Over the past fifteen years I have raced and trained on cross-country ski trails all over North America. From Fort Kent, Maine to Fairbanks, Alaska, I feel I have skied a sizeable chunk of what the U.S. and Canada have to offer. With the 2003-2004 ski season now behind me I decided to come up with a list of my all-time favorite ski trails. Some of these trails are racing trails, others are touring trails, but each one is unique and memorable in its own way. If you have yet to ski any of these, I recommend you check them out. So, in no particular order
Trail #24, Station Mont-Sainte-Anne, Beaupre, QUE
To me, this is the ultimate trail for classic skiing. Normally double-tracked for classic-only skiing, this trail starts and finishes at the Auberge du Fondeur Lodge just up the road from the main Mont Ste. Anne Nordic center (look for the black diamond trail #24 on the trail map). This 22-kilometer loop has it all — uphills that are challenging and downhills that make you feel like you are on an amusement park ride. This trail is hard to ski just once.
I’m OK Eure OK, Tahoe Donner XC Center, Truckee, CA
This ski trail has the largest payoff of any trail out there. If you don’t mind the near hour-long climb to the top of the ridge (I definitely do not suggest skiing up I’m OK Eure OK) you are in for one wild ride as you plunge down into the Eure Valley. Start by skiing up the Crazy Horse and Andromeda trails to the top of Hawk’s Peak. Take your time and be sure to enjoy the spectacular view from the top. Then it’s time to buckle up and hold on for dear life as you rocket down this trail that is more like a luge run than a cross-country ski trail.
Birkebeiner Trail, Cable to Hayward, WI
The American Birkebeiner is a great race to be a part of, however, the best way to enjoy the Birkie trail is to ski it on any day other than race day. That way you can ski this premier trail without the distraction of 6,000 other skiers and 12-inch deep sugar snow. The Birkie trail must be the widest trail in North America. If you ski it on a quiet day in January, it’s like having a four-lane freeway all to yourself. The Birkie trail is constantly rolling, with no uphill too long, and no downhill too fast. It is the je ne sais quoi of ski trails.
1988 Olympic 15-kilometer racecourse, Canmore Nordic Center, Canmore, AB
Not only is this one of the most difficult race trails out there, it has got to be one of the most exciting as well. Start in the main stadium at the Canmore Nordic Center and prepare yourself for some serious hill work. If you are looking for a nice, gentle trail you can enjoy with your family, don’t even consider this one. This trail is made up of seemingly endless steep hills that will make your legs scream like little babies. You can just imagine the kind of shape the 1988 Olympic competitors had to be in to race this course. Luckily, interspersed throughout these uphills are fast downhills, challenging corners, and unexpected bridges. Also, being able to ski into and out of the Olympic stadium invokes inspirational images of racing legends such as Gunde Svan and Thomas Wassberg who won Olympic medals here.
Around The Mountain Loop, Silver Star Resort, Silver Star, BC.
For this two to three-hour tour be sure to bring plenty of water and some food. Start in the Silver Star village and make your way up to the top of the Silver Star alpine resort via the Paradise trail and Lars Taylor Way. I recommend doing the extra spur up the summit — you don’t want to miss the view here. From the top follow the Aberdeen trail down the mountain to the Sovereign Lakes XC Center and hop on the Gold Mountain trail that will bring you back to the base village. What could be better than skiing for three hours on one loop that also has amazing scenery, plenty of climbing and roller coaster downhills? You may want to reward yourself with a Putnam Burger at the Putnam Station restaurant after you ski this one.
Porter Mountain Loop, Verizon Sports Complex (Mt. Van Hoevenberg), Lake Placid, NY
Constantly changing terrain, tough hills, plus a fun ride back to the stadium. This is Northeastern skiing at its best.
2002 Olympic 30-Kilometer racecourse, Soldier Hollow, UT
Here you’ll find plently of tough, yet ski-able, hills and (usually) rock-solid man-made snow conditions. For those of you that thought that Soldier Hollow wouldn’t have much skiing after the Olympics were over guess again.
Silver Trail, Giant’s Ridge, Biwabik, MN
There is never a dull moment on this 10-kilometer racecourse where you are always skiing uphill or downhill. The hills aren’t particularly long (like the ones on the more challenging Gold Trail) but there are seemingly hundreds of them. Although the recent addition of the Giant’s Ridge golf course has altered the start and finish of this trail, the bulk of the course remains intact.
Roller Coaster, Birch Hill Rec. Area, Fairbanks, AK
Short (only about 200 meters) and sweet and if it is icy, you can catch air. It is the only way to top off the Tower Loop trail.