Do You Want to be a Nordic Ski Patroller?

Skiers visiting a commercial cross country ski resort can feel comfortable knowing that if they get injured there is most likely a ski patroller on site during their visit. But who are these patrollers?


Since 1938 the National Ski Patrol (NSP) has served the public and outdoor recreation industry providing education and credentials for emergency care and safety service. The NSP has had a Nordic division since the early 1970s, and these Nordic patrollers provide venue coverage at Nordic ski resorts, services to backcountry enthusiasts by interfacing with the National Forest Service and different park agencies, and can be an integral aspect of local search and rescue groups.



The diverse nature of the Nordic classification lends itself to be a unique program within the NSP. These patrollers who work at ski resorts, in the backcountry, and at alpine ski areas use a variety of equipment types, and know the extended patient care knowledge required and the needed backcountry survival skills. This all contributes to defining what Nordic patrollers do.


Nordic Patrollers are educated with a comprehensive manual and Nordic ski enhancement seminars offered by NSP regional divisions. These are effective tools to build strong confidence and proficiency on the trails. The NSP is standardizing the program throughout the divisions, so the same tools are applied for patrollers to succeed and a quality assurance plan is being put in place to ensure that the NSP members meet high standards.


Mountain Travel and Rescue (MTR) courses provide a variety of skills, including nutrition and how the body performs in a wilderness environment, weather patterns, survival skills, working with group dynamics, an introduction to search and rescue, rope rescue skills, improvised toboggan construction, and land navigation with map, compass, and GPS. The MTR courses are taught in classroom and field sessions including mock scenarios to ensure the attendees can apply what they have learned to real life situations.


Whether you are an outdoor enthusiast looking to expand survival and travel skills in the backcountry environment or a ski patroller preparing for one of the worst possible scenarios a parent can face at a ski area (a lost child), the NSP has a range of training. NSP also covers fundamental principles of avalanche hazard and work with mountain search and rescue groups. Patrollers who operate/recreate in areas that lack appreciable avalanche terrain are trained in navigation, emergency rescue, and even survival skills.


Can there be a more rewarding role on the snow than to help someone in need? To find out more about training programs, membership benefits, regional programs, and credential requirements at the National Ski Patrol, click


Becoming a Certified Nordic Ski Instructor

Nordic snow pros or ski instructors teach the sport for the same reason to celebrate the community and culture of the sport and to share that experience with as many people as possible. Professional ski and snowboard instructors come in all shapes and sizes and from many different backgrounds. There are part-time and full-time instructors while some prefer teaching beginners, or kids, because they enjoy introducing new people to the sport, others are coaching competitive athletes at the highest level.


PSIA-AASI is the national organization in the USA that offers professional certification and certificate programs for those instructors looking to gain peer-reviewed recognition of their skills and knowledge. PSIA-AASI develops national certification standards with the industry partners that provide the foundation for these credentialing programs. The organization is comprised of regional divisions. As of the end of June 2013 there were 893 certified PSIA-AASI instructors for cross country skiing and 1,801 certified instructors for telemark skiing (usually done at alpine ski areas). Canada has the Canadian Association of Nordic Ski Instructors (CANSI), a similar organization had 781 members in 2012-2013 including 583 xc ski instructors and 236 telemark ski instructors (some members have both certifications). These professional organizations are endorsed by the Cross Country Ski Areas Association and its president Reese Brown, commented, "For the best ski experience possible, take a lesson with a certified ski instructor."


The current PSIA-AASI education/certification standards provide a training focus and represent a minimum competency for each level of certification. There are specific PSIA-AASI manuals about teaching cross country skiing and telemark skiing. CANSI has four certification levels in xc and three in telemark. Certification courses are organized and run by six different regions across Canada, following standards established by the National Technical Committee. Besides regular professional development days, CANSI members have access to a variety of technical material such as a very detailed and comprehensive Instructor Manual, newsletters and videos. Professional members also benefit from a liability insurance coverage when teaching, and enjoy discounts with several industry-leading equipment suppliers.


From professional development to expanding your abilities to share the ski experience with others, to making lifelong friends and memories, PSIA-AASI is devoted to helping you make your time as an instructor as rewarding as possible. PSIA-AASI membership consists of both registered and certified members. Once you join the Association you become a registered member. When you take and pass your Level I, Level II or Level III certification exams, you become a certified member or instructor.


PSIA-AASI provides much more than just a membership; it provides a connection to people who are excited about skiing and sharing that passion with others. And, it provides a connection to sliding on snow that has the power to change lives.


The organization has more than 31,000 total members, hundreds of discount products from official suppliers and the PSIA-AASI Accessories Catalog available to members at a discount. Other membership benefits include attending clinics, attaining nationally recognized certification, online teaching resources and printed technical manuals, PSIA-AASI's magazine 32 Degrees, discounts on products from official suppliers, instructional aid products, and liability insurance coverage.


The costs associated with becoming a certified PSIA-AASI Nordic instructor are about $150 for attending a 2-day event in one of the regions where you would learn the particulars of teaching (covering material in the Nordic ski instruction manual) and $127 annual dues. For example, the PSIA-AASI events in 2012-13 sanctioned by the Eastern Division were held at 13 ski areas in six different states across the region during the winter (3 in VT, 3 in NH, 3 in NY, 2 in ME, 1 in MA, 1 in WV). Attending courses for CANSI can cost $250-300 but this includes the first year of annual membership, which costs $70 per year. If you're interested in sharing the passion of cross country skiing and becoming a certified instructor, contact or in Canada to find your respective division.

Skijoring: Enjoying Winter Trails with Your Dog

Skijoring is a Norwegian word that means "skidriving." A team of one or more dogs pulls an xc skier and the skier "drives" or directs the team as he or she skis behind. In Scandinavia, skijoring has been done for centuries and it is gaining popularity in the US. It's easy to learn and can lead to magical winter days for you and your canine friend. Skijoring will help keep your dog fit and healthy and it can deepen and enhance the relationship that you have with your dog. Learning to work with your dog and become a team is a great reward that skijoring has to offer.


The Skier

The human aspect of skijoring requires skiing ability, dog training, and handling skills. Any XC ski gear can be used for skijoring and classic or skating ski techniques can be used. The type of ski selected depends on the experience that your desire such as how fast you want to ski and how far you want to go. Expect that a fast running dog on a groomed ski trail will be very quick and skating might be the best choice.


If you are new to XC skiing, it is recommended that you take ski lessons and practice prior to trying skijoring with your dog. Ski ability requires that you are able to control your speed, stop, and keep balance. But as previously mentioned, skijoring is a team activity and you should expect to work as hard as your dog. It is not a FREE RIDE!


Dog training and handling skills are equally important so it is useful if you and your dog have participated in an obedience class together. Key elements include being positive, patient, and consistent. Positive reinforcement is important with any animal training and short easy sessions will yield great results. You want to feel successful and gain confidence together.


The Dog

No matter the breed (above 30 pounds), dogs have a strong instinct to chase, run on a trail, or hunt as a pack. While sometimes this instinct can result in unwanted behavior, when carefully shaped and trained, it also enables your dog to pull. One of the easiest ways to teach your dog skijoring is hooking him/her up with an experienced skijoring or sled dog team. Another method that works is to have someone ski slightly in front of your dog and call it, while you let it pull you.


Some dogs may learn immediately and others may take a little more work and encouragement, but keep things in perspective.


Dogs need adequate water and it is recommended not to run them on a full stomach. They can overheat in warmer temperatures (above 40 degrees) and dogs with thin coats (such as pointers) can get too cold. You might consider dog booties for abrasive snow conditions (may take some getting used to) and for furry footed dogs, you should trim the hair on their paws or use oils (Musher's Secret) to prevent snowballs. If your dog is not regularly exercised, start with very short sessions and work up from there. Consult a veterinarian for advice about ideal running weight for the breed of dog that you own.


Skijoring Equipment

The gear for skijoring is lightweight and simple. Booties have already been mentioned and a harness is necessary to connect you with the dog. A webbed harness when pulled to complete length stretches from your dog's neck and chest to the base of his/her tail. A good fitting harness should allow a dog to run and pull efficiently and safely. It is best to have an experienced and knowledgeable skijorer help to fit your dog's first harness. A bungee lead (a leash with a bungee cord sewn inside of it) is useful to prevent jerking motions and ease the stress of pulling on your dog. You will also have a harness around your hips and legs and these come in a variety of styles that should fit so that you can move and ski efficiently. A safety release between your harness and the line connecting you to the dog is very important.


Communication and Sharing

When you are ready to go, with a friend in front to encourage your dog, let him/her start pulling and give the command "Let's Go!"

There are many commands you will learn as a skijorer such as "whoa" or stop, "on by" meaning leave that irresistible distraction alone and keep going, "gee" means go right and "haw" means go left. "Come around" means turn around. Taking a class in skijoring will help you get started the right way.


While on the trails with your dog please be aware of trail etiquette. Respect the guidelines at an xc ski area and stay on the dog-friendly trails that are specified. Loose dogs can be an annoyance and even a danger to both skiers and other dogs. Be aware of others on the trail.


