cross country skiing and snowshoeing in Central and Southern California

Aspen/Snowmass (970-920-5124, www.aspennordic.com) has the most extensive free Nordic trail system in America, more than 80 km of groomed trails called "Aspen's fifth mountain." The Aspen Nordic Council's free system is accessible from Aspen or Snowmass and includes easy golf-course skiing, as well as more difficult trails rising up to Snowmass.

In addition to the free trails provided by Aspen's Nordic Council, Ashcroft Ski Touring Unlimited (970-925-1971, www.pinecreekcookhouse.com) has 42 km of groomed and set trails, and backcountry skiers can use summer hiking trails. Lessons and rentals are available. CCSAA member

Hut systems connect Aspen with Vail on the Tenth Mountain Trail and with Crested Butte over the Pearl Pass. Guides are available and recommended. Call Tenth Mountain Trail Association for more information, 970-925-5775.

Other centers are the Aspen Cross Country Center (970-544-9246) on the Aspen Golf Course off Hwy 82; Ute Mountaineer (970-925-2849) is a ski retail shop; Braun Hut System (970-925-6618), which has information on trails to Crested Butte; and Snowmass Club Cross Country Center (970-923-3148).

Snowshoeing is quite popular in town, so ask about those programs at any of the cross-country centers mentioned here. In conjunction with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), Aspen Skiing Company has naturalist-guided tours for a daily (including lift rides, equipment and snack) on Aspen Mountain and Snowmass. Call 970-925-1220 or ACES at 970-925-5756 for reservations. You also can snowshoe up Aspen Mountain or Buttermilk at certain times and on certain runs. Ask an Aspen Skiing Company concierge about this if you're interested in more information.

Aspen has a malled downtown and incredible shops, boutiques and restaurants. Some of it represents the high life, but Aspen is a town that has a population that values outdoor recreation and it is sprinkled with occasional celebrity sightings.