Most New Year’s resolutions have to do with health, romance and adventure. You have a chance at all three when you venture out to cross-country ski.
Among winter sports, cross-country skiing has the highest percentage of women, 45 percent, of all ages, according to an industry survey. If you’re a single guy, are you getting the message? If you’re a singlewoman, and want to meet guys who are in shape, well, there you are.
But of course, there’s broader appeal in cross-country skiing — clean air, exercise, wildlife sightings and the thrill of exploration. From Tahoe south to the central Sierra, and north to Shasta, here are 10 great destinations to cross-country ski, ranging from organized groom runs with set trails to freelance-style treks to world-class views.
Royal Gorge: Royal Gorge has 126 trails and a battalion of groomers that make it the biggest and most diverse network of set trails, and given the chance with a good snow surface, a dynamic one. In all, there are eight networks. Once outside the lodge’s immediate sphere of influence, it feels like wilderness. You can just keep going. Its location off Highway 40 at Soda Springs (Nevada County) is a natural snow scoop to get conditions fresh. Contact: Royal Gorge, 800-500-3871, www.royalgorge.com.
Tahoe-Donner: When you drive to Tahoe-Donner, you pass by suburban-style mountain vacation homes that belie the experience to follow. With your cross-country skis, you quickly launch into forest wildlands with your choice of 51 trails that span more than 100 kilometers of routes. It adds up to an excellent network of groomed routes; plus the owners are nice folks. It’s located a short distance from Truckee, and minutes from rental homes. Contact: Tahoe-Donner, 530-587-9444, www.skitahoedonner.com (click on “XC Ski”).
Peter Grubb Hut/Round Valley: This trek provides some of the Sierra’s best do-it-yourself terrain. The trailhead, 7,195 feet, is on the north side of Interstate 80, off the exit for Castle Peak (across from Boreal on the south side of I-80). It’s a mile trek with a climb to the spur for the Peter Grubb Hut. From here, you can launch to nearby Round Valley, one of the most popular free cross-country ski sites in California. Contact: Peter Grubb Hut, reserve at 530-426-3632, info at www.clairtappaanlodge.com/peter-grubb-hut
Camp Richardson: When it snows down to lake level, Camp Richardson near South Lake Tahoe becomes a jump-off spot for easy, flat cross-country ski routes. After a fresh snow, you can rent a cabin and often venture off right from your front door. Nearby Fallen Leaf Lake provides an option. You can also rent skis, drive to D.L. Bliss State Park near Emerald Bay, then hop the pipe gate and cross-country ski on a light descent to a spectacular overlook of Lake Tahoe. Contact: Camp Rich, Mountain Sports Center, South Lake Tahoe, 530-542-6584, www.camprichardson.com.
Kirkwood: Kirkwood is best known for its high snow totals and family feel in a major-league setting for downhill skiing. Adjacent is a cross-country ski area with 80K of trails, often groomed with set trails for each weekend. Another option is nearby Kirkwood Meadow, located right along Highway 88 near Carson Pass. This is a High Sierra meadow that is so flat I’ve seen skiers use parasails to skim across the valley. Contact: Kirkwood, 800-967-7500, www.kirkwood.com.
Bear Valley: Over the years, Bear Valley has been just enough off the radar to get ignored by many, and develop a love cult among the others. It is located off of Highway 4 (the turnoff is near Alpine Lake, where highway plowing operations stop). There are two good options here. The ski area operates a cross-country network with 38 trails, plenty big with many choices. Nearby there are meadow routes that are near-flat, easy for those getting their legs back. Contact: Bear Valley, 209-753-2834, www.bearvalleyxc.com.
Glacier Point Road: One of the landmark cross-country ski trips in the world is the trek to Glacier Point and its overlook of Half Dome, Tenaya Canyon and miles of Yosemite high-country wilderness. This is for experts only. You take off from Badger Pass. It’s then a 21-mile round trip. A key is to make sure the Mountaineering Center has set tracks on a groomed route, so you’re not busting trail. Contact: Nordic Center, 209-372-8444, www.travelyosemite.com (click on “winter”).
Dewey Point: The payoff is the spectacular lookout on the south rim of Yosemite Valley straight across to El Capitan. To your right is Cathedral Rocks below and beyond to Half Dome and dozens of landmarks. From Badger Pass, you climb up Glacier Point Road on set trail for 1.4 miles and look for the signed marker on the left for the Dewey Meadow Trail. You leave the set trail and push your way for 2.5 miles to the Dewey Point Trail, signed by markers posted to trees above the snow. This descends a mile to Dewey Point. 10-mile round trip. Contact: Nordic Center, 209-372-8444, www.travelyosemite.com (click on “winter”).
Nordic Center: The Mt. Shasta Nordic Center is located just down the road from the Mount Shasta Ski Park. The routes span the wooded forest on the flank of giant Shasta, with 25K of groomed trails. With climate change, its relative low elevation, 5,250 feet, often puts the freezing line between rain and snow in question. A warming hut with hot drinks and snacks is available. Rentals are available, as well as in town. The operation is a nonprofit, run by a friendly group of volunteers. Contact: Mt. Shasta Nordic Center, 530-925-3494, www.mtshastanordic.org.
Sand Flat/Bunny Flat: Out of the town of Mount Shasta, you can rent your gear at the Fifth Season and then head up Everett Memorial Highway to either Sand Flat or Bunny Flat. The turnoff for Sand Flat is on your left at about 6,450 feet and provides routes on an ungroomed Forest Service road and trails. Everett Memorial Highway ends at Bunny Flat (crowded, but most do not venture beyond 100 yards of the parking). A gated road (about 7,000 feet) provides cross-country skiers with a route up to the old Shasta Ski Bowl. Contact: Fifth Season Mountaineering Report, 530-926-5555; Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Mount Shasta District, 530-926-4511, www.fs.usda.gov/stnf.