Louisa Morrissey teaches skijoring clinics at Devil's Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa in Tabernash, CO and at Frisco Nordic Center in Frisco, CO on Jan 25 and Feb 8. Also private lessons with advance reservations are available through the Aspen Animal Shelter. For more info about her programs


Take Advantage of Cross Country Ski Demo Day

Try before you buy - many XC ski areas conduct demo days to give skiers an opportunity to test drive the newest XC ski equipment. It's a day when product suppliers' branded tents and flags are flapping in the wind and company reps stand guard armed with knowledge of their wares.


You might participate in a demo because you have outdated gear (national statistics say that XC skis are 17 years old on average) and want to test new and different equipment to replace your old clunkers. Or you might just want to experience the advantages of the new gear. A pair of XC skis can be as high as $500 for premium models, so it makes great sense to try some different skis, ski categories, and brands to find something that best fits you.


Depending on how organized the demo is, you might need a credit card and/or identification for security but remember to also bring an open mind. The rep will ask you about your skiing ability and interests. If you're an intermediate skier who gets out on the trails four times a winter it is very different from a skier who hits the trails every weekend and can fly on skate skis. Give the rep an accurate description of your skiing prowess and interests so he or she can make a recommendation for you.


If you need a new set up and want to use a product demo to help make the decision about what to buy, do some homework before going to the demo. Talk with a knowledgeable ski shop employee who XC skis. Be wary of the alpine ski shop that limits its XC ski products to a dark or dusty back corner of the store. Find a reputable XC ski shop that sells multiple models among a few different brands of XC skis. Check out some company brand websites or other general XC ski-oriented websites.


When at the demo, get the right size skis for your weight and ski on them for about 15 minutes. Find some uphill and downhill trails to see how the skis perform. Do the skis hold going uphill or do you have to fight to prevent backsliding? Are some skis easier to turn than others? Does the glide seem to extend or do the skis slow down quickly? If you don't know what to look for while testing, ask the rep for some tips.


It is recommended to stay in the same category of skis when testing, so if you're trying a recreational waxless ski from one brand, test a similar ski and price point from a different brand before switching to a different kind of skis.


Of course, there are two different XC ski boot/bindings available and if you don't use the same system on the different skis that you're testing, you'll have to change boots to ski the other boot/binding system.


Rossignol rep Will Masson commented about the advantage of demoing with the NIS binding, "The NIS system allows you to move the binding on the ski to 7 different positions so you can fine tune your grip and glide position on the skis. The binding starts out at the balance point position and moves forward 1.5 cm and back 1.5 cm to customize your weight distribution on a particular ski. This can only be achieved when using the NIS system.


There is a graph that shows the benefits of moving the binding forward and back on the plate for skating and classic. A customer might be right between a 176 cm and a 186 cm ski on the recommended weight chart. That customer can be put on the longer ski to enhance the glide, and then the binding would be moved forward to maximize their grip on that longer ski. Advantages are like fine tuning a driver in golf, or a handlebar stem height on a bike, or strings in a tennis racquet. With other Nordic binding systems once you mount the binding you are stuck in that position!"

XC ski boots are a very important aspect of XC skiing comfort and it makes great sense to ski on some different brands. Do you want your boots to feel like a comfortable sneaker or do you desire the substantial support of a stiff sole? Is the toe box area of the boot creasing in a comfortable spot when you're skiing? Do your heels rise when you lift your foot? Is the boot too tight or too loose? Should you get custom insoles for your boots to make your feet feel more comfortable?


Have you tried XC ski poles recently? Ski poles have different grip straps that are easier to use and you may find that they are more comfortable and effective than traditional ski pole straps. Sunglasses are a great item to test. Do they fog up when you get sweaty? Do they feel so tight that you might get a headache? Are interchangeable lenses available for times of low light or bright sun?


Dedicate part of your ski day to the demo and try more than a few skis, poles, and boots. It should be fun and then you can make informed decisions when you purchase your next set of XC ski equipment and you'll feel great that you bought the perfect gear. For a nationwide demo day and introduction to XC skiing and snowshoeing click Winter Trails. Check the What's Happening Page for some demo day listings or contact a XC ski area near you to see when they will conduct their next demo day. SIA Photo of SIA Nordic Demo at Devil's Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa




XC Skiing For Pregnant and Postpartum Women by Claire Roper

Every pregnancy guide book and website will tell you that it's very important to exercise during your pregnancy. Exercise will help to keep your body loose and supple, leaving you much more well equipped to deal with the strains and stresses of late pregnancy and, ultimately, labor. What those same books and websites are hazy about though, are exactly which sports and exercise you should be undertaking: if you have always been into cross country (XC) skiing, can you continue to ski during pregnancy?


XC Skiing During Pregnancy

The simple answer is that yes, provided you have the approval of your doctor, you are able to enjoy XC skiing during early pregnancy. If you are not a regular and expert XC skier then your pregnancy is definitely not a good time to take up the sport; it is important that you are able to balance and feel there is a minimal risk of falling during your ski, as it is any fall or bump that has the potential to be damaging to your baby.


Perhaps you can check out some skiing videos and read some snow reports before you hit the slopes, to consider how you feel about enjoying your favorite winter sport while you're pregnant? Some women find even seeing skiing makes them feel so concerned that they are unable to enjoy themselves like they usually do.


Even if you are an experienced and regular XC skier, there are some precautions you should take if you decide to hit the snow whilst pregnant. Try not to overexert yourself too much: take things slower and less enthusiastically than you might have previously. Pay attention to your body and how you're feeling; don't push through any twinges or shortness of breath. Sit down and take a short rest instead!


Many women will choose to stop skiing at around the fifth month of their pregnancy because this is when most women find they really notice their baby bumps and they begin to feel cumbersome. When your bump is large it will also affect your center of gravity, which could in turn increase your risk of experiencing a fall. You shouldn't be concerned about the higher altitude of your ski destination affecting your baby however; this is a widely reported myth! Plenty of babies are born at higher altitudes, and the change in oxygen levels will have no effect on your unborn child.


Finally, because every pregnancy and every woman is different, ensure you discuss your plans with your doctor before you continue with your current exercise regime. That way, he or she will be able to tell you of any risks posed to your own particular circumstances. But if you are a healthy woman having a normal healthy pregnancy then there should be no reason not to enjoy a leisurely ski.


Postpartum XC Skiing

Postpartum exercise is beneficial for new moms, both mentally and physically. Depending on the type of child birth you experience, most new moms are given the all clear to begin exercising again at around a month to six weeks after their baby is born.


Once you are given the okay to exercise, there's no reason why you can't return to XC skiing! Just take it slowly and make sure you don't overexert yourself. It is unlikely that you will be able to go straight back into your pre-baby routine; instead set yourself small challenges to work your way of to your pre pregnancy fitness levels. Don't extend your joints to the point where it causes pain or stretch too excessively. Post-partum women will find their joints and ligaments are much softer for the first couple of months following the birth of their child, so it is important to be aware of this and avoid hurting yourself.


By following these few simple tips, there is no reason not to enjoy XC skiing during your pregnancy and after the birth of your baby. Why not get your skis on and find out for yourself?

Cross Country Skiing SAVES THE WORLD - The Winter Fortress Book Review

Had Nazi Germany won the competition to build the first atomic bomb in the early 1940's, the world today could be a very different place. The book entitled The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler's Atomic Bomb by Neal Bascomb is the gripping true accounting of the race to build the atom bomb during World War II.


In 1942, the Nazis were working on the atom bomb and they depended on a necessary ingredient "heavy water," which was produced in Vemork, Norway at an electricity plant run by Norsk Hydro. The Nazis invaded Norway and commandeered the facility, which was set in a castle fortress above a precipitous gorge. The production of heavy water was forcibly increased and shipped to Germany to be used in experiments needed to create the atomic bomb.


Bascomb sets the stage explaining the production of the bomb and the background of the story's Norwegian participants, who planned and implemented what may have been the most significant and daring commando raid of World War II. Various plans were hatched in Britain and communicated to Norwegian spies, who during the winter on their cross country skis in the backcountry withstood hardships to avoid the German occupiers. The Winter Fortress has plenty of activity on cross country skis including a long distance chase escaping Germans on skis, which would make any Norwegian Olympic biathlete proud.


The winter-oriented hardships were dramatic such as parachuting at night, freezing temperatures, the search for food, and during the nighttime trek to the Vemork plant "trudging through snowdrifts sinking nearly to their armpits in wet snow." During the raid the saboteurs were dressed in white camouflage suits over British Army uniforms to make it look like they were not Norwegians to spare the local population from German retaliation. They advanced on skis and on foot before climbing a 600-foot wall above the Mana River to clandestinely reach the facility, which was set on a rock ledge.


The efforts of the Norwegian underground to sabotage the plant were marred for months by miscalculations, malfunctions, and calamities as the men waited to receive orders. They braved multi-day blizzards, unsuccessful hunting for food, and cabin fever to the enth degree. These Norwegians, who refused to submit to the Nazi occupiers were mostly trained in Britain and supported by local sympathizers. They awaited the conceptualized schemes by British and Norwegian masterminds. The plans had various possible results that were outlined and comparatively analyzed by the author.


The story is a roller coaster of determined undertakings to interfere with the German efforts to produce and transport heavy water. The impact on the protagonists and their families and neighbors are portrayed as well as Nazi brutality in the war.


Neal Bascomb lives in Seattle and is a former international journalist, who is a widely recognized speaker on the subject of World War II and the best-selling author of Hunting Eichmann, The Perfect Mile, and Red Mutiny. The publication date of The Winter Fortress from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is scheduled for May 3, 2016.

