There's snow on the ground, sun in the sky, and this is the perfect time of year to get out on cross-country skis. If you aren't a cross-country skier already, what are you waiting for? It's safe, easy to learn, and great exercise for folks of all fitness levels. Take up cross-country skiing now and, instead of grumping around for the next two months, you'll be sorry to see the snow melt in spring.
Cross-country skiing doesn't require nearly as much snow (or as much money) as alpine. What follows is not a comprehensive list, but rather some personal favorites where I've actually skied. Try any of them this winter: good times guaranteed: The Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center (603-466-2333;
www.greatglentrails.com) in Gorham, N.H., is one of my all-time favorites with its phenomenal views, an extensive network of trails ranging from super-easy to "Oh-My-God" challenging. They've got the unique "Snow Coach" service which takes you 4 1/2 miles up the Mount Washington Auto Road to tree line, and lets you ski back down.
If you want to stay overnight and ski the next day, I recommend the AMC's Joe Dodge Lodge (www.outdoors.org) where they feed you a great family-style breakfast and dinner in the company of other active outdoors enthusiasts. If you must have a private bath, head back down to Jackson (href='http://www.jacksonnh.com'>www.jacksonnh.com) where they've lodging and dining options galore.
Another personal favorite in New Hampshire is the Waterville Valley Nordic Center (1-800-468-2553;www.waterville.com) in Waterville Valley. Great trails, lots of lodging and dining options.
Vermont has many, many cross country options and I haven't skied all of them. But my personal favorite is the Trapp Family Lodge (802-253-8511;www.trappfamily.com) in Stowe (www.gostowe.com). It's not surprising that their cross-country network is among my favorites.Trapp's was the first true cross-country ski resort in the United States, starting in 1968 (the year I first cross-country skied). Currently, they groom about 45K for both tracks and skate skiing, make snow on seven or eight kilometers (more than any other resort in New England, I believe) and mark another 10 kilometers of backcountry ski and snowshoe trails.
If you're skiing Trapp's for the first time, make the Slayton Pasture Cabin your goal. It's about 5km from the main lodge via the very steep Cabin Trail or almost 6K by the route along Sugar Road, then up (and up, and more up) the not-so-steep Parizo Trail and across the mountain's shoulder on the far end of Cabin Trail.
My other favorites in Vermont are the lovely Mountain Top Inn (800-445-2100;www.mountaintopinn.com) in Chittenden, Vermont, which is s a perfect romantic weekend getaway spot with wonderful trails and a world-class sledding hill and Ole's Cross Country Ski Center (877-863-3001; www.olesxc.com) in Warren, Vermont, which has its core trails on what is an airport in the summer with wonderful views of Sugarbush.
Two more of my cross-county favorites are over in New York. Garnet Hill Lodge XC Center (518-251-2150; www.garnet-hill.com) in North River, N.Y., has a wonderful rustic lodge, good food, and miles of trails -- including one you can ski down from the top of Gore Mountain.
Then, up in Lake Placid the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg (www.orda.org) is truly world-class. Olympic quality racers ski there all the time. It's also the only spot where ordinary citizens get to try out the fiendishly tough sport of biathlon. My sweetheart Marilyn and I are headed to the Mirror Lake Inn (www.mirrorlakeinn.com) for a getaway in March.
There are so many places to cross country ski. So go, try it. Take a leson if you need to. Start on an easy trail but start somewhere. Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy.
I Love Golf (Courses, That is!)
Some of the very best cross-country ski centers are set up on golf courses. As far as I'm concerned, they could skip the golf . . . though I suppose it's something to do in the summer . . . Cross-country ski centers on golf courses always have very gentle, rolling hills and smooth trails -perfect for learning.
Cross country skiing near Boston? You better believe it. Weston Ski Track (781-891-6575;www.SkiBoston.com). In Weston, Mass., has gotten more snow this year than some northern areas.
In Maine, try the Bethel Inn (www.bethelinn.com) for a lovely setting, on the edge of a charming New England village with views across the Androscoggin River valley to the mountains of Western Maine. (Nice place to stay, too.)
If you are in the Sunapee or Upper Valley regions of New Hampshire, check out the golf course trails at Eastman Cross Country Center (603-863-4500;www.eastmannh.org) in Grantham, NH. Not as flat as most golf courses.
Okemo Mountain Resort, (1-800-786-5366;www.okemo.com ) in Ludlow and are both wonderful golf-course-based cross county ski centers and great escapes from Okemo or Sugarbush.
The Best Of Both Worlds!
These three areas have the best of both worlds: lovely, open, easy golf-course trails and more challenging, steeper trails through the trees.
Balsams Wilderness (1-800-255-0600;www.thebalsams.com) in Dixville Notch, N.H. Isolated and absolutely lovely, the Balsams Grand Hotel right there.
Bretton Woods (1-877-873-0626;www.mountwashingtonresort.com ) in Bretton Woods, N.H. A huge trails system, beautifully groomed, and the Mount Washington Hotel.
Jackson Ski Touring Foundation (603-383-9355;www.jacksonxc.org ) in Jackson, N.H. Two weeks ago, I told you about this gem, one of my all time favorites. Stay at the Wentworth, Snowflake Inn or Eagle Mountain House-all right on the trail system.
And The Winner Is . . .
My personal favorite place to cross-country ski? That's easy. Wherever there's snow. Try it. You'll like it.