This winter our family wanted a new way to get out and enjoy the outdoors of Colorado. We’ve hiked many winter trails, but we’ve recently wondered what it would be like to enjoy snow-covered trails on cross country skis. But, how do you even get started–especially as a family? When I’m new to something, I find it’s wise to get a coach, an expert to help me start in the right direction. So, before buying a bunch of equipment, and perhaps creating bad habits, we decided to first take a lesson, test out some skis, and find out if we would enjoy it. We chose the Breckenridge Nordic Center for two reasons:

  • First, from their website, I sensed they had a real family-friendly character.
  • Second, the trails looked absolutely beautiful.

So, if you're wondering what it looks like to get started with cross country skiing, I think you'll learn what you need to know reading through our family's experience in getting started.

The Breckenridge Nordic Center

It’s pretty normal, when trying out a new sport, like cross country skiing, to feel uneasy and apprehensive, wondering if you’ll stick out as the person who obviously has no idea what he is doing. Instead, we felt welcomed into the living room of new-found friends. The staff was warm and helpful, helping us get fit into our skis and shoes. I had no idea there were different types of cross-country skis. We decided to keep it simple and to learn on classic skis, which are best suited for groomed traills on mostly level and gently sloping terrain.

The lodge looks like something out of the Tyrollean countryside, complete with massive log beams, a spiral staircase, windows looking out to the mountains, and a fire in the hearth. Our kids felt relieved to find we could eat lunch at the lodge. So, after our lesson we returned for get warm and to energy-up for more skiing.

It’s a popular destination, so parking can fill fast. We arrived around 9:45 (on a Monday) and still were able to get a spot. However, the town of Breckenridge runs a shuttle that makes regular stops at the Nordic Center. Take the Black Route using one of the Breck Free Ride lots and ask the driver to drop you off at the Breckenridge Nordic Center. If you have a lesson scheduled, allow for the extra time needed to park and ride. Figure in the extra time on the weekends because of ski traffic.

front of breckenridge nordic center lodge with snow

Learning to Cross Country Ski

two children taking cross country ski lesson with gary at breckenridge nordic center in colorado

“I’m going to miss him.” That was the comment made by our youngest daughter after our instructor, Gary, concluded our lesson. A retired local science teacher, Gary was amazing at helping our kids move from never-been-on-skis-in-my-life status to gaining the skills and confidence to enjoy their time on the trails. When we would move from one skill to the next, he would say, “Your next challenge is…” He was incredibly patient and his language helped our girls stay motivated.

Gary differentiated the cross country ski instruction for the adults, too. He first invested time with in our kids, knowing we would catch on a bit faster. Then, while our children were practicing and gliding down the trail, he would join back up with my wife and I to help us to add new skills and to coach us on our form.

Taking a Break: Warmth, Lunch, and Rest

Winter sports are demanding. After our lesson, we popped off our skis and headed back into the lodge to get some lunch and a bit of rest. Walking in cross country ski boots is way more comfortable than downhill skis. The lunch menu had two homemade soups: a caramelized onion potato soup and a tomato artichoke. Brats, hot dogs, chips, and plenty of drinks, too (including some Colorado brews). Sitting near the fire, we thawed out, filled our bellies and got ready to head out back into the snow.

Having run several businesses and led teams, I’m always aware of the staff dynamics of organizations. The staff at BNC stood out because they genuinely enjoyed one another. I observed them going the extra mile to help customers and to keep things tidy around the lodge. It’s those little things that add up to make a place memorable.

hearth in the great room of the breckenridge nordic center lodge

Skiing the Trails

johnson family after ski lesson in breckenridge colorado with mountains in distance on groomed nordic trail

Learn from My Two Mistakes

When we went back out on the trails, we made two mistakes. I mention them here hoping to convert them to cross country skiing “tips.” The first is a typical Colorado blunder, I forgot to put water bottles in my daypack. The second was that we decided to explore a new trail loop that required navigating some steeper terrain–bad idea. If I could rewind, we would have repeated the loop our instructor took us on for the lesson. On the Trail Map, this easy loop is the Troll Forest to Gold Digger loop, going counter-clockwise to make the loop.

The Trails

The nordic trails were beautifully groomed, winding through towering spruce and fir trees, by mountain cottages, and with views out to the mountains that make Breckenridge such a glorious Colorado destination. With 2000 acres, there are plenty of trails. The intermediate and advanced trails require a lot more uphill and downhill skills as well as additional leg power. We covered the approximately 3 miles of easy trails that afternoon. As mentioned above, we skied the intermediate segment linking the two sides of the Troll Forest trail. It is worth it, but if you are a beginner, it’s good to know that the steep segment leading down to Ken’s Kavern tunnel is way easier to navigate by taking off your skis and hiking it–especially for young children.

If you plan on skiing the Troll Forest Loop (and I definitely recommend it), ski the circuit clockwise to make the most of the tracks and to maximize the gentle downhill segments. Otherwise, it’s uphill most of the way.

Tips for Your First Time Cross Country Skiing

  • Start at a nordic center on groomed trails: This was definitely the optimal setting for learning and an easy entry into getting familiar with the equipment.
  • Bring a small daypack for water and snacks
  • If you're bringing kids, bring your patience, too. Our kids picked it up quickly, but I wish I had adjusted my expectations a bit.
  • If you're considering cross-country ski equipment, take a few minutes to make sure you find a comfortable pair. Take a photo of your shoe and the size tag for future reference (they come in European sizing).
  • Make a full day of it: We left at 8:30 and got home around 5:30. On the weekend, I'd recommend going earlier and to a longer drive home because of ski traffic.
  • Be aware of moose that may wander through or bed down in the area. Remember they are territorial, so it's important to give them space and to not approach them.
  • Dress in layers. It's a workout, so you'll get warm more quickly than you'd think.
mom and daughter skiing cross country with breckenridge mountains in background on groomed trail at breckenridge nordic center

Breck Nordic Center Details

skiing back to the lodge at breckenridge nordic center
  • See the Pricing Page for  detailed info, but the basics are: an adult trail pass is $25 per day, and a ski rental package is $23. Kids under 12 ski free and a kid's rental package is $10 (at the time of this writing 12/19).
  • Check out the Trail Map to get a feel for all your skiing options
  • BNC also offers Snowcat Tours up into the mountains and hosts Private Events at their O Be Joyful Lodge.
  • Be sure to check out their FAQ page. It's really helpful for planning your trip.
  • Location: 9 Grandview Drive, Breckenridge, CO 80424
  • Contact: 970-453-6855,
  • Hours: Daily 9am-4pm

Dayhikes Near Denver would like to thank the owners and staff at BNC for hosting us and for a complimentary day learning to cross country ski at their facility.

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson has been hiking in Colorado for over 20 years. The owner and editor of Dayhikes Near Denver, Aaron writes every trail profile as a local guide who has hiked hundreds of miles of trails along the Front Range and deep in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.