Mt. Washington Valley Visit – Don't Make Assumptions about Trail Conditions

I just got back from a weekend in the Mt. Washington Valley in New Hampshire's White Mountains and the report is that the trail conditions were great. This had been a good start to the winter season and there had been a few snow storms that provided great trail cover in the region, but now an epic rainstorm and extended warm up were forecast.


Case in point, the Jackson Ski Touring Center received three feet of snow in December. During the winter break between Christmas and New Year's Day, the number of skiers reported at Jackson had increased by 15 percent over last year's numbers. Overall, skier visits were up and the conditions made for excellent skiing and snowshoeing. Jackson Ski Touring Center Executive Director Thom Perkins said, "Even with some recent rain, there is still plenty of snow on the ground here in Jackson." And I can personally confirm that snow.


The weekend started on Saturday with a visit to Great Glen Outdoor Trails Center in Gorham, NH. It rained most of the time that we were out on the trails; all right, some might call it torrential downpour. But the snow was very skiable, not too soft or slushy. There were some very wet areas on the trails (called ponding) that we could easily ski around and avoid. We were in the leeward side of the mighty Mt. Washington and we got soaked but we were comfortable in the well-designed forested trails and never felt any wind from the storm. One skier in my group was a first timer and he had no problem with the weather or the ski conditions. I had intended to take the SnowCoach up the Mt. Washington Toll Road to the 4,000 foot elevation and ski back down, but the weather prohibited that idea so it will have to happen on a future trip to Great Glen.


The next day my wife and I skied at Bear Notch Ski Touring Center on trails that were scenic and comfortable (little up hill on our outing). Perhaps it was the soft snow that allowed us to scoot up the tracks with little effort. We were passed by a skijoring couple, each being towed up the trail by a Siberian Huskey leashed to a harness.


Part of the trails we skied at both Great Glen and Bear Notch were along brooks. Upon my comment to my wife that I enjoyed skiing along while hearing the water flow nearby, I learned that there are some people that claim such running water makes them want to tinkle. You're never too old to learn things.


We stayed at a country inn called the Christmas Farm Inn just up the hill from downtown Jackson, New Hampshire, which is a quintessential New England town with the white steeple church. This town, is home of the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation and it is a Mecca for cross country skiers. Jackson has also been cited as one of the more romantic destinations for travelers. Skiers can don their skis and hit the more than 150 kilometers of trails right out the door of their lodging almost anywhere in town. The Foundation operates under a Special-Use Permit with the White Mountain National Forest, and with the cooperation of 75 private landowners, and the Village of Jackson.


While at the Christmas Farm Inn, we dined on a fine dinner and breakfast and scheduled massages at the inn's Aveda Concept Spa. The inn is a classic country inn seemingly out of the movie White Christmas, and it is believed that it was originally built in 1778. We stayed in the Carriage House, which is the inn's newest facility that houses the spa and is nearby to the indoor pool and fitness center.


On Monday morning, we stayed in Jackson and skied in glorious sunshine on the Ellis River Trail, which is rolling terrain along the West Bank of the Ellis River. The Waffle Cabin is an easy destination for skiers to reach about 3 kilometers up the trail from the Jackson Ski Touring Center lodge. We took some photos and had a great return ski, again along the babbling river, which was full of water from the previous rainstorm. This trail is a special place for my family because it is where my wife fell in love with cross country skiing. Hopefully, I had something to do with it, but there was also a chipmunk that crossed her ski path on that day in 1986. We've also skied the Ellis River Trail with our kids and have savored our family memories on that trail.


All in all, it was a great three days on the trails in the Mt. Washington Valley and the moral of the story is that people should check the snow conditions reports before deciding that a rain storm or warm weather necessarily ruins cross country skiing trails. The weather may have been the reason that we saw so few other skiers on the trails. If they only knew the great trail conditions that they were missing!

Photo of two skiers behind Jackson Ski Touring Center lodge

First Person - Lapland Lake is Finn-tastic!

On a preseason visit in 2012 to Lapland Lake XC Ski & Vacation Center in Northville, NY, I was given a true taste of Finland. This is cross country skiing Finnish style from the resort owner, Olavi Hirvonen to the authentic woodburning sauna and the two resident reindeer on site.

Olavi and Ann Hirvonen have operated Lapland Lake for more than 30 years and visitors’ testimonials speak to their friendly, caring, and personal customer service that is Lapland Lake. Actually, the resort is tucked away in the town of Benson situated 60 miles northwest of Albany in the 6-million acre Adirondack Forest Reserve.

In February 2010, Olavi celebrated the 50th anniversary as a member of the 1960 US Olympic Team in Squaw Valley. He participated in two events and in the 50-kilometer distance he finished second among the US skiers. His performance was marred by a broken ski, which compelled him to proceed 1.5 miles on a single ski before he was able to obtain a replacement. Olavi applies that compulsiveness to overseeing the trail grooming and after winter storms he has the Lapland staff clearing twigs and branches off of the trails. Olavi works in the rental and repair shop, certainly a labor of love for the octogenarian, while Ann focuses on most of everything else.

The kids line up to spin on a sled upon the frozen pond, where a Finish experience called Napa Kiikku has the kids on a sled that is attached to a pole protruding through the ice. The “Ski-like-a-Finn” lesson package helps first timers to get the hang of xc skiing with rental gear, a trail pass, and a lesson. And from the looks of it, the trails are mostly on comfortable level terrain so that skiers need not climb too much or worry about out-of-control downhill experiences. There are a total of about 50 kilometers of trails with nearly 40 km that are groomed, 2.5 km lighted for night skiing and some panoramic views of nearby Woods Lake.

I sampled a small comfortable cottage called a “tupa” for overnight lodging and walked through the Lapin Tupa, which is a bigger dwelling that can be rented as private rooms by couples/individuals or shared by a larger group. The tupa where I stayed had electric heat, two bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, a small family room, and a woodstove. And when the snow is abundant, skiing from the front door and around the property will have you shouting tervetuloa (greetings) to others.

The Finnish Line Lodge is Lapland Lake’s main facility in a two-story building that literally rose from the ashes as it burned to the ground years ago, was rebuilt and now houses the retail store, rentals, fireside lounge area, and upstairs at the Kuuma Tupa snack bar for soup, chili, or a beverage. The Tuulen Tupa Grill is a dining room that has lunch and a catered dinner menu and it is slated for redecoration by the Hirvonen’s daughter, who is studying interior design and will undertake the project during her college break.

Lapland Lake welcomes people to cross country ski and snowshoe from kids and seniors, to ladies and teachers in weekly group programs that are scheduled. It has received the 2011 Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor among other recognition awards in the past. Ann Hirvonen stopped during our tour of the area and revealed that this was the spot she liked to stand at night to look at the twinkling lights of the tupas in the winter - knowing that people are enjoying it makes running Lapland Lake all worth it to her. You’ll say tavataan ladulla or “see you on the trails.” (in 2016 new owners Paul and Kathy Zahray are continuing the Lapland Lake traditions)

Plethora of Snowshoe Programs for the Family at Smuggler's Notch Resort

Smuggler's Notch Resort, known as a prime Vermont family destination has one of the most comprehensive mixes of snowshoe programs available this winter. There's snowshoe treks for families with young kids, and outings for adults or families with older kids who want a bit more in terms of the length of the trek, the topography covered, and the insights shared about the natural world and outdoor skills. On an extended Smuggler's visit, snowshoe enthusiasts can find a different guided outing to do practically each day, as well as explore the trail network on their own.

Programs are scheduled for specific days and times at different prices for adult and children so check the Smuggler's website. Special Family Snowshoe Programs that are easy include the Family Snowshoe Cider Walk, which is an educational and fun guided trek on the special kids' trail, followed by hot apple cider at the Nordic Center. The Sugar On Snow Snowshoe Trek is where you will learn a bit about the history and process of Maple Sugaring. Upon your return to the Nordic Center, enjoy a sweet treat of Sugar on Snow, a Vermont tradition.

There are snowshoe hikes to a cozy cabin and treks available to learn about Vermont history, wildlife, and ecology as well as winter survival skills and tips. Learn about the animal tracks, habitat, and local flora while experiencing the scenic winter landscape.

Intermediate snowshoers can ride to the top of the Morse lift to explore backcountry terrain at a high elevation or do a trek to learn about maple sugaring with a sample of pure maple syrup.

Smuggler's also offers private snowshoe guided adventures, where you choose your own adventure daily by appointment. Intermediate snowshoe tours include the S'Mores & Snowshoes Trek, which is a guided snowshoe trek on Wednesday's 6-7:30 PM through the woods to a rustic pavilion and bonfire. This is a beautiful backcountry experience!

The Top of the Notch Snowshoe Adventure Dinner is one of the most popular programs on Tuesdays, a dramatic and delicious dining experience atop Sterling Mountain (18 & older please). The Sterling lift transports you to The Top of The Notch, a mountain cabin lit only by candles. The renowned Hearth & Candle Restaurant serves a gourmet meal with appetizer, salad, choice of main course and a famous dessert. After dinner, work off those calories with a 40 minute snowshoe down to the Base Lodge. Advance registration at The Guest Service Desk is required. It takes off at off at 4:10 PM and the package includes lift access, snowshoes, and dinner for $69.

