By Roger Lohr
(December 2014) When it comes to cross country (XC) skiing, the theory of what goes up must come down may be going out of style. Nowadays many people really enjoy the fun of just going downhill on XC skis, but they’d prefer avoiding the need to laboriously trudge uphill to earn that fun. Yeah, the skis have waxless bases that allow you to ski uphill without totally killing yourself, but it’s so much easier with the onset of “lift or shuttle-served” XC skiing.
Simply put, lift or shuttle-served XC skiing allows the fun of the downhill with the use of a ski area lift or a shuttle ride so there’s no need to “pay the price” of going miles uphill on skis. Of course, there are those who believe that one must earn such fun, but “no pain, no gain” may be a view that’s, well a bit fuddy-duddy.
At Bretton Woods in New Hampshire’s White Mountains there is a $31 High Country lift ticket that gets an XC skier up near the summit to the Mountain Road by way of a chair lift, for a 7 kilometer (km) ski back down. The trail is easy enough and skiers can ski in the groomed tracks or on the flat skate lane, where they can make turns or snowplow.
The Bretton Woods lift ticket provides one ride on the high speed detachable quad (which slows down upon egress) and unlimited use of a T-bar, which is a few kilometers down the trail. The T-bar provides access to upper elevations of Mount Stickney and the Stickney Cabin, which has snacks, beverages and a place to hang out with indoor seating or outside by a stone fireplace. Skiing back to the Mountain Road offers some choices including a groomed trail or skiing through the glades (trees) with options for different levels of difficulty. The Mountain Road is still one of the most trails to be had on XC skis in New England!
In the northwest at 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort there is a lift-served XC ski trail called the Summit Trail that is accessed near the top of Chewelah Peak. It descends and winds around the mountain for 12 km. On a clear day one can see all the way to Montana from the trail and many animal tracks or an occasional moose might be seen. It is a 2,000 foot decline in elevation but not all downhill though.
Other XC ski trails that are accessed by chair lifts can be found at Giants Ridge in MN with a free lift ride when you purchase a trail pass to access the 6 km Bronze Trail, the 6 km Summit Trail, or the 14 km Gold Trail. Boyne Mountain in MI, has the Cold Springs Downhill trail. Royal Gorge in the Tahoe, CA area has two surface ski lifts for practicing downhill turns and also having accelerated fun.
At Garnet Hill Lodge, in North River, NY there’s a shuttle ride from the bottom of a long downhill back to the lodge that has been offered since the early eighties. It originated when the lodge owner picked up skiers in his car and was then upgraded to a van and now it’s a mini-bus. The shuttle is a free service for the skiers at Garnet Hill Lodge. Skiers must sign up for the shuttle and there are many routes that skiers can take using intermediate rated trails to reach the two pick-up locations that have a 500 foot and 900 foot vertical drop, respectively. Shuttles are offered daily and 3-5 times a day on weekends and holidays. During the week and on slow times, the shuttle is offered on demand.
The Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center in Gorham, NH is adjacent to the Mt. Washington Auto Road and offers an uphill ride to achieve “tree line status” in the SnowCoach, which is a tracked van. The comfortable heated tour takes folks to the 4,000 foot elevation up Mount Washington where the views are breathtaking. Intermediate and advanced skiers can handle skiing down this road as a thrilling four mile decent back to the base lodge. There are various price options for the SnowCoach.
Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont has a free shuttle on the weekends that delivers skiers to the Highland Lodge for a 20 km return trek. There’s a net drop of about 300 meters on the groomed trail, which traverses hill top pastures, farmsteads, and quaint Vermont villages. A shorter 5 km shuttled ride brings skiers back to the lodge from Craftsbury Village at the general store and deli.
One might wonder that if the downhill ski run is the objective, why not simply go alpine skiing? The trails above are cross country ski experiences. They all require kick and glide techniques across some flat terrain and they do not have the consistent and necessary steepness for alpine skiing. As lift and shuttle services become more popular, they’ll be available at more ski areas but until that happens, you’ll have to seek out areas that offer this service if you want this level of fun on XC skis.