Best places to cross country ski in Steamboat |

Best places to cross country ski in Steamboat

Susan Findell leads a group from the Yampa Valley Parkinson's Support Network at the Haymaker Nordic Center on Tuesday, Dec. 31.
Shelby Reardon

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Skiing in Steamboat Springs, for many people, means carving up the fluffy powder at Steamboat Resort, riding the brand new gondola and taking in the view from 10,000 feet. In town, closer to 7,000 feet elevation, there are options to skate and glide along scenic and groomed Nordic trails.

Steamboat’s four Nordic centers offer more than 100 kilometers of groomed trails for classic cross-country and skate skiing, as well as snow-shoeing, all within 30 minutes of downtown. Close-to-town options requiring season or day passes include the Steamboat Ski Touring Center, Catamount Ranch and Club, Haymaker Nordic Center and Howelsen Hill. Howelsen doesn’t offer rentals, so bring your own equipment. 

Thirty minutes north of town are groomed trails at Steamboat Lake State Park. There are also free trails west of town in the Steamboat II and Silver Spur subdivisions, as well as trails on the West Summit of Rabbit Ears Pass and heading north from the Dry Lake Campground trailhead on Buffalo Pass. For an in-town option, take the family cross-country skiing up Spring Creek just past the high school off Amethyst Drive. If you’re going non-groomed, carry the proper equipment, be aware of changing weather conditions and let someone know where you’re going.

Howelsen Hill

Distance: 21 KM/13 miles Rentals: No Food: Concessions Phone: 970-879-8499

Howelsen Hill is a centerpiece of Steamboat, with the towering HS100 ski jump and Ski Free Sundays drawing the attention of visitors and locals alike.

Howelsen offers about 15 kilometers of groomed Nordic trails, ranging from beginner loops at the base around the rodeo grounds to moderate loops along the river to difficult hills leading up Emerald Mountain. Howelsen grooms every day, and an online map shows what has been recently groomed and if there are any closed trails.

Howelsen Hill Nordic Map

Nordic skiers are required to get a day pass in the lodge, even on Ski Free Sundays, when admission is free to all trails on Howelsen Hill. Access to Blackmer Drive is always free, although that trail should be left to the experts as it’s quite steep in spots.

“It’s definitely a good mix,” said Brad Setter, the Howelsen ski and rodeo manager. “There’s lots of beginner terrain at the bottom and intermediate and advanced as you go halfway up the mountain. There’s good distance, good climbs. There’s really something for everybody.”

Howelsen has an updated Nordic hotline at 970-871-7084, which informs potential visitors of recently groomed trails. All Nordic trails are multiuse, so skiers may run into snowshoers and people on fat bikes.

Steamboat Ski Touring Center

Distance: 24K/15 miles Rentals: Yes Food: Cafe Phone: 970-879-8180

On a small bump above town lies the Steamboat Ski Touring Center, the hub of all cross country action in Steamboat. The center offers rentals for both classic and skate skiing and takes beginner and intermediate skiers out on trails along Fish Creek and through snow-covered pines.

The Ski Touring Center offers lessons as well with reservations. Skiers can buy equipment or clothing out of the outfitter shop before fueling up with a warm lunch at The Picnic Basket Cafe.

“We’ve been very busy. It’s been a good holiday season so far,” said Birgitta Lindgren, director of the Nordic Center.

Updated trail reports, prices and hours can be found on the center’s website.

Haymaker Nordic Center

Distance: 10K/ 6 miles Rentals: Yes Food: Restaurant Phone: 970-879-9444

A sign marks the trail at the Haymaker Nordic Center. Haymaker offers groomed trails for both classic and skate skiing.
Shelby Reardon

The Haymaker Nordic Center is the ideal place for newbie Nordic skiers. There are 10 kilometers of classic and skate ski trails that allow skiers to take in the view of Mount Werner on one side and the Flat Tops Wilderness Area on the other. Between laps on the Rabbit Ears or the Yampa View loops, visitors can get lunch at the Haymaker Bar and Grill while warming up. 

An updated trail report, as well as prices and hours can be found on the Steamboat Nordic skiing website.

“Haymaker is nice, easy, rolling terrain,” Lindgren said. “The beginner is very comfortable at Haymaker.”

With a reservation, Haymaker also offers lessons from a local expert.

Catamount Lake

Distance: 25 KM/ 15.5 miles Rentals: Yes Food: Restaurant Phone: 970-871-6667

Just a few miles south of Steamboat is Catamount Lake Ranch and Club, a private golf course turned public Nordic center. 

“Anybody can come out here,” said club outfitter Kevin Kopischke. “You drive out, you park in the parking area, you walk down to the Nordic center, you come inside, we greet you and get you going.”

There are both classic and skate ski rentals available on site, and a quick call ahead of time can assure there are plenty in stock. Catamount caters to skiers of all levels with trail maps guiding them to beginner, intermediate and expert terrain. Grooming reports, prices and hours are listed at the Steamboat Nordic Center website

Stefan Beder, a visitor from Fort Collins, skis along the classic track at the Haymaker Nordic Center on Tuesday, Dec. 31.
Shelby Reardon

Kopischke said on a clear day, Catamount is typically 10 degrees cooler than in town, so visitors should keep that in mind when bundling up. 

“But it keeps our snow nice for longer.” he said.

There’s no need to drive all the way back to town for food either, as the Lake House Grill serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Catamount partners with Ski Haus to host the Pleasant Valley Race Ride Tour. The mini series has a pair of cross country races, the first being a classic Nordic race.

Steamboat Lake

The Steamboat Lake State Park Touring Center is 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs on Routt County Road 129. The area usually opens by Christmas, with trails groomed by the Steamboat Lake Snow Club. Dogs are allowed but must be on a 6-foot leash. The center features 15 kilometers of groomed beginner and intermediate trails. There are no services available so bring your own gear; meals are available at the Clark Store Deli, Glen Eden, Hahns Peak Cafe and Steamboat Lake Outpost nearby. You can also rent trailside cabins from the marina 970-879-7019. Cost: $9 per vehicle (passes available at the park visitor center or self-service station). 970-879-3922,

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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