Dinner choices typically include seafood chowder or venison chili for the warming first course, and Vermont chicken breast with cheddar cheese and sliced apples, pork tenderloin, and vegetable lasagna for entrees. Warm apple crisp is the dessert. The cabin is a really congenial setting with candlelight and large tables. The tour around the summit is beautiful, whether you're enjoying it by starlight or with falling snow, and many of Smuggler's return guests enjoy the dinner on each visit.

Smuggler's guides recommend that snowshoers use poles. On a snowshoeing trail or in the backcountry, you never know what features lurk below the snow; you can expect to encounter at least one log to step over, snow potholes, sideslopes, deep snow and ups and downs. Poles provide additional stability in these situations. Plus, the poles provide a measure of upper body exercise, assuring a well-rounded workout. Lower Photo: Smuggler's Notch family.

Trip Report to Jackson, NH and the White Mountains

We excitedly planned a weekend trip to Jackson, N.H., because it is a true Mecca for Nordic skiers. This is the quintessential New England Nordic (XC) skiing experience with the covered bridge, white steepled church, brookside trails, and the accompanying village with all of the trappings.

Many of the trails lead right to the door of local inns, shops, and restaurants. It's no wonder that Jackson Ski Touring Foundation has been rated the top cross country ski area in the United States by the website, America's Best Online.

The Foundation is a non-profit organization chartered to maintain XC ski trails in and about the village of Jackson. There are about 75 landowners that allow trails to cross their property. Country inns are spaced throughout the region and the base lodge is a golf country club located on the village loop. The Cocoa Cabin is a warming hut serving hot cocoa on the weekend, located 3 km from the center on the gentle Ellis River Trail. Snowshoers can take a rustic narrow marked snowshoe trail from the center to reach the Cocoa Cabin.

We stopped at nearby Bretton Woods Nordic Center on the way to Jackson to ski in a snow storm for about 10 km on beautiful trails behind the Omni Mt. Washington Hotel. The grand hotel is at the southern base of the mighty Mt. Washington with 1,700 acres of spectacular scenery. This full service ski center has its own parking area and houses the ski school, rental equipment, and a retail shop with XC ski clothing and accessories. The center has a fireplace with couches and food service with tables and seating.

It was a problematic tour for my wife Kimberly, who had snow sticking to the base of her waxless skis. I tried applying a lubricant called Swix Easyglide a few times but it didn't work for more than 50 feet before the snow stuck to the skis again. In a husband-oriented display of gallantry, I switched skis with her but I couldn't get them to glide very well either.

We arrived at the Inn at Ellis River in Jackson after leaving Bretton Woods and were showed to our room-with-a-view by new innkeepers John and Mary Kendzierski. The next morning we awoke to the aroma of bacon, which while incredible, does not do justice to how good the maple bacon tastes when accompanying a choice of two hot entree specialties such as cinnamon crepe stuffed with apple filling and topped with creme fraiche or pecan praline French toast. There's also fruit, yogurt, granola, and freshly baked breads, muffins, and other breakfast treats. The breakfast tables were covered antique metal sewing treadle tables. Looking out the windows from the dining room adorned with snowman figurines, we saw frolicking squirrels hopping from tree branch to tree branch.

Behind the inn and across the Ellis River is the Ellis River Trail, one of the most popular trails from the center lodge for XC skiers and snowshoers. We first stopped by the Jackson Ski Touring Center and got my wife's skis hot waxed as we waited. The wax job worked like a charm as we left the center for a short tour through the covered bridge, ending up at the Cocoa Cabin. The skiers along the Jackson trails are mostly experienced and courteous meaning they give the right of way to downhill skiers and get out of the groomed ski tracks when appropriate. Most say hello as they pass.

We lunched on scrumptious sandwiches at the J-Town Deli & Country Store, a warm and enticing old-fashioned country store that has a bakery, beer, wine, sweets and treats. Then, we headed to our appointment for a "couples" massages at Moondance Massage. Beside massages, Moondance offers energy work, facials, and yoga classes. By the end of the massages, we were both amazed at how our respective soreness was alleviated. We noticed three more couples coming in the door at Moondance, so this apparently is a popular venture for Jackson visitors.

The "Foundation" maintains 150 km of varied and breathtaking XC ski and snowshoe trails 2 hours north of Boston. Foundation trails connect with A.M.C. trails in Pinkham Notch and White Mountain National Forest backcountry adventure trails.

Our après ski time led us to the Wildcat Inn Tavern in downtown Jackson for some live music and libations. The tavern walls display classic ski posters and some antique gear such as snowshoes and a pair of red Jarvinen XC skis. The seats in one of the rooms were built to look like double chairlifts and there were soccer jerseys from around the world pinned to the ceiling. Afterward, we dined at the nearby Christmas Farm Inn for a great dinner and dessert.

Our getaway day included a stop and tour at Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center, about ten miles outside of Jackson up the Pinkham Notch toward Gorham. The panorama view from the center of the Presidential Range and Mt. Washington is unparalleled. We skied a few cold and windy kilometers on wide whimsically-named trails such as the Great Grump Grade and Hairball Passage toward the Great Angel Warming Cabin. The trails were impeccably groomed and on our way back to the lodge we stopped by the Caddidlehopper Warming Hut and watched the Mt. Washington SnowCoach head up to treeline on the nearby Toll Road.

The White Mountains and Jackson met our expectations delivering great snow, excellent trails, and a superb weekend at a destination worthy of being named a Mecca of Nordic skiing.

Trip Report: Woodstock Inn & Resort in the Winter

The Woodstock Inn & Resort is one of Vermont's true gems for travelers. It offers warm New England hospitality amidst an atmosphere of country elegance and year round recreation. Resort facilities include the new 10,000 square-foot Spa, the Resort's Nordic Center, Suicide Six alpine ski area, the Resort's Golf Club, and a 41,000 square foot Racquet & Fitness Club. However, it's the lavish details of the wood-burning fireplaces in guest rooms, luxurious terrycloth bathrobes, and locally-made furnishings, that defines the country sophistication and completes the picture of charm and comfort at the Woodstock Inn & Resort, which rises above expectations.

The Woodstock Inn & Resort is a 142-room, AAA Four Diamond Resort and a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts. The village of Woodstock is located in Vermont's Green Mountains with antique shops, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and specialty food markets in the downtown area...but if you also want recreation the Woodstock Inn & Resort delivers.

In the winter months, the inn's Racquet & Fitness Club is situated close to the inn hosting the Woodstock Nordic Center. There are partnerships between the inn and both Fischer Nordic Skis and Tubbs Snowshoes. The Nordic Center maintains some 60 kilometers of trails in the area – half of which are part of the nearby Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park. Professional instruction, ski storage, equipment sales and rental equipment are available at the ski shop, as well as a full line of clothing and accessories for cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

The Tubbs Snowshoes Adventure Center features guided tours, group teambuilding exercises, and family-friendly scavenger hunts. Beginners and experts alike will find the 30 kilometers of trails against the backdrop of the Resort's expansive grounds, with flat tracks along the babbling Kedron Brook on the golf course and more challenging uphills and downhills on the adjacent Mt. Peg property. Winter adventure-themed vacation packages are built around the Tubbs Snowshoes Adventure Center. From romantic to adventurous, there are value-packed getaways with the adventure centers designed for guests to enjoy an exhilarating way to experience the peace and tranquility of Woodstock in winter.

My wife and I enjoyed part of the Romance Excursion Package including accommodations for two nights, welcome gift basket, breakfast and a four-course dinner for two at the Red Rooster Restaurant, and a guided snowshoe trek to a four-course chef's dinner at the Mt. Tom Cabin in the national park. We also went cross country skiing on groomed ski tracks accessed from the Racquet & Fitness Club on a sunny morning followed by wonderful massages in the Spa. On the second morning, I went snowboarding at the nearby Suicide Six ski area while my wife took a yoga class at the club. Overall, we were impressed with the inn and its staff, each and every one of them. In all of our interactions, the Woodstock Inn & Resort staff was especially attentive to us, often without the need of having to ask.

On Saturday evening, we reached the Mt. Tom Cabin after crunching up about one and a half miles on snowshoes up a hardpacked snowy trail under a clear and cold starry night. The meal was prepared on a wood-burning cookstove by the Woodstock Inn's chef in a candlelight cozy setting. The evening's guide associated with the national park was a naturalist that imparted some of his knowledge about winter nature and history of the park, which is the only national park dedicated to conservation stewardship. The park's 550-acre forest is one of the oldest professionally managed forests in the USA with 400-year old hemlocks and Norway Spruce.

The inn's Main Lobby is comfortably furnished and features a 10-foot fieldstone fireplace at its center. Don't miss the newly opened Game Room, which is a hoot for the kid in all of us. It has a mix of games including a 4-foot scrabble board on the wall played with magnetic tiles, three real pinball machines, billiards, foosball, six TVs, video games, and more.

The new 10,000 square-foot spa has 10 treatment rooms, luxurious suite, tranquil men's and women's lounges, a light-filled Great Room, enclosed outdoor courtyard featuring a meditation tree and a wood sauna and a hot soaking pool. Guests can choose from a wide selection of treatments performed by licensed therapists.

