The sport of cross-country skiing really took off last winter. This is not surprising, given that this is an activity focused on fresh air and social distancing, paramount considerations during the pandemic. As one of the most aerobic sports, ranked among the best along with swimming, it’s also a great way to get in shape and stay that way. While anyone in a Nordic location with reliable snow can do it on a local golf course or in a wooded setting, there are dedicated cross-country ski resorts where the sport really shines. These are places that offer groomed trails for classic skiing and skating, as well as excellent accommodation.
Who better than Jonathan Wiesel to suggest some of the best. Cross-country ski instructor, ski school director, backcountry guide, professional travel planner, international travel guide, ski area owner and journalist, he is also the co-founder of Nordic Group International. I asked him to name 5 of his favorite cross-country ski resorts.
Latigo Ranch, Colorado
Wiesel calls Latigo Ranch “one of the great winter ranches in the Rockies. It’s a family business, owned and operated by Lisa and Randy George and their children. They remain surprisingly calm despite demanding roles as ski instructors, guides, chefs, booking specialists, groomers, even parking clearance experts. Almost straddling the Continental Divide, the trails meander through pines, spruces, aspens and vast grasslands. You’ll find particularly beautiful views to the east, with over 70 miles of snow-capped mountain and valley scenery. As night falls, the stars seem bright and close. You will have your own cabin, with wood stove or fireplace, nestled in the pines. Fatbike, toboggan, snowshoe, tube slide, spa – it’s all there. The meals are excellent, with a different starter each evening. Desserts include everything from peach pie to chocolate mousse. For breakfast, Randy has fun making ranch-brand pancakes, served with real maple syrup. It’s BYOB”
Lone Mountain Ranch, Montana
“Lone Mountain is the ancestor of winter ranches in North America,” says Wiesel. “It’s the most well-known, with probably the most extensive trail network and greatest elevation gain on groomed trails. It’s a peaceful enclave in an area dominated by the booming alpine resorts of Big Sky and Moonlight Basin. The ranch has beauty, quality and character, from skiing to dining, log cabins to staff. Views are dominated by the magnificent 11,166-foot Lone Peak to the west. Lone Mountain offers naturalist-led tours in Yellowstone National Park as well as guided fly fishing in mountain streams. For over 30 years, Lone Mountain’s instructors and guides have been some of the best in the business. Yellowstone is only an hour away.
Vista Verde Guest Ranch, Colorado
Vista Verde, says Wiesel, “harmoniously combines elegance and entertainment. The ranch attracts anyone with taste and time – frantic businessmen learning to live happily without cellphone reception, hesitant skiers finding trails that beginners delight in, downhill skiers heading for Steamboat Springs and honeymooners reveling in peace and privacy. You can also go biking, snowshoeing and sliding on site. The ranch is large, beautiful and isolated. Most visitors from sea level can ski right away on these gentle slopes. For a new thrill, there’s horseback riding on ranch trails. Vista Verde has great facilities, great staff, isolation, and wonderfully reliable snow. They earn that overused adjective, “world class.”
Methow Valley, Washington
The Methow Valley has seen significant growth in winter visitor numbers recently, thanks in part to COVID escapees, but that number becomes insignificant when you realize this remote area has over 220km of groomed trails to play on, probably the largest and certainly one of the finest northern networks in North America. There are three separate but related trail systems: Mazama, Sun Mountain Lodge (a 3,000-acre resort located 2,000 feet above the valley floor), and The Rendezvous. All and the towns of Winthrop and Mazama are connected by the 30km Methow Community Trail, with multiple access points and lodges along the way. Plan to stay at least five days – less self-deprivation.
Stokely Creek Lodge, Ontario
“First opening for skiing in 1976-’77, Stokely is a legend among Midwestern skiers,” says Wiesel. “Boasting the “Lake Superior snow machine”, which can drop 4 feet in a single storm, it has a long season, beautiful terrain and a huge trail network spanning 8,000 acres, as well as an incredibly loyal clientele. Stokely is easily accessible by motorway but completely isolated. You have to walk half a kilometer on snow to get to the lodge, your luggage is carried for you. Accommodation is in lodges or chalets. Skiers explore a land of lakes and dramatic granite cliffs, all that remains of a vast mountain range once crushed and eroded by glaciers. Longtime guests Gaylen and Susan Byker and Ian and Tanya Byker Phair bought Stokely in 2007 and upgraded the facilities, but kept the old flavor. It is a special place, whether you are a beginner or an expert skier.