MP Trailmap Feature
A family-friendly guide to “out our backdoor” cross-country ski trails.
by Stephen Szoradi, Aspen Alpine Guides
Get your cardio fix on the fly
Finding a moment to get out for your cardio fix or some social buddy time for a less than epic adventure is tough. As a parent, and especially as a working parent, sometimes it’s difficult to find that essential moment for a quick workout, or a necessary reset, or simply some balance and perspective. The Aspen Snowmass Nordic Ski Trails are “right out our backdoor” from neighborhoods and even most offices in the upper Valley. If you have not gotten to know these trails yet, here is some help finding your moment.
Mountain Parent Trail Map:
1. Snowmass Club Golf Course Nordic Ski Trails:
From Brush Creek Road, turn South onto Clubhouse Drive to get to the public parking area next to the Snowmass Cross Country Center. The short green loop adjacent to the Center is good for introducing small children to this sport.
2. Aspen Nordic Center:
A perfect place for beginners located at the Aspen Golf Course. Turn North at the Truscott light off of Highway 82 to find a large free public parking area with easy access to an extensive Green course. You’ll find a dog loop, as well as many new connector sections added to the basic loop, so you can make your workout as long or short as you wish. HINT: The retail center operated by Ute Mountaineer rents and sells Chariot ski trailers for pulling small children. Kids ski first, then when they’re whooped, settle them into the buggy for a nap while Mom and Dad check out the surrounding trails.
North Star Preserve Trails:
(Not shown on the map) Drive Hwy 82 East out of Aspen about one mile toward Independence Pass. Look for a small parking lot marked North Star / North Gate. The loop is maintained well with regular grooming and it’s a great spot to practice as it has minimal elevation gain and loss. Perfect for a lunch lap if you’re looking for something close to the business core that typically won’t get you into traffic trouble even during peak season.
3. Snowmass Club Golf Course Nordic Ski Trails
The majority of the trails in this area are rated as Blue because of the undulating terrain ranges in elevation by around 250 feet over the course. You’ll find rolling hills, and a few good climbs followed by downhill.
4. West Buttermilk
This “out and back” starts at a small three-car parking area on West Buttermilk Road. Spillover parking can hike back to the trailhead from the lot at the end of the road, near the West Buttermilk ski lift. The trail runs west to Sinclair Divide. The turn around off the Owl Creek Trail eliminates the steeper and more challenging terrain (see black) that drops down to the Two Creeks area.
5. High School Trails
Rated Blue because of the elevation gain and loss throughout the course loop. For those looking to try flatter terrain, check out the lower section that can be accessed close to AVSC and the high school by using some of the connector sections off of the main loop. Also note that the high school nordic racers utilize the loop and are often on course for training.
6. The Terminator Trail
(shown in red for visibility on the map) This trail can be accessed from Two Creeks in Snowmass Ski Area or from the Tom Blake Trailhead. This section boasts a steep elevation gain and loss within a short distance and should truly be considered advanced, difficult and expert terrain.
Types of Nordic Skiing
The term Nordic Skiing can refer to a large quiver of options when delving into ski terminology, and it sometimes takes a few questions to determine what someone is ultimately looking to do.
Skinny skis with scales on the bottom for traction going uphill. Needs groomed track.
Skinny skis with smooth bottoms. Needs groomed swath. Requires forward-leaning motion which draws more cardio demand than classic skiing.
Both Classic and Skate Skiing are typically done in controlled environments on preferably groomed courses that hold a swath of corduroy (Skate) next to a narrow set of tracks (Classic). The skis are skinny and the boots semi-flexible with free-heal bindings. The terrain for Beginners (Green) to Intermediate (Blue) and finally to Difficult (Black) offers a great training platform for beginning recreational-to-advanced, and also professional athletes.
Back Country (BC)
If balance is an issue, skinny skis might not work for you. You may try using old-school Nordic / Backcountry (BC) skis. They are a bit wider underfoot, have scales for grip and when needed can be used with climbing skins for steeper sections. These skis can go anywhere – groomed or ungroomed trails. Semi-flexible boots with free-heal bindings = occasional downhill grip factor.
Alpine Touring (AT)
Wider skis with scales and/or skins. These ski boots are more rigid than other Nordic styles, providing more stability. Their free-heal can be locked down for a controlled descent.
Trail etiquette requires that the wider BC and AT skis not be used in the track set for Classic Skis, and it’s best to stay to the side of the trail. The BC ski option is a great way to get out on a course with minimal downhill ski experience.
When you hear the following terms – Uphilling, Skinning, Alpine Touring, Telemark, Ski Mountaineering, SkiMo or Rondonnée – you are in principal hearing the same thing. These are variations of Alpine Touring setups that can be used for climbing uphill because they have free heals. These downhill/backcountry setups can, in theory, be used throughout the Nordic system as well as in the backcountry.
- Groomed tracks are designed for specific activities. Please respect the posted uses, which can include (or exclude) dogs, snowshoes, hiking and fat-tire bikes.
- Please, please, please don’t walk on the Classic Track.
- Uphill traffic (skiers, hikers, etc. going uphill) has the right of way.
- Stay to the side when going uphill on a groomed ski run.
- Share the track and yield to those who may need yielding to.
Stephen Szoradi, Aspen Alpine Guides
Stephen began guiding with Aspen Alpine Guides in 2008 after moving from Switzerland where he spent the previous seven years training and working. In the summer, Stephen guides the regional 14,000 ft peaks, as well as day hikes, rock climbs and high-altitude training coupled with trail running. In the winter, he is a backcountry ski and snowshoe guide, avalanche educator, and has worked for five years as a ski instructor. In this edition, he shows us the ins and outs of the Aspen-Snowmass Nordic Trails System.
Cross Country Skiing Lessons:
Aspen Alpine Guides (970) 925-6618
Aspen Cross Country Center (970) 925-2145
Snowmass Cross Country Center (970) 923-5700
Photos: Aspen Skiing Company