Escapes

Q:

Where is the best cross-country skiing in the West?

I’m planning a long weekend of cross-country skiing in the West. Which national park is a better option: Yosemite or Rocky Mountain?

Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter     Photo: Derek Keats/Flickr

A:Wow, you’ve really put me in a position to piss some people off, haven’t you? But I'd say it's Rocky Mountain, hands down. Not that you’d have a crappy weekend schussing along the 350 miles of ski-accessible roads and trails in Yosemite. The park even boasts 25 miles of groomed tracks at the Badger Pass Cross Country Center. It’s just that the ski touring in Rocky Mountain is infinitely more varied and rugged, with scenery that’s just as photo-worthy.

The powder-pounded western side of the park usually offers the most consistent snow, while the wind-exposed eastern side of the Contintental Divide has a larger network of easily accessible paths. Nothing here is groomed, but all of the most popular routes are tracked by skiers and snowshoers within hours of a storm. Your flattest options are the trails on the east side of Bear Lake, located near the center of the park at 9,400 feet in elevation. The trails that project from the untamed Wild Basin to the southeast are also a safe bet. On the west, the Nordic focal point is Grand Lake in the Kawuneeche Valley. Rangers will often lead Nordic tours through this area from the visitor’s center, where you can also find a ski trail map. Estes Park Mountain Shop rents skis, and can point you toward the trails with the best conditions.

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