The advantage of cross-country skiing is that it can be enjoyed almost anywhere.
A little new snow can turn the most prosaic route into an adventure, even if it means strapping on a headlamp and gliding around the golf course before dinner.
Within a reasonable drive from Spokane or Coeur d’Alene, nordic skiers can find impressive variety, ranging from low-key Forest Service trails near Priest Lake to the phenomenal 190-kilometer Methow Valley trail system that links numerous accommodations into the nation’s ski touring mecca. Call (800) 422-3048.
When snow is in the lowlands, families can find easy-access skiing at North Idaho’s Round Lake and Farragut state parks.
The closest best tracks to Spokane are usually at Mount Spokane State Park, where 20 kilometers of groomed trails take off from Selkirk Lodge at the Sno-Park lot.
Expand your horizons a bit, and the trails seem endless. Here’s a sampling of the options:
Rustic but modestly priced backcountry cabins are catching on in the Northwest with skiers who shun fancy lodges but desire more luxury and comfort than they’d find in a tent.
Scottish Lakes Nomad Camps. Situated at elevation 5,000 feet near Leavenworth, this area has long been known for Cascades rain-shadow weather and superb snow conditions. The group of seven reasonably priced cabins is 8 miles from the nearest plowed road. They sleep 2-8 people and are accessible by snowcat. The area includes 15 miles of marked trails, numerous open slopes and established routes into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. Cabins are unplumbed and rustic, but cozy with wood heat, propane cook stoves and kerosene lamps. Information: (206) 844-2000.
Rendezvous Outfitters out of Winthrop, Wash., has five rustic huts on a groomed trail system. Each hut sleeps up to eight people. You must ski a minimum of six miles to reach the huts, but for an additional charge, operators will haul in gear on a snowmobile.
Huts are unplumbed and equipped with propane cooking stoves and wood or propane heat. Snow must be melted for water. Information: (800) 422-3048.
Wing Ridge Tours out of Enterprise, Ore., has several guided trip options in and adjacent to the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Ski-in access ranges from moderate to rugged. Two camps are comfortable wood-heated sleeping shelters with well-supplied cooking tents. One camp is at rustic cabins inside the Eagle Cap. Typical tours are six days, but custom tours are available. Information: (800) 646-9050.
Wilderness Trails-Wallowa Alpine Huts also operates adjacent to the Eagle Cap Wilderness with a comfortable yurt camp, guides and meal service. Information: (208) 882-1955.
For years, cross-country skiers have taken advantage of the easy paved highway access that mountain passes provide to powder snow.
Blewett Pass, between Ellensburg and Leavenworth at elevation 4,100 feet, has more than a dozen miles of marked trails in varied terrain, some groomed by ski clubs.
Lookout Pass, on Interstate 90 on the Montana-Idaho border, elevation 4,680 feet, offers only a few miles of marked trails but great access to backcountry ski areas near Stevens Peak. Avalanche conditions can be formidable in this area. Check avalanche forecasts at (208) 765-7223.
Stagleap Provincial Park, on the pass between Salmo and Creston, British Columbia on Highway 3, usually has the region’s earliest and most dependable snow. At elevation 5,727 feet, it offers several marked trails, a warming hut and several backcountry overnight shelters. Information: (604) 825-3500.
Sherman Pass, elevation 5,575 feet, on Highway 20 between Kettle Falls and Republic, provides good backcountry and telemark skiing. Most skiers head south from the pass along the Kettle Crest Trail. The Kettle Range Ski Club often maintains a temporary shelter just off the trail near Sherman Peak. Information: (509) 775-3305.
Almost all decent alpine ski resorts are offering some nordic skiing opportunities nowadays. For example, Schweitzer Mountain Resort offers free access to sporadically groomed logging roads. However, Mount Bachelor Ski Area near Bend, Ore., has state-of-the-art grooming on 55 kilometers of custom designed nordic trails. Trail fees are $9.50 a day, and nordic lessons, including classic, skating or telemarking techniques, are available virtually on the hour. Info: (800) 829-2442.
In addition to the previously mentioned quality tracks at Mount Spokane and the Methow Valley, the region has plenty of well-groomed trail systems.
Leavenworth Winter Sports Club grooms tracks at the golf course and the area fish hatchery.
Rossland, British Columbia, has several excellent nordic areas, including the 40 kilometer trail system at Black Jack nordic area across the highway from Red Mountain. Up the road 25 minutes is the Paulson Cross-Country Trail System with 45 kilometers of trails at Nancy Green Provincial Park. Information: (604) 365-8600.
For general information on alpine and cross-country skiing opportunities in British Columbia, call (800) 663-6000 and ask for a copy of Skiing BC magazine.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 5 Color photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: QUICK TRIP TO THE POWDER Backcountry skiers can do away with the long slog and get right to the powder with a new Methow Valley helicopter service. North Cascades Heli-Skiing, which also caters to traditional downhill skiers, has established a yurt camp at elevation 6,000 feet near Hart’s Pass and the Pasayten Wilderness. Nordic skiers will be transported to the yurt for two or more days of touring and telemarking, then picked up. The season is late January through March. Cost is $475, which includes meals, overnight accommodations and guides. Information: (800) 663-6000.