Make Tracks on the Granite State’s Cross-Country Trails

Snow blankets the outstretched limbs of the thick spruce and fir in the White Mountains forest. Despite the deep chill, the air is invigorating, the blue sky clean and clear. Flecks of color, like a kaleidoscope, appear fleeting as the sun reflects off the frosted landscape.

Hearts pound on the ups, smiles widen on the downs. When it’s time, take a break with some warming hot chocolate.

Then head back out on New Hampshire’s cross-country ski trails.

With a fast learning curve, XC skiing is a fun, family-friendly and healthy outdoor winter pursuit.

“Be open to enjoying it in a variety of ways,” says New London’s Ellen Chandler, a masters racer who captained her Williams College XC ski team. She’s a New England Nordic Ski Association board member and former Nordic director at two touring centers. “Be prepared to like it for your own reasons which may include fitness, getting out in nature, socializing with friends, playing with kids, excitement, challenge, the physical pleasure of gliding, and the opportunity to see new things and places.”

Cross-country, or Nordic, skiing, can be traced back thousands of years to Scandinavia, when wooden skis were used for transportation by agrarian and subsistence societies and the military. Today, cross-country skiers have much more efficient equipment and techniques on tracked trails.

The Granite State has vast opportunities for the skinny skiing set on well-groomed and maintained trails across the 18 ski touring centers belonging to Ski New Hampshire, the state’s nonprofit ski area trade association, and on less-manicured public lands like the White Mountain National Forest and state parks.

Touring centers are launching pads for the Nordic experience. From country casual like Bear Notch Ski Touring in Bartlett to the comfortably contemporary Great Glen Trails at the base of towering Mount Washington in Pinkham Notch, the lodges are hubs for trail passes, lessons, equipment rentals, last minute essentials, nourishment and togetherness. Some have showers. Some trails are dog-friendly.

Many centers just serve Nordic trails while others are linked to downhill ski areas like at Loon in Lincoln, Gilford’s Gunstock, King Pine in East Madison, Bretton Woods near Twin Mountain, Granite Gorge outside Keene and Waterville Valley.

Beginners rarely have to venture far from the lodge for first tracks as kilometers – miles aren’t used much in European-influenced cross-country skiing—of novice terrain are usually found outside the touring center. But with vast networks totaling upwards of 100-kilometers of trails like Jackson Ski Touring Foundation (the state’s largest at 150 km), skiers are able to drive to distinct trailheads after purchasing their trail pass to access various network trail systems.

More Nordic touring centers can be found across the state. Gaze out upon the Boston skyline from southwest New Hampshire’s Windblown Cross Country in New Ipswich. The Lake Sunapee area has a couple of choices in the community-spirited Pine Hill XC Club and Dexter Inn Trails by Norse Outdoors near Mount Sunapee.

The Dartmouth Cross Country Ski Center sustains 25 kilometers of groomed ski trails on Oak Hill and Ga-ripay Field in Hanover while 30 kilometers of lanes await skiers at Wolfeboro’s Nordic Skier. Try skiing by rugged 4,000-foot peaks at Ski Hearth Farm in Sugar Hill and the Franconia Village Cross Country Ski Center or schussing by a playful troll house at Eastman Cross Country in Grantham and under the guise of the Moat Mountains at Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Foundation by North Conway.

Trail passes are much cheaper than downhill, with adults paying an average of $16 last season across the state. Rates ranged from $8 to $21.

On the trails, skiers kick, glide and skate along the way. They cross bridges, meander along waterways, stand in awe of mountains and wander by country inns. Seeing deer, moose or a scurrying squirrel is possible – or at least spotting prints left behind in the snow. Warming huts and cabins offer breaks from the cold and often contain warming hot chocolate.

Cross-country is a low-impact aerobic sport. Its whole body workout enhances endurance, balance, strength and agility. Many runners and cyclists, appreciative of its cardiovascular benefits, us it for cross-training in winter.

Calories melt too. Even slow skiing can burn upwards of 400 calories per hour while those who do it well can burn more than 800 calories per hour while racing. New Hampshire has some top notch racers on its trails. Olympians Justin and Kris Freeman hail from the Granite State – Kris trains at Waterville Valley – while 1984 Olympian Sue Wemyss teaches at Great Glen Trails. Both the University of New Hampshire and Dartmouth College routinely field championship caliber XC squads while Jackson Ski Touring Foundation has hosted the collegiate NCAA skiing championships.

Great Glen Trails

Speed demon or relaxed recreational slider, new skiers will have to decide between Nordic’s two disciplines: classic and skate.

Classic skiing, keeping skis in groomed tracks, mimics our natural movements. It’s more of a walking gait where you stride and glide. Skate skiing, done on packed and wider surfaces, requires more effort.

“I think most people like to start with classic because the equipment is more stable and you can do it on narrow trails and untracked snow; and you can do it slowly if you want,” says Chandler.

That’s where lessons become important. Adults, children, family, group or private, lessons are excellent introductions to XC. Many centers have package and discounted deals.

“You have to have a positive attitude,” says Abraham, a Nordic skier for 22 years, who can lose eight pounds in a skiing winter. “You’re going to come out of it learning something. Most of the time when I bring people out for the first time, they can’t wait to get back out on the trails. Everyone thinks cross-country skiing is so hard, but if you work at it and do some miles, you can really pick it up pretty easily.

Categories: NH Ski Magazine