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Best Last-Minute Cross-Country Ski Races

Tips & Ideas Thursday, January 2, 2020

It’s not too late to get in on the Nordic race scene this season.

Race season really kicks off this month. So what’s the best race choice for a relative beginner or eager intermediate? Short and local might seem obvious, but Dave Stewart, former University of Denver Nordic coach and current Steamboat director of athletics, encourages less-seasoned racers to think more far-flung and long-distance.

 “Longer is better in some ways,” he says. “It’s easier to go longer and slower than short and hard. You can’t really jump off the couch and do a 10K for fun. To make racing enjoyable, make it more about finishing and the whole experience than going really fast.”

Stewart, who has raced all over the country and internationally, adds that the race destination and location is equally important. “Go someplace you love,” he says. “Think about the whole experience—the scenery, the weather, a great town so it’s not just about the race, but the enjoyment of the weekend.”

Here are some longer destination races that are all-level friendly—“the kind where yes, there are hardcores,” says Stewart, “but it’s geared toward people who are recreationalists, who love the whole process of getting from start to finish and then having a bowl of chili.”

Snow Mountain Stampede, Tabernash, CO

Set at YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch, skiers have been putting this race on their must-do list for nearly 40 years. The Saturday skate/Sunday classic format draws the hard cores, and each one has 10K, 25K and 50K options, as well as a 25K tour for non-racers. You’ll find racers of every skill level competing just for the joy of finishing. 

Alley Loop, Crested Butte, CO

A funky, active town is the perfect scene for a funky, active race. And it’s no wonder the population of Crested Butte takes the Alley Loop race and racers to heart—the Nordic center sits in the heart of town and is a community institution, so it’s no surprise this race has become one, too. Racers whip through the snow-covered streets in costume, with shorter for-fun distances, kids events, and more hardcore racing all weekend long.

Stagecoach Classic, Tabernash, CO

This point-to-point classic event takes advantage of a course through state forest and the old Idlewild ski area that is only groomed and open to the public each winter for this race. A staged mass shot-gun start at Devil’s Thumb Ranch sends racers off through narrow winding forested trails and welcomes them across the finish in downtown Winter Park for beer and music. 

Pro tip: Can you train in time? Sure, says Stewart, just be sure that whatever distance you register for, you work toward slowly completing that distance before the event. In the meantime, if you can only be on the snow on weekends, hit the gym as often as you can, aiming for two strength training and two cardio workouts during the week.

*Always check with your health care provider before you undertake any plans for race training or strenuous competition.

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