The Woodstock Inn & Resort's own Suicide Six Ski Area opened in 1937, just a few years after the first ski tow in the United States was rigged up just over the ridge at Gilbert's Hill. Suicide Six has since evolved into a friendly and personal ski area that caters to families and local skiers. On Sunday morning when I visited, the slopes were covered with young local ski racers learning the ins and outs of skiing gates.

The Woodstock area offers other activities including day trips to nearby points of interest such as Simon Pearce Glass, Shackleton Furniture, or the Quechee Gorge. The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, is Vermont's first national park and it operates in partnership with the Woodstock Foundation, Inc, and the Billings Farm & Museum – a working dairy farm and agricultural museum that mirrors rural life in Vermont in the late 1800s.

Trip Reports to Izaak Walton Inn and Royal Gorge Ski Resort

Trip Report to Izaak Walton Inn, MT


Thanks to for this trip report from Essex, MT and the Izaak Walton Inn, Montana's gateway to Glacier National Park and a railfan's dream destination Thanks to article authors Ted & Sylvia Blishak.



Trip Report to Royal Gorge Ski Resort, CA


For an in-depth article on Royal Gorge Ski Resort in Soda Springs, CA by Larry Turner click

Choosing a Destination XC Ski Resort


For people interested in traveling to xc ski resorts this winter, here is info about making a destination selection from the editor of

In general, xc skiers select their winter xc ski destination resorts using some rating system of how xc ski areas perform in eight categories of criteria including trail quality and grooming, scenery, food quality, staff friendliness and service, the ski lodge facility and family issues. There is a great range of xc ski areas in North America and in the eyes of xc skiers these characteristics delineate areas without concern to whether the area is an inn, a ranch, a day area, a destination resort, or a recreation park area. I've purposely avoided the issue of cost - whether you like to travel to distant resorts or only travel within your region, you will still compare the other criteria to select your destination resort.

The information below describes what a quality xc ski resort is all about in terms of services and amenities at some of the leading xc ski resorts in North America.


Trail Quality relates to the skiers' comfort on the trails, even though those skiers might be at different skiing or experience levels. The trail signage should help skiers understand where they are on the area's trail network. And signs should help skiers know the direction that will help them return to their starting place. The trails should provide a skiing flow so there aren't too many long uphills or sharp turns at the bottom of steep downhills. One idea that is done at Lapland Lake in Northville, New York that makes trails seem less crowded is to have skiers go in the same direction (one-way). The result is that the trails never seem crowded. Jim Richards of Maplelag in Calloway, Minnesota said, "Feedback from the majority of our skiers let us know that they preferred double-tracked trails over single tracks. And we had overwhelmingly negative opinions about allowing dogs on the trails, too."

Some of the best xc ski areas are just blessed with great terrain for xc skiing. The location of Royal Gorge in Soda Springs, California is perfect for xc skiing as the area's land diversity offers flat, rolling and more challenging variety. And Royal Gorge's "Sierra maritime snow consolidates well and is great for the base on the trails, which means that skiers can count on excellent conditions when they ski there."

Trail grooming can make or break the ski conditions. Olavi Hirvonen former owner of Lapland Lake states, "We groom every morning unless we have to wait for the snow to dry out or cool off - and I groom the way I like to ski the trails myself." Hirvonen gets the Lapland Lake staff out on the trails after windy periods to rake and pick up the debris from trees like fallen limbs and pinecones because "I don't want the skiers to have to ski over the debris as it appears on the trails from the Springtime melt."

One thing that most of the best xc ski areas share in common is that they acquire and use the latest trail grooming technology to give them a mechanical advantage. They do not skimp when it comes to using snowcats with their grooming attachments to break up ice or powderize the snow into the finest trail surfaces.


Without getting into the details of grooming machinery and techniques, the personal pride of the area operators is paramount to the trail quality issue. Brian Wadsworth formerly of Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana was a world class cross country ski racer, who groomed trails for eight years at the Ranch. He was selected by the Soldiers Hollow Olympic venue to groom the 2002 Olympic Cross Country Ski competition trails. He knows grooming from a technical and a skier's perspective. He knows the "best line tracks." But when he comments, "My goal is to be able to hold a World Cup race here any day of the winter" it sums up his pride and commitment to the quality of the trails at Lone Mountain Ranch.


You know it when an area's staff is a great one - they seem happy to see you. In most instances, areas that have veteran employees have them because it is a great place to work. Most of these great employees do not need "customer service" training. They already have the personal touch. At Lone Mountain Ranch the staff has become "the hallmark in the industry," according to Wadsworth because they are "encouraged to create life-long relationships with the guests." Most of the people that work at the best xc ski areas want to work there as a lifestyle choice. This is apparent with their attitudes with the guests and about working at one of the best xc ski areas.

The Richards family, who own and run the Maplelag Resort in Callaway, Minnesota, treat their guests as part of their family. It may sound trite but their guests sincerely feel welcome and they state it unequivocally in testimonials. The staff often greets the guests by name. The Richards constantly ask their guests if there is anything that can be done and they drop everything to help their guests, be it in the lodge, on the trails, in the rental shop or at the dinner table. Richards feels, "One of us (the Richards family) is always around to help with our guests. It's fun to be talked to and pampered by the actual owners of the resort." Many testimonials from different areas claim the same thing with regard to their feelings about the service at the best resorts - they feel welcome, comfortable and "at home." And Maplelag avoids posting rules or signs saying "Don't do this or that."


XC ski lodges can be designed to provide space, convenience and efficient utilization, but there are also other factors that make a difference to skiers. Ann Hirvonen former owner of Lapland Lake states, "Clean is huge to us. We are cozy and convenient, but facilities such as restrooms can get pretty yucky, so we keep them in good condition throughout the day." Lapland also takes into account brown baggers (bring their own lunch rather than purchase food at the area) by offering them a picnic area. And they have a public shower and changing area for skiers, who want to clean up before their drive home.

At Lone Mountain Ranch, part of their ambiance is the historic facilities. Of course they have also added new updated facilities such as a dining room and some cabins, but many guests go there to enjoy the rustic and original facilities. "It looks like what people expect Montana to look like and we continue to renovate with cozy features such as antique furniture and old fashioned quilts to retain our historical aspects," said Wadsworth.

The main lodge at Maplelag is the area's group meeting place, and it is a living folk art museum. Jim Richards has collected unusual items from around the world. He stated, "We work very hard cultivating this look to be a feast for the eyes." There are nooks and crannies where people can sit and relax, read a book, play games with the family, etc. The lodge also houses the main dining room, hot tub, sauna, massage rooms, rental shop, gift store and it is where the Saturday night talent show and dance takes place.


Whether Nordic skiers bring a picnic lunch, stop at a trailside snack shack or relax with a first class dining experience, the best areas usually are known for their outstanding cuisine. Good food service is a result of the area's commitment, quality chefs with pedigree culinary backgrounds, wine selection, and so on. The Maplelag kitchen is run by Debbie, the chef who has been on the job on and off for 25 years. There is a window opening to the kitchen where guests can speak with Debbie and see the staff cooking the meals. They make everything from scratch using only natural and fresh ingredients. They call it homestyle, hearty, and wholesome and it is a unique menu that is endorsed by the guests. Richards' summarized, "Food is a real joy at Maplelag.


Some xc ski areas are highly touted for their commitment to families. They cater to family needs by "dealing with the kids." Ann Hirvonen of Lapland Lake says, "We are a family and we raised our daughter here and when you raise a family at a ski center, you focus on families. So our trails have plenty of flat terrain for kids and we offer pulks (sleds that skiers use to carry small children), children's sized snowshoes, skis, boots, and ice skates." XC skiing offers families an activity that they can all do together. And that can include a four-year old on Snoopy skis skiing right alongside of grandpa skiing on his pine tarred woody originals.

Child-oriented instructors are a key element for families. For the kids to have a positive attitude about Nordic skiing they must have positive first experiences. It is suggested that the most successful lessons do not intermingle children with their parents in the same classes. Kids get comfortable with child-friendly instructors as individuals and on subsequent visits the kids commonly request to take additional lessons so they can spend more time with those friendly instructors.

Another important way to cater to families is to offer a variety of other skiing and non-skiing activities. At Lapland Lake a game played in Finland called Napa Kiikku is organized on weekends and holidays. The game involves a pole on ice with a sled that goes around in a circle. Adult lessons are conducted to correlate to the time that the kids play the game.

Kids love a campfire by the lake, sleigh rides, or just playing on a big pile of snow. Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont conducts many kids "classes" from swimming to puppet classes or making stuffed animals. The kids' classes provide parents with some child-free time for going on harder ski trails or getting a massage while the kids are being entertained.

Jay Richards (Jim and Mary Richards' son) of Maplelag commented, "Seeing our large family with our own kids running around, being involved makes families feel welcome here. We try to make parents feel at ease about having their kids run around." Maplelag cabins and cabooses are great accommodations that can fit large families and the Richards try to help families focus on being together doing family activities. Serving meals "family style" is a key element to the atmosphere. But so are the other family activities such as the dance and the talent show. Baby sitting services are available on site, too. Jay feels that one of the biggest reasons families visit is that there are many families already at Maplelag every time people visit and that makes families feel welcome.


Of course, there are other criteria for selecting winter destinations - for example, couples that are looking for a romantic weekend will have different needs (and desires). There is something more memorable about traveling to a destination compared to going to the local trail network for a couple of hours to xc ski or snowshoe. Whatever your interests, there is a perfect xc ski resort for you.

