When it comes to skiing what comes to most people's minds is heading down a mountain, picking up speed as you plow through fresh powder. Using gravity to your advantage as you rush downhill in an adrenaline-inducing rush. But what often gets overlooked when it comes to skiing is the more sedate and yet just as enjoyable cross-country skiing.
Where downhill skiing is going up a mountain just to come back down, cross-country skiing uses specially designed skis paired with poles to navigate a series of more minor ups and downs through the backcountry.
With long graceful sweeps, you can send yourself down a gentle slope and rise up another on either a carefully maintained trail or the untamed powder of the backcountry.
There are trails scattered around the area surrounding Durango that are maintained for the use of cross-country skiing which is ideal for beginners and expert skiers. They provide the gentle slopes needed to have a great day gliding through the winter wonderlands of Southwest Colorado.
The Durango Nordic Center is the ideal location for getting into the sport of cross-country skiing for beginners and is an excellent location for experienced skiers as well. Over 20 kilometers of trails are maintained just for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Any beginners looking to get into the sport would have plenty of opportunities. The Nordic Center offers lessons on skiing cross-country and rentals for needed equipment. Each trail is also rated for different difficulty levels so new skiers can ramp up the difficulty as they grow more comfortable.
Maintained by an avid group of volunteers is 15 kilometers of new waterside cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. In partnership with local authorities like the National Forest Service, the group of volunteers keeps the trails clean and smooth waiting for someone to glide across them with freshly waxed skis. The volunteers are part of the Vallecito Nordic Ski Club which has been grooming and managing trails during the winter for nearly 30 years.
The Trail runs right alongside the Vallecito Reservoir shoreline and allows seeing an amazing visage of the snow and ice-covered lake through the winter months.
Connecting to a few other trails near its peak is the La Plata Canyon Trail, a nearly 10-mile-long trail that makes for great hiking, biking, and running during the warmer seasons. As the temperatures fall and the ground becomes covered in snow, the trail can be used to ski cross-country. While not groomed and maintained as much as the designated skiing trails, the trail is occasionally groomed for use during the winter. You will also have to bring your own equipment, but the canyon walls are great accompaniment as you make your way along the trail.
Molas Pass is a section of the Colorado Trail that, during the winter opens the possibility to explore the trail in a winter world. It's unmaintained so the trail isn't always in the best condition, but that is part of the charm of skiing in the backcountry.
As you float over the powdery snow, you get the chance to experience a world rarely seen, with iced-over alpine lakes and untouched natural wonders scattered around you.
You'll have to bring your equipment with you, but there is parking nearby so you won't have to go too far on foot. But you will be out and about in the winter, so wear warm clothes.
Just on the border of San Juan National Forest lies Missionary Ridge, a trail that during the winter becomes nearly perfect for winter recreation. The trail is open for snowmobile, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or even just a quiet snow-covered walk in the woods.
The trail is maintained for about half its length before being left to natural conditions. This allows people to adjust the difficulty level for a better challenge. More experienced skiers can keep going to the rougher parts of the trail for more of a wild experience.
Resting on the Fort Lewis College Mesa with a beautiful view overlooking the city of Durango is the Hillcrest Golf Course.
During the fall and summer, the Golf course is used for its intended purpose as a golf course, but during the winter, you can't exactly play a round or two of golf. You could lose the ball in the snow, and it's rather hard to find the hole under all the snow. But the gently rolling hills are perfect for use in cross-country skiing. The slopes almost do the work for you as the golf course's purposefully built hills, and the view makes for a scenic experience.
Durango has multiple outfitters around town where you can pick up equipment for cross-country skiing; some even have the option to rent.
If you go skiing in the backcountry, make sure to be careful of avalanches and other snow hazards. There are some local classes available to help you be prepared for such hazards.
Cross-country skiing is a winter sport and, pretty much by definition, will be cold. Be sure to wear the proper winter gear to avoid the chill or getting hypothermia.
Skiing can be difficult if you're unfamiliar with the sport, if you need to take some lessons or go with someone who knows what they're doing.