Persistent bluebird skies offer a mighty fine opportunity to switch things up and experiment with different winter sports. Near-zero temps make the heart-pumping, core-heating appeal of Nordic skiing irresistible.
For today’s ski adventure, I headed out to the Haymaker Nordic Center, which also happens to be a really pretty little Audubon-approved 18-hole golf course riddled with willows and waterfowl habitat in the summer. It’s a stellar arrangement of meandering ski trails right smack in the middle of the valley floor. Behold the wide ribbons of absolutely perfect cord for skate skiers and a pair of grooves laid down the side of each trail for classic skiers – that is some awe-inspiring grooming.
One of the best missions for being out here is to stop, look up and breathe out. After all, you’re on skinny skis standing in the middle of the Yampa Valley. Soak in panoramic views of the ski area, long vistas over rolling haymeadows and a glimpse up rugged Walton Creek Canyon. As I kicked and glided around the 4k Yampa View trail and the 4k Fox Trail/Rabbit Ears Loop, I even spotted the ever-so-quaint historic Mesa Schoolhouse in the distance.
A prime Nordic skiing bonus: It was 12 degrees, I had on pretty light layers, and I never felt cold for a minute. As a woman of Swedish descent living in the shadow of ski jumps built a century ago by a famous “Flying Norsemen,” I feel a little sheepish for having failed to fully explore my Nordic skiing roots. Beyond wholly devoting myself to the telemark turn 23 ski seasons ago, I generally covet Mount Werner’s lifts. I like to fly downhill with a free heel, whether there’s powder, cord or mashed potatoes…and ride back up.
Also, I’ve always been kind of terrified that if I head out to skate ski I’m going to have to keep pace with some Nordic combined Olympic medalist like Johnny Spillane out on the trail – or worse, a young aspiring Nordic combined Olympian like Ben Berend who is in full-tilt training mode.
But Haymaker doesn’t feel like that. I’m pretty sure the biggest single climb I made in all 8k I skied amounted to about 30 feet of vertical. I had silence and insanely blue skies all to my self. I breathed a little harder, earned a little sweat, and thoroughly enjoyed skiing at the base of the beautiful mountain I typically call home.
Haymaker strikes me as a perfect spot for never-evers, beginners and anyone who wants to get out and work on their cross-country skiing technique. No gnarly training going on out here – just a lot of Nordic cruising.
Show up daily for classic lessons at 10 a.m. Or come at 11:30 a.m. if you’re seeking skate skiing advice. They have a full-service shop where you can fill in any missing gear, have repairs made and rent everything you need.
They even have 5k of snowshoe trails winding around the frozen wetlands – a good little factoid to remember for when you have non-skiing flatlanders with whom you need to compromise: You ski. They snowshoe. Together, everyone convenes at lunch for yummy salmon BLTs and beers in the cozy Haymaker Clubhouse.
Maybe the best news yet for Steamboat is that Haymaker now opens up a 2k dog loop for you and your four-legged ski buddies on Thursdays and Sundays. I will be returning to ski with my own crazy mountain dogs – hopefully on a Sunday, because the carrot cake French toast on the brunch menu sounds ridiculously naughty and delicious.
Dearest skiers, riders and cross-country gliders, l leave you today,with the sweetest single track I encountered off the Nordic trails…spreading the love, one ski at a time….
Jennie Lay, Telemark skier