Discover the Meccas of Cross Country Skiing

Ask the general public to name an alpine skiing “Mecca” — described as a location where people, who share a common interest, yearn to go — even those who don’t ski can come up with at least Aspen or Vail, if not Killington and Sun Valley. But mention the Gunflint Trail or the Methow Valley to cross country (xc) skiers and more often than not, you’ll elicit a blank stare. Yet these are just two of several xc skiing destination resorts that devout xc skiers revere. In fact, each of the following five regions is definitely an “xc skiing Mecca” — each one, a destination that all traveling xc skiers have put on their “must visit” list.

Comprising the small, picturesque towns of Conway, Sugar Hill, Bartlett and Jackson in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the Mount Washington Valley has a half-dozen xc ski areas, all at the base of the most majestic mountain in the eastern U.S., the 6,288-foot Mt. Washington. Here, the spectacular scenery is enhanced by hundreds of inns, lodges and restaurants, plus unsurpassed outlet shopping. Ski past mountain streams, a white steepled church, or over a wooden covered bridge on the network of 150 kilometers (km) of trails that glide past numerous inns and stores and through the woods in Jackson Village.

Up in Pinkham Notch, Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center features 40 km of trails for cross country or snowshoeing and the more adventurous can take a snowcoach up the Mt. Washington Toll Road to unparalleled views and then make the choice to ski, snowshoe or ride the coach down. On the other side of Mt. Washington, Bretton Woods Nordic Center has its Mountain Road Trail, a 7-km downhill thrill that might be the most fun to be had on xc skis in all of New England. Franconia Inn is tucked away but is known for great cuisine in the evening and more than 50 km of trails. The region also has dog sledding, snowmobiling, zip lines, and 7 alpine ski areas to round out the snow sports offerings.

The Hills are Alive

The “Sound of Music” is more than 50 years old and another production by the Von Trapp family, America’s first xc ski center at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont is just two years younger. Nestled beside Mt. Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak, the lodge is among the most famous and diverse xc ski trail networks in the country. Three Stowe xc ski areas interconnect to provide roughly 150 kilometers of groomed trails, and there’s a link to backcountry ski 14 km to Bolton Valley Nordic Center via the Catamount Trail. Plus, with the variety of trails for snowshoeing around Stowe, it’s no surprise that the quintessential New England village is the original home of Tubbs Snowshoes, the largest snowshoe manufacturer in the world. Stowe's Recreation Path, which runs 5.3 miles along the river (and over 11 wooden bridges) and Route 108 is perfect for an easy snowshoe jaunt. Don't miss the Vermont Ski Museum in downtown Stowe or the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream headquarters (most popular attraction in the state) in nearby Waterbury, Vt.

Scandinavians settled by the thousands in Minnesota so it stands to reason that their national sport, cross country skiing, would abound in the state. The trails in northeastern Minnesota near Grand Marais offers more than 200 kilometers of groomed trails in the Laurentian Highlands adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Here, xc skiers enjoy moose yards, overlook ridges, old trapper trails and railroad beds. The Gunflint attractions include extensive stands of white birch, spruce, and aspen and spectacular cliffs.

Of course, in the land of 10,000 lakes there’s a multitude of frozen lakes and there is also a great chance that visitors in northern Minnesota will see the oscillating luminary curtains in the evening sky known as the Northern Lights. Perfect for those wanting to get away from it all, this area is less populated than other xc Meccas and the region is sprinkled with many isolated lodges, bed and breakfast inns, lakefront cabins, and yurts (large circular heated tents with hard floors, bunk beds and room for 6-8 people). And count on hearing the distant howls of timber wolves.

Northwestern delights

More than 70 years as a winter sports destination, the Sun Valley/Ketchum, Idaho, area was developed by railroad mogul, W. Averell Harriman to attract train travelers. Known for its alpine skiing, the area features more than 160 kilometers of trails and now it touts itself as "Nordic Town USA." The Sun Valley Resort includes the Sun Valley alpine ski area, a Nordic ski area on the golf course, and a selection of accommodations. The North Valley Trails run from the Galena Lodge back to town along the river. Expect to see colorful performance striders and skaters alongside snowshoers out walking the dog on this popular avenue.

For superb backcountry skiing amidst forests of pine and aspen, head to the Sawtooth Mountains and its high mountain reaches laced with granite spires and inviting cirques. Here xc skiers can enjoy trekking and guide services, even overnight accommodations in backcountry huts and Mongolian-style yurts.

The Methow Valley in northwest Washington on the eastern slope of the North Cascade Mountains is one of the best kept secrets among xc skiers. A network of 200 kilometers of groomed trails for classic and skate skiing combines at Methow Trails with lodges like Sun Mountain Lodge and warming huts along the trails, which are surrounded by more than a million acres of national wilderness and forest lands.

Snowfall here is not only plentiful, it is also dry thanks to the moisture traveling across 100 miles of mountains from the Pacific Ocean to get to Methow. And after the snow arrives, a crystal blue sky almost always follows revealing the incredible scenic mountain panoramas. Located only 2,000 feet above sea level, this 40-mile-long xc skiing valley requires no altitude acclimation.

Many other North American regions could make the list of xc skiing Meccas, including Michigan's Grayling region and the statewide GoMichigan, California’s Lake Tahoe, Colorado, Lake Placid in New York, and Canada's Quebec and British Columbia areas. Start your own list of “must visit” xc ski destinations, and use to explore the many choices and then make some reservations to explore different regions in your next winter adventure.

Grooming Provides Better Trail Experiences

The biggest disparity between going cross country (XC) skiing on your own through the woods and XC skiing at a commercial XC ski area is trail conditions. Trail grooming at commercial XC ski areas (that charge a trail fee) refers to using a vehicle with attachments to rework the snow to provide consistent ski and trail conditions.

A compacted trail surface with set tracks will help skis to glide forward with minimal energy loss so that skiing is easier, beginners can learn to ski under control more quickly, and skiers can go further more efficiently. Icy trail conditions can be renovated and made skiable, and trails with little snow can be made skiable and last longer. Other important grooming situations include packing new snow to decrease wind susceptibility and conditioning deeper snow pack on high traffic trails, instruction areas, and down hills.

According to the "Cross Country USA Ski Area Development Manual" by Nordic Group International, "Good trail grooming is somewhere between a craft and an art," but the most prevalent factors to grooming the XC ski area trails include the snow conditions, temperature, humidity and exposure, the type and size of vehicle and attachments, and operator skills.

Chris Meyers of Bohart Ranch in Bozeman, MT spoke with about his 26 years of trail grooming commenting, "For the skier, you want it to be easy to ski and you don't want it icy." He goes out before sunrise when the humidity is lowest and it is coldest for his grooming to get better compaction of the snow. Also, there're no skiers on the trails at that time. As the sun comes out, the trails set up.

In general, ski trail groomers use a snowmobile or a large snowcat and each has its benefits and detriments. To the ski area operator, the significant issues include the cost of acquiring the grooming vehicle, the cost of fueling and maintaining the vehicle, depreciation, and finding a reliable skilled groomer (operator).

"Snocats" are big tractors with treads, which employ front and rear attachments (such as snowblade, tiller, powdermaker, compactor, or tracksetter) to rework the snow. Doug Edgerton of Yellowstone Track Systems and distributor of the Ginsu Groomer shared information with about the cost of trail grooming saying, "The big vehicles can cost $200,000 for a new one, but many ski area operators purchase used grooming vehicles and attachments. Running a large vehicle could cost in the range of $75-100 per hour. Gasoline alone can be about $25 per hour. Smaller snowmobiles with attachments that are used for trail grooming can cost between $12-14,000."


Snow farming is used by many ski area operators to retain snow, create cache sites in drift areas and shovel snow for later redistribution. Wet areas can be covered in hay bales or hay over plywood to hold the snow. Snow fencing can be mounted on skis and towed to different trails to catch the snow during snowstorms.

Front blades on a snocat are used to move snow around and borrow it from trail edges or caches. Tillers are used to break up ice, crust, and ski-compacted snow. Snow rollers can pack the snow to prevent it from blowing away or melting too quickly. Of course, more areas are now investing in snowmaking to produce machine-made snow that has to be moved and conditioned on the trails.

The Jackson Ski Touring Center recently upgraded their fleet of snow grooming tractors with the addition of a brand new $175,000 state-of-the-art Kassborher PB 100 grooming vehicle, which was added a new grooming implement to supplement their early season grooming fleet. The new PB 100 grooming vehicle incorporates the latest in grooming technology and Jackson's former Executive Director Thom Perkins said, "Over the years, we've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing the surface of the trails to be able to groom with the first snow of the season. Skiers can be assured that with this new equipment, our crew will be able to provide even better skiing."

All in all, we have the trail groomers to thank for XC ski trails that are consistent, safe, and fun to ski. Photos: Maplelag Resort, MN (Top) Snocat trail groomer and (lower) snowmobile with rolling compactor.

Snowshoe Programs Proliferating at Alpine Ski Resorts

Not everyone who visits a ski resort wants to or is able to ski or snowboard, so resorts offer other activities. Among those options, guests can explore and enjoy the outdoors on snowshoes. These snowshoe outings at ski resorts range from guided naturalist tours to nearby destinations to athletic fitness treks reaching the top of the mountain. Snowshoeing options at ski resorts are booming and becoming ever more creative.


