According to Snowsports Industries America, there are more than 5 million people in the United States who say they are active cross-country skiers, and that number has been growing consistently for the past 10 years. Fun fact: New England has more cross-country skiers than any other region in the country.
It makes sense to us. It’s a fun way to enjoy (endure) our long winters, and to get out and play in our gorgeous backyard.
“It’s great exercise, and a perfect way to embrace the winter season, whether you’re a competitive racer or just someone who wants to enjoy a beautiful winter day,’’ says Amie Witten Smith, executive director at the New England Nordic Ski Association. “It’s also a lifelong sport that can be enjoyed from childhood to well into your 80s and beyond.’’
Come winter, a variety of parks, farms, nature centers, golf courses, and local paths and trails are open for cross-country skiing. You’ll also find top-notch Nordic centers and resorts, with miles of groomed trails, and a slew of amenities. Here are some of our favorites.
Weston Ski Track
If there’s snow on the ground, this popular center at the Leo J. Martin Golf Course, about 15 miles from Boston, will be buzzing with skiers. High school teams, ski clubs, athletes in training, and mere amateurs looking to get in a few glides, flock here winter long.
The skinny: There are 15 kilometers of natural, groomed trails looping through woods and skirting the Charles River. Another 2.5 kilometers or so has snowmaking and lights for night skiing. Devotees tout the center’s “impeccable grooming’’ and “knowledgeable staff.’’
The extras: There’s a clubhouse, snack bar, lessons, and equipment rentals. There’s also a couple of woodsy snowshoe trails.
Great Brook Ski Touring Center
Trails crisscross fields, climb hills, and skirt Meadow Pond at the picturesque Great Brook Farm State Park, in Carlisle, about 25 miles from Boston. There are several beginner-friendly trails that meander through the woods, along with a few more challenging routes. The Lantern Loop is a favorite, and on Tuesday and Thursday evenings the trail is lit with lanterns for night skiing, weather permitting.
The skinny: A 10-mile network of wide, machine-groomed trails that are marked according to difficulty. Several are family-friendly.
The extras: Warm yourself next to the wood stove in the cow barn. There’s a small snack bar, and ski equipment, snowshoe, and pulk sled rentals. Snowshoeing is allowed on ungroomed trails throughout the park.
Craftsbury Outdoor Center
Want to ski the scenic, uncrowded Northeast Kingdom of Vermont? This nonprofit organization has developed a massive network of trails for varying abilities. Shorter loops near the Center and around the village of Craftsbury are perfect for day trips. The Center grooms and maintains all the trails in Greensboro as well, and runs a shuttle on weekends and holidays. The loop around Great Hosmer Pond, with a stop at Charley’s Cabin for hot chocolate and cookies, is popular. The system also connects to the Catamount Trail, for nearly endless possibilities.
The skinny: The network includes more than 100 kilometers of groomed trails in Craftsbury, Greensboro, and Albany, Vt., for classical and skate skiing. Multi-day, lodge-to-lodge trips can be organized.
The extras: The Center offers a variety of accommodations, including trailside cabins, private suites, and shared rooms. All lodging includes all-you-can-eat meals in the recently renovated dining hall. The food gets rave reviews, offering fresh, locally inspired dishes. There are equipment rentals and lessons, ice skating, fat biking, and snowshoeing.
If solitude and winter wonderland scenery is what you crave, Hazen’s Notch delivers. You’ll trek through dense forests and rolling meadows, with all-around views of the Green Mountains. And, chances are, you’ll have plenty of snow cover; Hazen’s Notch, near Jay Peak, typically receives more snow than anywhere else in Vermont.
The skinny: There are 25 groomed trails, more than 64 kilometers, traversing 2,500 acres of conservation land. Marked trails vary in difficulty and range from five to 25 kilometers.
The extras: There’s a woodstove in the Welcome Center for warming boots and body, and renting ski equipment and snowshoes. Ten miles of ungroomed trails are reserved for snowshoeing.
Jackson Ski Touring Foundation
You get the Norman Rockwell winter experience at this northern New Hampshire resort: a covered bridge, an expansive network of snowy trails, gorgeous mountain views, and easy access to inns, pubs, and restaurants along the way. Located in the pretty village of Jackson, it’s considered one of the finest cross-country centers in the country, with excellent facilities and trail care.
The skinny: No matter what your ability level, you’ll find something to like. There are 57 groomed trails covering more than 150 kilometers, plus an international race course. Trails also link to Appalachian Mountain Club trails in Pinkham Notch and backcountry trails in the White Mountain National Forest.
The extras: There’s a base lodge with a rental and repair shop, group and private skiing and snowshoeing lessons, trailside warming cabins, guided tours and workshops, and special events held throughout the season. Snowshoe enthusiasts have 40 kilometers of dedicated trails, and miles of backcountry.
Bretton Woods Nordic Center
Lift-serviced cross-country trails? You bet. Ride a quad to the five-mile Mountain Road Nordic trail, and take a T-bar to Mount Stickney Cabin (with a fireplace, drinks, and snacks) to access high elevation trails. There are trails around icy ponds and snow-banked streams, and through forests and wide-open fields, with views of the surrounding Presidential Mountain Range.
The skinny: The network, considered one of the largest on the East Coast, includes 100 kilometers; 45 trails traverse some 1,770 acres.
The extras: Bretton Woods Clubhouse & Nordic Center has a restaurant, equipment rentals, and lessons. It’s also part of the luxe Omni Mount Washington Resort, with a range of accommodations and a slew of activities, including snowshoeing, alpine skiing, sleigh rides, tubing, ice skating, snowmobiling, and guided backcountry adventures.
Bear Notch Ski Touring Center
If you’re looking for an old-fashioned, laid-back skiing experience, try this no-frills spot in Bartlett, N.H. Buy passes (cash or check only) and pick up maps at the farmhouse and then head into the woods on groomed and marked trails. Views of the Saco River, frozen waterfalls, and distant mountain peaks are highlights.
The skinny: There are 55 kilometers of trails. Most are easy to moderate, but a few have some steep ups and downs.
The extras: Dogs are welcome on all trails. The warming hut offers homemade soups and breads for lunch. There are also equipment rentals and private and group lessons.
Rangeley Lakes Trails Center
This playful center in western Maine, on the lower slopes of Saddleback Mountain, is a favorite with families. While skiing (or snowshoeing) keep an eye out for the locally carved wood gnomes. For a little help, pick up the gnome map at the trailside yurt lodge. There’s a serious side to skiing here, too, with a variety of quiet and secluded trails for all abilities.
The skinny: You’ll find more than 55 kilometers of groomed and backcountry single track, most catering to beginners and intermediates.
The extras: The yurt has snacks and beverages, and it’s where you’ll rent equipment and sign up for lessons. There’s snowshoeing on dedicated trails. There are also fat-tire bike rentals, and bikers can use groomed trails. Dogs are welcome on some trails during the week.