Local trails a kick ‘n’ glide delight | AspenTimes.com

Local trails a kick ‘n’ glide delight

Janet Urquhart
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” With four ski mountains, Aspen/Snowmass may get overlooked as a cross-country skiing Mecca. It shouldn’t.

With 60-plus kilometers of groomed and, for the most part, linked trails, it’s often cited as the largest, free, groomed nordic system in the country. (We haven’t researched the claim, but it sounds good.) For a daily report on what has been groomed and trail conditions, dial the nordic hotline at (970) 429-2039.

The Aspen/Snowmass nordic system links Aspen and Snowmass Village via the Owl Creek Trail, which meanders through meadows and wooded areas for a scenic 9-mile ski between the Aspen Cross Country Center and the Snowmass Cross County Center. Both centers are situated on the towns’ respective golf courses (the Snowmass center is in the Snowmass Club pro shop). Trail loops are groomed on both golf courses.

In addition, the system features trails east of Aspen on the North Star Nature Preserve, located alongside the Roaring Fork River; at the Aspen schools campus; on the Marolt and Moore open space parcels and at the golf courses themselves. The trails are groomed for both classic and skate-style skiing. Snowshoers are also welcome (please, don’t walk on the classic tracks), but walkers and runners aren’t permitted. Dogs are permitted on a limited basis (see info on where to ski with your pooch elsewhere in this web link).

The popular and scenic trail is perennially voted a local favorite in the Aspen Times Weekly “Best Of…” edition. It’s a 9-mile link between the Aspen and Snowmass cross-country centers, located on the town’s respective golf courses. Most of the trail is rated intermediate, but there are some hills to make things interesting. It links to the rest of the Aspen system via the new bridge over Maroon Creek behind the Aspen Recreation Center.

Located east of Aspen off Highway 82, this loop isn’t connected to the rest of the system, but it’s an easy, 1.5-mile loop along the Roaring Fork River and a popular spot to get in some quick laps. The groomed trail is visible from the road as you approach the preserve, about 1.5 miles out of town. Look for pull-off parking on the right.

When there’s not time to tackle to the Owl Creek Trail, this system of loops is this writer’s favorite. The terrain is varied and challenging, and in warmer weather, it often boasts the best snow conditions. Ski a 1.8-mile loop that omits the trickiest hills, or the hilly 3.1-mile loop, or a combination of the two. It’s rated intermediate/advanced. Offers links to loops on the nearby Moore and Marolt open space properties, as well as the Aspen Golf Course, the Maroon Creek Club Trail and, via a trail across the base of Buttermilk, the Owl Creek Trail.

The nordic crew began setting tracks on this trail a couple of seasons ago, whenever snow conditions permitted. Popular with bicyclists in the summer, the Rio Grande starts behind the Aspen Post Office and runs downvalley to Basalt and, as of late last year, Emma. When six inches or more of new snow hits the ground, expect the trail crew to tackle the rest of the system and then do the Rio Grande Trail ” probably the following day, advised Austin Weiss, trails coordinator.

“We’ve been surprised at how often we’re able to do it and how long the snow lasts,” he said.

The tracks are getting plenty of use in the vicinity of Basalt High School, Weiss reports.

There’s no real parking available for the Rio Grande in Aspen (parking in the nearby commercial lots could get your vehicle booted). Parking is available at Henry Stein Park, located off McLain Flats Road at the bottom of the hill on Cemetery Lane, and you can catch the trail there. To get to Cemetery Lane, head west out of town on Main Street. From in front of the Hotel Jerome at the corner of Main and Mill streets (where there is a traffic signal), go through two more signalized intersections on Main, wind out of town and make a right at the third traffic signal light you come to ” at the intersection of Highway 82 and Cemetery Lane.

For more on the Aspen/Snowmass trail system, online maps and directions, see aspennordic.com or stop in at either cross-country center. Both centers offer rental equipment and lessons.

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