. From there, head to Buffalo, an intermediate trail, for a slight taste of elevation and hill climbing. Then it’s onto the advanced and intermediate trails of Fox Trot, Norwegian Way, Double Dare and Stairway to Heaven. Stairway to Heaven lives up to its name, covering about 250 vertical feet before connecting with the fast descent on Double Dare.
Find it: The cross-country center is at 155 River Course Drive in Keystone. After passing Lake Dillon on U.S. Highway 6 from Silverthorne, watch for Nordic center signs on the right-hand side of the road. Turn right onto Elk Road and follow to the clubhouse.