Whether you’re a seasoned racer or an aspiring beginner, some events are worth chasing, even if that means months of training and hours of travel. The course, the crowds, the vibe—they’ve just got a certain magic. Nathan Schultz of Boulder Nordic Sports shares his favorites.
American Birkebeiner, Hayward, WI
The name Birkebeiner is a reference to “The Last King” of Norway, an illegitimate prince whose life was saved 800 years ago by two skiers in their birch-bark leggings who skied the boy over a mountain to safety during civil war. The American iteration of the event in Hayward, Wisconsin is North America’s largest cross-country ski marathon, offering 50K skate and 55K classic races. “It’s a scene,” says Schultz. “It’s crazy to get out there with 10,000 other people. The energy is just amazing. And, it’s really fun to do a big point to point race. There’s a great course and usually has good snow. It’s a pilgrimage every skier should do at some point.”
For more information, visit birkie.com.
Snow Mountain Stampede, Tabernash, CO
Set at YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch, For nearly 40 years skiers have been putting this race on their must-do list. 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. “It’s a real skiers course—usually very challenging, and if you’re crazy, you can do two 50Ks in a weekend. It’s a fun way to end the season and a good goal to set,” Schultz says. It’s one of the most challenging.”
For more information, visit snowmountainranch.org.
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. “It’s such a scene because of crazy people dressing up in costumes,” says Schultz. “You ski through town, across bridges, through the roads in a downtown which is totally unique. The spirit is competitive but fun. The whole town comes out for it. One year I skied it in disco pants and a fanny pack with a bluetooth speaker.”
For more information, visit cbnordic.org.
Frisco Gold Rush, Frisco, CO
This race comes with a ton of history—it’s the longest-running Nordic race in Colorado. The 20K skate and 7.5 open (skate and classic) races are competitive, but “it’s a fun race that’s easy to get to, offers some different distances, and Frisco is a town that’s pretty fun,” says Schultz. There’s a 1K kids fun ski for the littles.
For more information, visit townoffrisco.com.
Boulder Mt. Tour, Sun Valley, ID
This is a great race for someone aspiring to do a big ski marathon, because it actually loses 1,800 feet of elevation over 32K. “It’s a fast course, with great weather, great snow, a nice place to visit. And being a point-to-point race makes it more of an event,” adds Schultz. “You cover more ground, there’s something to be said about not doing loops, doing a long event where you’re covering big distances.” bouldermountaintour.com