Smuggler's Notch Resort known as a prime Vermont family destination has one of the most comprehensive mixes of snowshoe programs available. There are snowshoe treks for families with young kids, and outings for adults or families with older kids, who want a bit more in terms of the length of the trek, the topography covered, and the insights shared about the natural world and outdoor skills.

Programs are scheduled for specific days and times at different prices for adult and children. Special family snowshoe programs that are easy include the S'mores Snowshoe Tour, which is a guided snowshoe trek on Wednesday's 6-7:30 PM through the woods to a rustic pavilion and bonfire.

The Sugar On Snow Snowshoe Trek is where you learn a bit about the history and process of Maple Sugaring. Upon your return to Smuggler's Nordic Center, enjoy a sweet treat of Sugar on Snow, a Vermont tradition. On Tuesday evenings, Smuggler's Notch hosts a dramatic dining feature atop Sterling Mountain for adults, who ride the Sterling lift to a mountain cabin lit only by candles. There's a gourmet meal served with appetizer, salad, choice of main course, and dessert. After dinner, those calories can be burned off with a 40-minute snowshoe down to the Base Lodge.

Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, CO has a variety of snowshoe tours via the Strawberry Park Express chair lift. There are guided naturalist snowshoe tours for two hours that include the gear and a map at $175 for two people. The group tours are $73 per person. On certain days the 3-hour Fit Tour is available and there's also the Wine Excursion Snowshoe Tour. On Fridays, there's the Fondue & Snowshoe Tour and on Wednesdays the Women's Walk and Wine is offered. The Family Tour is 4-5:30 with a guide, hot cocoa and snacks. The private guided snowshoe tours include the two-hour outing at $285, the half day at $395, and the All Day Snowshoe Tour is $600. Following each tour, the Osprey Fireside Grill welcomes guests into its slope-side, mountain-modern elegance – where Executive Chef Conor Shedor presents decedent culinary and wine pairings befitting of a post-snowshoe hike.


At Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, MI, there are daily guided snowshoe tours and evening moonlight snowshoe tours. One of the popular treks is to the Michigan Legacy Art Park, which is a 30-acre preserve on 1.6 miles of hiking trails within Crystal Mountain. The Art Park features 45 sculptures (20 in the winter), poetry stones, an outdoor amphitheatre (open in the summer).

Stop by the Base Camp at Big Sky Resort in Montana for snowshoe adventures. They have a 2-hour snowshoe tour on the Moose Tracks Trail for up to 10 people at a time led by two local women guides. There are designated trails for snowshoers to go out on their own, but they are asked to pay a $5 trail pass. Click for the resort website video about the guided snowshoe tours that are available at $50 for guests aged 12 or older at Big Sky Resort .

Back in Vermont, a resort that presents a different option is Mount Snow where snowshoe tours are available via the Grand Summit Hotel lodge's NatureSpa. There are planned and marked trail routes at the ski area and the unique "Guided Snowshoe Tour & Massage," that includes (for $185) a guided snowshoe tour followed by a sorely kneaded massage after returning to the spa. Trail loops can take an hour or two and snowshoes are available to rent. Click for a link to the NatureSpa.

Guided snowshoe tours take about an hour for $45 per person including the snowshoes, poles and a group guide. There are also private tours available and outings offered to people who are more athletic and looking for a fitness workout on snowshoes or an environmental tour with a local Vermonter talking about animal tracks or local geography. Trail maps for snowshoers are available at Mount Snow Sports, where snowshoe rental equipment and a trail pass can be acquired. The trail pass is $10 per day and rentals are $25 per day or $15 per afternoon.

It was necessary this year for some of the Smuggler's Notch snowshoe treks to be on the alpine slopes due to low snow in the valley. Snowshoers used the lifts to access a high elevation tour and a backcountry tour. The Smuggler's Nordic Director commented, "When the skiers saw the people snowshoeing on the slopesides, they wanted to get out of their skis to come and try it."

New to Cross Country Skiing? Tips for Free


So you've decided to try cross country skiing, You can call it cross country skiing, Nordic skiing, XC skiing, or ski touring - when trying cross country skiing the first few times it may be a totally new experience for you and take time for you to become confident. Experienced cross country skiers might call you a first timer, beginner, novice skier, and even a "never-ever" but as with any recreational activity, if you do it a few times, it will become easier and more familiar. Cross country skiing can take a while to master, but it is outdoor fun even on the first time on skis.

Downhill Skiing is Not the Same as Cross Country Skiing

Most people believe that if you are an alpine skier and have mastered the lift-served form of snowsports, that you can easily master cross country skiing. But alpine ski equipment is much heavier than cross country ski gear – the big plastic ski boots and wide skis provide substantially more support compared to cross country ski equipment. Snowplowing on cross country skis takes more technique to roll your ankles and hold/push the

edge of the skis against the snow while you are moving. Even though both sports are on skis and on the snow, there are many differences between downhill skiing and cross country skiing.

Wobbly Feeling

Putting on the comfortable cross country ski boots, stepping on the bindings and attaching to the narrow skis, you may feel a bit wobbly at first. You'll be gliding down the smallest incline and you may feel unsure, but bend your knees and try to relax. Don't lean backwards - bend your knees and feel your weight on your heels and you'll have more control.

You Will Fall Down

Accept that you will likely fall while cross country skiing. Everyone falls while cross country skiing sooner or later and the snow provides a soft landing. Getting up after a fall is sometimes complicated to orchestrate, but take your time to untangle and get to your knees. Once on your knees it should be easy to stand up.

Groomed Trails

Many people dream about cross country skiing as an adventure in the forest and down hills in the wild. The truth is that this form of recreation is much easier on groomed trails…that is, trails that have been packed and tracked by a machine. On groomed trails, it is easier to glide, easier to go up hills, and easier to control the speed going downhill with a snowplow technique. Cross country ski areas provide trail grooming and charge a fee to use the trails. The trail grooming, signage, maps, lodge facilities, and other services are definitely worth the fee. Most cross country ski areas do not allow dogs to use the trails, but some areas offer dog-friendly trails.

To find a cross country ski area, use the Internet or websites such as or the Cross Country Ski Areas Association ( For info about the month-long learn to ski or snowshoe program at hundreds of areas across the country, click Winter Trails.

Be Prepared

The typical safety concerns are prevalent with cross country skiing. Go out with someone else, take water and food, and have some additional clothing (dry gloves, hat, neck gaiter, etc.) in case it gets colder or snows. These concerns can arise if you take a wrong turn where you end up on a longer trail that you expected.


If the terrain that you are skiing on is perfectly flat, you should not have much problem on cross country skis but when there are hills, you'll encounter the sport's ups and downs. The first time going down a hill could be a bit frightening but as in any sport, with practice you will become more accustomed to the feeling…hopefully. It is best to get tips or a complete lesson. The various cross country ski techniques are taught by experienced or certified instructors at cross country ski areas. Most likely you have friends who try their best to provide insight on ways to master the skis. The former idea (with a certified ski instructor) is the better choice.

Get Out There

Cross country skiing provides one of the greatest full body workouts available as it uses all parts of the body's muscle groups. You may not feel exhaustion while you are out on the trails, but your body is working hard and using unfamiliar muscles, so take it easy. It's best to go on a short outing at first and build up the distance or time on the skis over multiple outings.

Getting information about equipment and the different forms of cross country skiing (on track, off track, skating, backcountry, etc.) can be found on the Internet and/or at a cross country ski area. It makes sense to rent your equipment the first couple of times to see if you like cross country skiing. When you get ready to purchase equipment, talk with professionals at a cross country ski area or retail shop to make a decision about what to purchase. Once you become a cross country skier, you'll look forward to when it snows and it will become a magical experience to enjoy every winter. Top photos, Fischer Skis, Bottom photo, Great Glen, NH

Backcountry Access - A New Service at XC Ski Resorts

A recent visit to Bolton Valley Nordic Center in Vermont afforded me an up close look at the newest sensation in cross country skiing – backcountry access at a commercial xc ski area. Bolton boasts having 62 km of high elevation backcountry ski trails including steep winding trails through birch glades, mellow trails for touring, and plenty of powder turns on the way back down.

In mid-February while much of New England was wondering when winter would begin, Bolton Valley Nordic Center with its base elevation of 2,100 feet has fresh snow and a reliable, plentiful base. The facility has 26 km of groomed trails, too. The rental equipment includes backcountry gear for either xc skiing or snowshoeing. The famous Catamount Trail is amidst Bolton’s trail system and there seems to be no limit to interest in this market segment. In fact, the grand daddy of xc ski areas, Trapp Family Lodge now offers 2,500 acres and 40 km of trails in the backcountry, too.

At Bolton Valley Nordic Center's eastern side, the Bryant Ski Trail takes skiers uphill on an hour trek to the Bryant Camp Backcountry Cabin (2,690 foot elevation). Not much to the building but it is a destination that opens into various trails further up the terrain. By the time I arrived in the late morning the trails were packed by previous skiers. I had a few chats with other skiers, who donned gear ranging from lightweight xc skis to heavy telemark gear with climbing skins, wide waxless skis with BC boot/bindings, and I even dodged a snowboarder careening down the packed trail on a split decision snowboard.

