Cross-Country Skiing For All Abilities

October 21, 2011

Snow will soon blanket the Northeast. Cross-country skiers around the region will grab their gear and head for the white stuff. But where to go? Beginners needn’t glide back and forth on the nearest bike path to avoid steep climbs and treacherous switchbacks. And experienced skiers don’t have to venture deep into the backcountry for a challenge. There are plenty of frontcountry ski areas with something for everyone.

10th Mountain Ski Club
Fort Kent, Maine

This nonprofit in northern Maine offers world-class facilities for everyone from the first-time skier to the Olympian-in-training. And it’s free. Beginning, intermediate, and expert trails are groomed daily, with a variety of loops ranging from 1 to 7 kilometers. There’s a special trail for skiers with dogs, and another is lit for night skiing. The challenging 5.6-kilometer Voyager Loop, which is used for major competitions, climbs an Alpine ski area and provides views into Canada.

Distance: 1 to 7 kilometers
Info: 10th Mountain Ski Club

Dartmouth Cross Country Ski Center
Hanover, N.H.

The Dartmouth Cross Country Ski Center operates two facilities just outside of downtown Hanover, N.H. Beginners can head out from the ski center on Occom Pond where easy to moderate loops circle the golf course and Garipay Field. For a bigger challenge, moderate to difficult trails create a 5K loop of Storrs Pond and a 10K loop on and around nearby Oak Hill. A fee is required for full access to the trails, but portions of the golf course are ungroomed and open for free.

Distance: up to 10 kilometers
Info: Dartmouth Cross Country Ski Center

Myles Standish State Forest
Plymouth and Carver, Mass.

The 14,000-acre Myles Standish State Forest contains miles of trails around kettle ponds and through one of the region’s largest pitch pine and scrub oak forests. In winter, the forest’s bike paths are designated for skiing and stretch for several miles from the parking area at East Head Reservoir. The forest’s many hiking trails, fire roads, and wide-open fields provide additional ungroomed options for anyone seeking more variety. Visitors should be aware that some trails are open to snowmobiles.

Distance: Varied
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Boston, 2nd ed. (AMC Books)

Wachusett Reservoir
West Boylston, Mass.

Wachusett Reservoir, once the world’s largest artificial reservoir, is now better known as an important wildlife habitat and recreation destination. Four thousand acres of forest surround the shoreline and contain trails of varying difficulty. Gate 28, just beyond the northern end of the Route 12 bridge, provides access to the trails along the northwestern edge of the reservoir. Connect to the nearby Mass Central Rail Trail in West Boylston, just across the water, for 11 additional miles of easy terrain.

Distance: Varied
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Boston, 2nd ed. (AMC Books);

Staten Island Greenbelt
Staten Island, N.Y.

This network of conserved land contains 35 miles of trails, all just a few miles south of Manhattan. The trails, located in the heart of the island, connect a series of green spaces including New York City’s largest remaining forest preserve. LaTourette Golf Course, at the center of the greenbelt, is the most popular spot for skiers, offering an open, ungroomed expanse of fairways. This is also a good starting point for the more adventuresome to connect to the greenbelt’s longer hiking trails, which are also popular with snowshoers.

Distance: Varied
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near New York City (AMC Books)

Wissahickon Valley Park
Philadelphia, Pa.

A 57-mile trail network cuts up and down and along the deep gorge over Wissahickon Creek. It’s the sort of dramatic setting you expect to encounter in the wilderness, not within city limits. Beginning skiers can stay on the forgiving undulations of Forbidden Drive, a road (closed to traffic) that parallels the creek. More advanced skiers can head out onto Walnut Lane Golf Course, or, if the snow cover is good, explore some of the park’s single-track, where they may get to break trail.

Distance: Varied
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia (AMC Books); Friends of the Wissahickon

Woodstock Equestrian Park
Beallsville, Md.

Woodstock Equestrian Park is best known for its riding facilities. But once the snow falls, the property welcomes skiers of all abilities. The 1.8-mile Field’s Edge Loop offers easy terrain and views of the surrounding foothills. The remainder of the trail network—including the 2.5-mile Greenberg Challenge Trail in the center of the property—winds through forests and around the fields of several farms. The Woodstock name comes from a farm once owned by George Washington.

Distance: Up to 15 miles
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes near Washington, D.C. (AMC Books); Woodstock Equestrian Park

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Marc Chalufour

Marc Chalufour, a former senior editor of AMC Outdoors, contributes to the trail-running blog Running Wild.