Some call the vast network of cross-country ski trails in the Roaring Fork Valley “the Fifth Mountain of Aspen,” an alternative to high-octane skiing served by lifts in Ajax, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass .
In some cases, this is also part of the other four, as the iconic Owl Creek Trail crosses the Snowmass and Buttermilk trails, and Raoul’s Revenge near Aspen High School passes right under the chairlift for the athletes of the ski club. and snowboarding from Aspen Valley access Aspen Highlands.
But there’s also a lot of solitude to be found on the over 60 mile network maintained by the nonprofit Aspen Snowmass Nordic Council (aspennordic.com), the 13 mile system at Spring Gulch outside of Carbondale (springgulch.org) and the 22 Mile Turntable at Ashcroft Ski Touring in the Castle Creek Valley near Aspen (pinecreekcookhouse.com).
The Aspen Cross Country Center and Ashcroft Ski Touring both offer rentals, lessons and excursions; Spring Gulch does not have onsite facilities, so head to Basalt Bike & Ski for rentals on the way.
Just take note that this season the Snowmass Cross Country Center will not be operating. It was closed last season due to staff issues, low profitability and the ongoing pandemic. Shortages in the rental equipment supply chain have impacted the possibility of its reopening this year.
No matter where you’re headed, be sure to pack snacks, water, sunscreen, and diapers – bonus points if you go out in fluorescent colors. Expect to sweat even on the coldest days.
Keep in mind that dogs are only allowed on certain trails: Bernese Boulevard and the Marolt Open Space Loop in Aspen, Labrador Lane in Snowmass, the Rio Grande Trail, and the Maroon Bells Route. All other routes are reserved for skiers and snowshoers.
And if someone calls you a “Nordork,” don’t be offended – it can be a term of affection among cross-country skiing crowds, especially those wearing flashy leggings and fluorescent jackets.
Trails off the beaten track
Most of the trails in the Local Nordic Network are so central to Aspen and Snowmass that they only require a bus ride or short walk to get to them. But there are outposts just as worthy of an adventure off the beaten track.
For the leisure enthusiast: Enjoy smooth and gentle prairie ski tours in the North Star Nature Reserve, located a few miles east of Aspen.
For the early bird skater: Walk up Maroon Creek Road just after sunrise and park at T-Lazy-7 Ranch for 7am corduroy on a 12 mile ski round trip to the Maroon Bells. The early departure ensures pristine conditions before the snowmobile tours follow the trail.
For the ghost hunter: Venture to Ashcroft Ski Touring, located about 12 miles up Castle Creek Road from Aspen, and explore the ghost town and its full-service restaurant, the Pine Creek Cookhouse, on skis. A day ticket or a season pass is required.
For Mount Sopris stan: Soak up scenic vistas of 12,995-foot Mount Sopris from the Spring Gulch trails, located just over 7 miles outside of Carbondale. Thrill seekers will particularly appreciate the tight bends of the Big Dipper, but there are trails for all skill levels.
No skis, no problem
Skiing isn’t your thing? Aspen and Snowmass have an extensive network of trails for winter hiking, although traction devices like Yaktrax or Stabilicers can come in handy.
Check out aspentrailfinder.com/winter-trails for a full list of the best hiking trails, but don’t walk on trails that are groomed exclusively for cross-country skiing. Snowshoers are welcome on the Aspen-Snowmass Nordic Network, but those walking in regular shoes or snow boots should stick to pet-friendly trails. Rentals are available at Aspen Nordic Center and Ashcroft Ski Touring. Bikers with big tires can enjoy a bike-specific loop that starts at the Nordic Center of Aspen or heads towards the Rio Grande.