Living in Wyoming during the winter presents all kinds of fun opportunities for snowy outdoor activities.
While we’ve enjoyed hiking and snowshoeing elsewhere in winter, we were excited to spend a recent long weekend in nearby Custer State Park tackling those activities here.
We’ve also sought out new-to-us winter activities, recently attending our first skijoring competition and snowy hot spring swim.
Another new activity we wanted to try was cross-country skiing. Brian and I have both downhill skied before but were curious about whether any of that experience would apply to the Nordic version of the sport.
I found opportunities to rent equipment and access groomed trails in Grand Teton National Park and outside Casper, Wyoming, and was waiting for a break in our schedule to book. As luck would have it, I was mentioning our intention to my Boulder-based cousins in passing after the holidays and they offered to take us out for our first time at a Nordic center near them!
We finally landed on a date that worked for most of us and set out for the Frisco Nordic Center in Frisco, Colorado last weekend. This center is in a beautiful location nestled in the mountains and offers all kinds of activities, including skate-skiing, classic cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. There was also a tubing hill and horse-drawn sleigh rides nearby for those looking for a different level of physical exertion.
Since Brian and I had never tried cross-country skiing before, we went with the recommendation to stick with the classic version. These long, skinny skis are patterned on the bottom, and you use them to shuffle and glide forward one leg at a time in the groomed, preset tracks. My cousin was ready for something new so he opted for the skate skis. These are shorter with less texture on the bottom so the user can more easily glide in a side to side motion along a more open groomed trail.
You can see the open groomed trails as well as the preset tracks in the pictures of us below!
We started out on the trails marked as easy so we could get the feel of gliding forward. Brian seemed to get the hang of it quickly, but I was struggling with the lunge forward and being able to take advantage of the glide – I was doing a lot more shuffling and wearing myself out!
We went up and down a couple small hills and although it was very difficult, I was starting to get the hang of it. My cousin mentioned a trail around the lake he and his friends enjoyed during their last visit so we followed him on that loop.
Big mistake. The hills were getting steeper, I found myself sliding backwards when I was supposed to be climbing and falling down when I was supposed to be gliding downhill, and I was quickly losing steam and confidence. After taking my skis off and walking alongside one particularly steep hill that I had slid back down multiple times, I told the guys I probably needed to turn around and head back.
That’s when my cousin pointed out that we were already more than half-way around the black diamond loop.
At first we just stared at him.
Then we shouted, ‘WHY ARE WE ON A BLACK DIAMOND LOOP!?!?’
Shame on us for not studying the trails ahead of time and relying on our younger and MUCH more physically fit relative to guide us along some of the more challenging trails on our very first time out. I was supposed to be on easy trails enjoying the mountain views not sweating to death and falling off my skis on one of their advanced trails!
Three hours later we were back at the center and I was beat. Brian and I turned in our equipment, we all enjoyed some snacks we’d brought along for lunch, and then we wished my cousin well as he headed back out on an afternoon circuit. I spent that time reading my book and nursing early pangs in muscles I didn’t remember I had!
Would I try cross-country skiing again? Absolutely!
While there are many places to do it, the Frisco Nordic Center was a great place to start given their wonderful amenities, helpful staff, and beautiful location.
Would I take lessons and stay on the easy trails so I could better learn the technique? ABSOLUTELY.
I am flattered my cousin had such faith in our physical prowess, but I could benefit greatly from practicing the basics before putting myself out there again. I found this great guide from REI that I will definitely be studying prior to a second attempt (the ‘how to get up after you fall’ section would have been especially useful prior to our foray!).
It was a really fun and beautiful morning, I loved spending time with my husband and cousin, and I also was ready to hurt anyone within striking distance of my poles when I found out I was in the middle of an advanced course and had to make my way back to the Nordic center.
This experience gave me a new appreciation for those who pursue this sport – the strength and endurance necessary to successfully navigate the trails is next level. While I am definitely not on that level, I enjoyed giving cross-country skiing a try. It was certainly a first-time experience I will never forget!