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A Guide to Cross-Country (or Nordic) Skiing Washington

Before grabbing the snowshoes for another winter walk in the woods, consider an alternative: Nordic skiing.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jan+Feb 2013 issue of Washington Trails magazine. | By Holly Weiler

Artist Point by Alison Mehravari.jpg
A cross country skier enjoy the picturesque Artist Point. Photo by Alison Mehravari.

This is the time of the year when hikers begin to yearn for the return of summer. Daylight hours are gradually increasing, and we feel the pull of the outdoors more strongly than ever. But summer is still a long way off, and we need to get outside.

Before grabbing the snowshoes for another winter walk in the woods, consider an alternative: Nordic or cross-country skiing.

For those who are new to the sport, classic skiing is easy to pick up after just a few outings. For those who are looking for a challenge, skate skiing provides a full-body workout that is hard to duplicate in any other outdoor activity. A basic Nordic setup is relatively inexpensive, and there are rental options from a variety of outdoor retailers for those who would prefer to try it before they buy it.

Locations and permits

Once properly outfitted, your best bet is to head for one of the 40 Sno-Parks in Washington that are set aside for nonmotorized use. (The Sno-Parks outlined in this article focus on areas that provide grooming for Nordic skiing.) Additionally, there are a handful of privately operated Nordic areas across the state, and these areas have their own parking or permitting system. Remember that in addition to knowing which permit is required, it is crucial to know the trail basics before heading out.

See a list of trail systems at the end the article.

Dogs and skijoring

Dogs are generally not allowed on groomed Nordic trails—however, there are exceptions. Some Nordic areas offer specific dog-friendly trails or trail hours, so call ahead if your outing will not be complete without your four-legged friend. Know that even if your pup is allowed, she may be required to remain on-leash. The best way to ski with a dog (when dogs are allowed) is by using a sled-dog harness and a bungee leash system: this is skijoring, and it’s a fast-growing winter sport in some locations.

Cross-country courtesy

Second, snowshoes are not allowed on groomed Nordic trails. Many nonmotorized winter Sno-Park locations offer nearby snowshoe trails, but never switch to snowshoes and set out across the groomed trails—it ruins the tracks and the skating deck. (This is good practice, even outside of official ski areas. If snowshoeing on roads or other popular routes, try to avoid stepping on ski tracks.)

Finally, remember that the usual rules of the road apply here. Always keep skier-right when classic skiing, and try to remain right of middle while skating. Yield to downhill traffic—it’s hard to turn and stop quickly on Nordic skis! If you fall (and you will!), try to smooth out the spot after you get up again. A depression left in the snow will cause the next skier to fall there too.

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Kautz Glacier Route. Photo by Andrew Monks.


South Cascades

Three Sno-Park areas in this region share a linked trail system that offers approximately 40 miles of Nordic trails. McClellan Meadows is the smallest of the three, Old Man, and Koshko is the largest.

Spokane

This trail system offers 23 miles of doubletrack with a skating deck. The ski club is offering a new series of Nordic ski lessons (both classic and skate), and will continue to host the popular Nordic Kids program. Don’t miss the annual Langlauf 10K classic ski race (all ages and abilities) in February. Visit the Spokane Nordic Ski Association for more info and evens.

Methow Valley

The Methow Valley is a mecca for Nordic skiers. The trail system is divided into four areas: the Methow Valley Community Trail system (30K), the Sun Mountain trail system (54K), the Mazama Trails (33K) and the Rendezvous Trails (48K). Local ski events include the Backyard Ski Day on January 27, followed by the Methow Valley Pursuit & Nordic Festival on January 20–22, and the Tour of the Methow on February 18.). Visit Methow Trails for more info.

Chelan-Leavenworth

The Echo Ridge Nordic area boasts more than 25 miles of groomed trails. The trail system is operated by the Chelan Ranger District with the Lake Chelan Nordic Ski Club; Sno-Park permits and NW Forest Passes are not honored here. Visit during the Lake Chelan Winterfest January 13-22. Stop by the ski yurt on Saturdays in January and February for complimentary soup, thanks to the ski club! Visit the Lake Chelan Nordic Club for more info.

Closer to Leavenworth, the Plain Valley Nordic Trails offer 22K of regularly groomed ski trails. Among their events, they offer full moon ski and snowshoe parties complete with a roaring bonfire. Also in the area are the Lake Wenatchee State Park, Chiwawa and Nason Ridge Sno-Parks, all of which offer places to make tracks.

Mount Baker

The Razor Hone Base Area trail at Salmon Ridge Sno-Park offers 30K of both track skiing and a skate deck. The Nooksack Nordic Club received a grant a few years ago to improve trail grooming here.

Stevens Pass

Chiwawa Sno-Park offers a 6.5K see-and-ski trail. Nearby Lake Wenatchee Sno-Park has two areas: choose the north lot for a 5K trail with a skate deck, or try the south lot for its 30K of track sking. Or visit the Nordic Center at Stevens Pass, which offers 28K of groomed trails.

Greenwater-Yakima

Mount Tahoma maintains 44K of groomed trails and offers three backcountry huts and one yurt. Bunks are available at only $15 per night and can be reserved ahead of time. Bring a sleeping bag and food; the huts contain everything else you’ll need for a night on the ski trails. Learn more at the Mount Tahoma Trails Association.