Cross Country/Nordic Skiing in the North Cascades

by Lisette Wolter-McKinley | Contributing Writer

The North Cascades are a mecca for Nordic skiing. Did you know Winthrop, Washington has the largest groomed cross-country ski trail system in North America with 120 miles of groomed trails set amongst towering trees, and cascading rivers, offering sweeping views at every turn? With interconnected cross-country ski trails and miles of forest land, the Methow Valley is a Winter playground unlike anything else you have experienced. If you love spending time outdoors, exploring the beautiful scenery, and getting some serious exercise in, then the Methow Valley and namely theFreestone Inn is the place for you.

On our way to the Freestone Inn,we were able to stop by Methow Cycle and Sport and both quickly and easily pick up the gear and trail passes we needed for Nordic skiing for our entire family. From daily ski rentals to sunglasses, fat bikes, and the forgotten hats or gloves Methow Cycle and Sport has you covered for Winter. Methow Cycle and Sport is a four-season, full-service bike and Nordic ski shop conveniently located along the Methow Valley- North Cascades Highway. Aside from gear they can give trail suggestions and help you figure out how best to enjoy what the Methow Valley has to offer outdoors. My three and eight-year-olds beamed as they were fitted for their boots and felt important carrying their poles and skis to the car.

The Freestone Innis located in Mazama, WA at Wilson Ranch and stands at the gateway to one of the most breathtaking recreation areas in Washington state. The Freestone Inn is a place my family has grown to love and we try our best to visit once during each season throughout the year. Winter is by far one of the prettiest times to visit and nothing is cozier than snuggling up by the stone fireplace after a long day outside. The Freestone Inn offers a wide variety of room types from suites and traditional hotel rooms to freestanding cabins. For those staying in the inn, breakfast is included each morning with your stay. Load up on bagels and pastries or perhaps yogurt and granola before heading out for a day in the snow.

All of the suites and cabins at the Freestone Inn have full kitchens which give you the option to make your own hearty meal at the end of each day. During our stay, my husband would take the kids to the hot tub while I made dinner or he would cook while I took them on a moonlight snowshoe walk around the pond. As a family, we like to stay on the property and soak in this gorgeous and serene spot as much as possible during our stay. After a restful night's sleep, we loved being able to simply walk outside of the inn and be skiing in a matter of minutes. No fighting crowds, struggling to get gear into the car, time wasted driving around searching for a parking spot, or getting lost on the way to the trail.

The Methow Valley ski trails are divided into three distinct areas: Mazama Trails, Sun Mountain Trails, and Rendezvous Trails.

Mazama Trails are great for novices and mixed-ability groups like families. The Mazama Trails are a great place to learn how to cross-country ski. The trails are machine groomed running over flat and rolling farmland that skirts along the Methow River and through the woods. Skiing from Wilson Ranch to the Mazama Country Store is a great incentive for kids and adults alike with the reward of food or hot cocoa at the end. For our family with varying skill levels, we found this trail to be our favorite of the bunch.

Sun Mountain Trails offer scenic views, and varied terrain, and is the first spot to receive the morning sun, especially on mornings that start out in the single digits. Sun Mountain Trails are great for families to learn together with the Ski School located at Sun Mountain Lodge and the sledding hill located close by. Between short, rolling loops and longer routes for the more ambitious there is a little something for everyone on the Sun Mountain Trails. Sun Mountain Trails were a little too advanced for our kids, but once they are a bit older, I know they will enjoy them.

Rendezvous Trails are best for the seasoned skier. Enjoy expansive views of the North Cascades and Methow Valley from the 4,000-foot-high trailside overlooks. Here you can experience an overnight trip using the Rendezvous Hut system. Five huts are dispersed along the Rendezvous Trails and are available for nightly rental in the Winter.

Did you know even during this period of immense price increases, children under the age of 17 years old ski free every day on these cross-country trails? Isn't that awesome?!

I know many people have asked how Nordic skiing compares to Alpine skiing.Nordic skis are bound at the toe only, allowing for liftoff at the heel and for the skier to move uphill. While this may make it sound simple,some people have called Nordic skiing the world's toughest outdoor sport, burning around 900 calories an hour. Our family was big into snowshoeing before we discovered Nordic skiing. We loved the scenery, the quiet moments spent in the mountains as a family, and the calming nature of it all. We find Nordic skiing to have some of those similar experiences available as snowshoeing with a lack of crowds, a nice rhythmic feel to it, and the ability to be alone amongst the trees, rivers, and valleys.

The Methow Valley is home to some of the best trail systems in the country, grab your gear from Methow Cycle and Sport and go see for yourself what it is all about. As with any outdoor activity, prepare for adverse conditions. It is a little extra cumbersome to ski with a backpack, but I always make sure to bring water, an extra waterproof layer for everyone in the family, hand warmers, a thermos full of cocoa, a first aid kit and a few snacks.