I had a conversation with a couple of skiers, who admitted to taking the Wilderness Lift at the adjacent Bolton Valley alpine ski area to ski from the Peggy Dow’s Trail to the Nordic area’s backcountry terrain and the Heavenly Highway Trail where I met them. I skied further up the Highway and then turned on to an aptly named trail called Devil’s Drop, which was really a downhill powder run with switchbacks.

Clearly, you want to ski these trails on a day with good soft snow conditions. The trails are well marked and with skiers dropping down into untracked lines through the trees the upper trails can be a bit confusing. It appeared that after skiing around a few times it would be more comforting as one becomes familiar with the upper trails. There is an overlook named Stowe View and another trail where you can reach a destination named Olga’s Falls. The Bolton-Trapp Trail uses the Catamount Trail (Vermont’s lengthwise winter trail) between the Bolton Valley Nordic Center and Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe and this reaches the highest point on the Catamount Trail at 3,310 foot elevation.

The west side of the Bolton trails covers another entire area to ski and looking at the map contours it is appealing for some downhill fun. The backcountry area also has some delineated glade areas on the trail map and one would imagine that there could be much more of these cleaned areas to give skiers more to enjoy.

Trapp Family Lodge offers guided tours in the backcountry for $35 hour and there is a 3-day package with rental equipment, skill lessons, and a full day tour for $250. Bolton has backcountry rental gear for $30.

Uphill Transport for Skiing the Glades

About a decade ago, alpine ski resorts came to the realization that gladed areas (skiing in the trees rather than on the groomed slopes) between trails offers great fun to skiers. They have created safe glades on gentle terrain by eliminating underbrush, smaller trees, and rocks so there is more room for skiers to pick their way through the forest (somewhat) safely. Glade areas for advanced skiers offer steeper terrain and more obstacles.

Call me a heretic, but I feel that the time has come for xc ski area operators to accept that there are many skiers who would like to access these backcountry stashes without having to climb and get so tired. Clearly there is a portion of the skiing population who would pay for transport up to higher elevations to access these areas so they can enjoy the downhill runs. For a few extra dollars above the trail pass, such transport could be provided with an industrial snowmobile (which most resorts already use) pulling an attached trailer with seats. And maybe the snowmobile driver can stop at the top to take some photos of the skiers as they take off down the terrain. Skiers can purchase the photo documentation back at the lodge and get the photos emailed to their computer or phone so they can show their weekend adventure to coworkers on Monday morning at work.

I imagine that xc ski resort operators might feel that such a service is the domain of alpine ski resorts...but xc ski areas could offer a more natural service within the context of xc skiing and snowshoeing. People like high places and the product supplier companies have recently produced a proliferation of off-track and backcountry equipment. This type of xc ski resort service has arrived.

Some XC Ski Areas Beat the Bad Winter

West coast ski resorts had seen a lack of snow for a few years and in the winter of 2015-16, it was the east and central regions' turn to suffer. Alpine ski areas have been making snow for decades but it is relatively new for cross country ski areas. About 40 cross country (XC) ski areas across the nation make snow and there is a significant chasm between XC areas that do and do not make snow.

High Point Cross Country Center in northern NJ reportedly was operational for only one day last winter. Mountain Meadows in central Vermont never had enough snow to set tracks on the trails. Timber Creek in southern Vermont, a ski area operating for decades said that in financial terms it was the worst winter ever.

The folks at Craftsbury Outdoor Center in VT commented that the winter had the least snow in recent memory, but thanks to snowmaking, they were open for 131 days straight with a 12 to 24 inch base of machine-made snow. In years prior to snowmaking, the Center tallied only a quarter of the skier days in a good season compared to now because of snowmaking. The figures for this season appear to be close to last year's record.

Craftsbury "inherited" quite a few races this winter from other ski area venues that did not have the snow. Their regular programming this winter served 1,000 school kids during January with schools using the area for fitness or outdoor education programs. There were a lot of school teams that traveled to train at Craftsbury because there was no snow in their home situations. The Craftsbury ski club program held regular practice, training, and racing. Many of these programs would have been cancelled without snowmaking.Craftsbury also has offerings for older folks with regular visits all winter by a group for local seniors to stay healthy and active. Both indoors and out, they've become fixtures around the Center.

Snowmaking buffered the lodging too. It is projected there be less than an estimated 5% decline in lodging compared to last year. When that number is combined with frequent record days (in terms of receipts) at the lodge, it helped keep revenue flowing. Obviously, snowmaking has its costs that must be factored in, but the Craftsbury winter operation remained viable, keeping employees working and paid, and guests and visitors happy and engaged with Nordic skiing.

At Rikert Nordic Center near Middlebury, Vt. there were 8-10 days of skiing on natural snow, but they had skiing on 106 days during the winter due to their snowmaking operations. The skier visits at Rikert declined but the visits per day increased 15-20% and that is good for revenue.

What's more, Rikert provided team training and competitions that were pre-scheduled and they added a few races to substitute for ski areas that do not have snowmaking. Rikert's Mike Hussey, who loves to talk about his snowmaking system, said "In a typical year we use 4 million gallons of water and this year we were more like 5-6 million gallons. Finally in the end of February we said "uncle" with the snowmaking." They produce snow in the field and on some of the trails and they stockpiled the snow to move it when needed maintaining 2-2.5 kilometers of trails. "There were a lot of people putting in effort to make the snow." Rikert's programs such as Mom's Monday, Toddler Tuesday, and the Bill Koch League for kids all were held as planned.

The Sleepy Hollow Inn Ski & Bike Center in Huntington, Vt. had a snowless winter in 2012 so the following year they invested in a snowmaking system. Owner Eli Einman commented, "We make the snow in piles and use the Pisten Bully to push it out along the trail to cover about 50 yards at a time, and then we keep doing that until we cover 1.2 kilometers of trail. We have ski teams from nearby high schools and St. Michael's College that train here and we have booked our weekends with groups."

Bob Frye, the owner at Cross Country Ski Headquarters in Roscommon, Mich. said, "We don't need a lot of snow, just a covered cross country ski park with little hills and a 1 kilometer loop. The kids love skiing around on the hills and people are so glad to just be on snow – their expectations change when there is a snowless winter." He stated that snowmaking helps bring income with lessons, retail and food sales, and it garners great local press, too.

In Waterville, Maine the Parks Director at the Quarry Road Recreation Area said snowmaking saved the winter. They produced snow seven times during the winter and were able to host two carnivals, high school races, fat bike demos, and ski club activities.

For XC ski areas, snowmaking is costly and labor-intensive, but the areas in the east and central regions that invested in it during a year like the winter of 2015-16 were singing a happier tune compared to their non-snowmaking competitors at the end of the season.

Top Photo: Snowmaking at Rikert Nordic Center in November; Bottom Photo: Bluebird day at Quarry Road Recreation Area





Can XC Skiing and/or Snowshoeing be a Remedy for Anxiety and Depression?

There have been studies done about exercise intervention for clinical populations diagnosed with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and even post traumatic stress disorder. This research shows that there are beneficial effects that produce a statistically relevant and significant reduction in these mental maladies. The following few paragraphs provide info from some articles that covered the topic of using exercise as a good strategy for therapists to employ.

In the 4th century, Plato reportedly quipped, “For man to succeed in life he has been provided with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.” The CDC cites health benefits associated with a range of physical activity and in its absence there can be an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, etc. Physical inactivity may also be associated with the development of mental disorders such as those listed above.

There is evidence for the effectiveness of exercise training in patients with panic disorder impacted by a number of psychological factors such as increased self efficacy, a sense of mastery, distraction, and changes of self-concept. Can or will psychologists prescribe such an exercise intervention as part of therapy for their patients? It would seem to integrate perfectly with cognitive behavioral therapy strategies such as situational analysis, self monitoring, homework activities, and supportive follow-up to help compliance.

Physical fitness will also improve self-esteem and as patients feel better about themselves they’ll develop a more optimistic and energetic frame of mind. There is also an association between aerobic exercise and increased alertness. The exercise improves circulation and increases the availability of oxygen to the brain while it also causes the body to produce chemicals such as adrenaline to promote mental alertness. Fitness can instill a sense of pride and confidence and allow the mind a pathway to escape from everyday stress. Biologically speaking, exercise is said to cause the brain to release beta endorphins, which are essential in relieving pain and create a sort of euphoric or light happy feeling. This overall mood enhancement can be prescribed to help treat depression and anxiety. Regular exercise will also invoke focus, determination, and discipline, which are mentally strengthening.

Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are the top forms of aerobic recreational activities. And aerobic activities have been found to promote mental health, boost energy, improve sleep, relieve tension and stress, and combat anxiety and depression. There is a real proven link between physical fitness and mental health and well-being. We should get moving on this!

How do we encourage more psychologists to enroll their patients in outdoor fitness endeavors as part of therapy? There will be benefits from such strategies at a wide range of levels from getting someone out on rental snowshoes for 3 short weekly hikes to training for a 50 km skiathon.

A strategy to bring together xc skiing or snowshoeing and professional therapists can be developed. The skier can create a prescription for a routine for skiing or snowshoeing a number of kilometers a few times per week and the therapist can schedule sessions or maybe even hold the sessions on the trails. What would that be worth an hour including trail passes? Maybe xc ski areas can sell transferable season passes to therapists in a package? Maybe health insurance could cover the cost of and encourage such a winning strategy.