Freeheelburnin’: Super Cross Country/Nordic Ski Guide

“Nordic skiing is a sport you can do as long as you’re active, because it’s not hard on your body. I see nordic skiers in their 60’s to 80’s, which you don’t see on downhill runs,” says Robin DuRuwe, owner of Fitness Fanatics in Spokane and an 18-year veteran of the sport that’s also known as cross-country skiing. “It’s a low-impact workout that can be done at any speed. You choose your own pace…it’s a fun learning experience,” DuRuwe says.

Unlike its downhill Alpine cousin, Nordic skiing is a fairly safe sport. According to Tim Ray, Mt. Spokane Nordic Patroller, “In an average year, there might be four to five nordic injuries, versus the Alpine which may have as many as twenty in a day.” The most common injuries are a sprained wrist or twisted ankle due to falls on firm snow.” Because the heel is free, you’re less likely to have knee injuries,” DuRuwe explains. For beginners, she recommends having a base fitness level to be prepared for a total body workout.

Nordic ski opportunities in the Inland Northwest are diverse enough to satisfy the growing number of participants. “People want to lump all cross-country skiing together, but really there are many types,” DuRuwe says. All Nordic skiing is “free heeled” and the four major styles are Classic, Skate, Backcountry and Telemark.

Types of Nordic Skiing

Classic is the traditional cross-country ski touring on trails with groomed tracks. It can also be done on ungroomed trails and logging roads in 2-3″ of light snow. It’s easy to learn and usually only requires one lesson to master the correct technique.

Skate Skiing requires a specialized method and gear, as well as groomed flat trails. “It’s harder to climb hills until the method is mastered, but it’s faster and more exciting,” says DuRuwe.

Backcountry Nordic skiing, as the name implies, is touring uneven and sometimes difficult terrain in the backcountry. Specialized skis are wider and have metal edges for the ungroomed trail conditions and to stay afloat in deep snow. “There is no ski that encompasses all of the styles, but you can get away with using a backcountry ski for telemarking or classic,” says Keith Schultz, Mt. Spokane Nordic Patroller and Mountaineers member. Anyone who ventures into the backcountry needs to be educated and about snow conditions and avalanche safety. Skiers need to bring a snow shovel, avalanche probe and beacon, and know how to use them.

Telemark is a more challenging style of backcountry Nordic skiing-hiking up a slope and skiing down with a free heel. “What distinguishes Telemark skiing is the style of turning, as much as it’s a style of gear,” explains John Schwartz, Mountain Gear store manager. “When considering telemark gear, it’s more a question of whether the user will be on groomed trails or a backcountry enthusiast.”


Before buying equipment, DuRuwe recommends renting a few times to determine which type of Nordic to invest in. Local shops can help choose the right gear, as well as provide group and private lessons. For example, Fitness Fanatics offers Classic and Skate Skiing lessons, while Mountain Gear specializes in Telemark. The Selkirk Nordic Ski Education Foundation,, provides youth lessons at Mt. Spokane. In addition, Spokane Parks & Recreation is a certified ski school, directed by Mike Aho, who’s been Nordic skiing for 32 years. Beginner lessons for individuals, groups, and families are offered-as well as trips and special events, including a “Moonlight Ski & Dinner” on January 14 (See Outdoor Calendar, page 20).


  • Mt. Spokane State Park: 25k+ of trails for all skill levels; Groomed for Classic & Skate, five nights a week (Thursday-Monday). 8k of ungroomed trails; Dogs on leash allowed. Trails open 8 AM to dusk – vehicles can stay parked in the lot until 10 PM during alpine night skiing, although Nordic trails are unlit. Required fees to park at Nordic lot and use groomed trails: $9 for one-day WA State Sno-Park Pass; Annual Sno-Park Pass and Grooming Permit, $42; Available for purchase at local ski shops, Mt. Spokane Ranger office, and online at
  • On weekends, volunteer Mt. Spokane Nordic Patrollers are on the trails to assist with directions and provide First-aid. Amenities include two warming huts equipped with woodstoves. Selkirk Lodge, located at the Nordic parking lot provides free trail maps, restroom facilities, and picnic tables; Nova Hut, a log cabin about 4k down the trail, has picnic tables and an outdoor pit toilet.
  • Every February, Mt. Spokane is the location of the largest Nordic ski racing event in the Northwest. Langlauf, Norwegian for “through the woods,” was founded by Tim Ray twenty-six years ago with his buddy Bryan Troth. “I always wanted to start a race in the Spokane area, something like the Bloomsday of winter,” Ray says. The 10k course includes 600 feet of elevation gain and loss. Langlauf this year will be February 12,
  • 49º North: New this winter – 5k looped trail system for Beginners/Intermediates, Classic & Skate. Trailhead located at new Nordic parking lot. Groomed Saturdays and depending on usage/weather conditions. No fee to use. 12k ungroomed trail from the main parking lot to the summit, primarily for advanced skiers. Can also purchase a single ride lift ticket to the summit as an alternative to the challenging ascent. Lessons available; No Rentals.
  • According to Doug Elledge, 49’s Cross-Country Coordinator for the past nine years, future plans include a total of 25-30k of trails and a Nordic Center at the trailhead. “Our vision is to have a year-round area for recreation that is group and family-oriented,” says Elledge. In the summer, their Nordic trails will be open for mountain biking, hiking and equestrians. During the third week of January, 49 will again host their “Pole & Paw” event-a series of short recreational races for Nordic skiers and their dogs.
  • Lookout Pass: 25k of ungroomed trails for Backcountry skiers. Main trail for Beginners/Intermediates, accessible from the parking lot, parallels a snowmobile trail and tours around the basin before heading back. No fee to use. Also provides backcountry access to the St. Regis basin. Intermediate/Advanced trail begins at the top of Chair 1 ($5 single ride lift ticket). Lessons & Rentals available.
  • Schweitzer: 32k+ of groomed trails for all levels, Classic & Skate. Daily Nordic pass: $10/adults, $8/under 18; $100/Nordic season pass. Nordic Rentals available at Rossignol Tech Center; Lessons arranged through the Ski and Ride Center.
  • “The great thing about our Nordic trails,” says Schweitzer’s Activities Manager Paulie Cohen, “is that it feels like you’re out in the backcountry.” Trail maps are available at the Activities Center, where Cohen and his staff can help “tailor-fit your day to provide a demanding aerobic activity or a more leisure experience.”
  • Silver Mountain Resort: No Nordic opportunities at this time, but it’s on the horizon, according to Silver’s Marketing Manager Cathi Jerome. However, there is a three-mile snowshoe trail and Silver also partners with Peak Adventures to provide recreation alternatives to downhill skiing.
  • Non-mountain Nordic Skiing In Spokane, Riverside State Park and Downriver Golf Course have trails for Classic & Skate skiing. Trails are groomed on Fridays with a touch up on Sunday, as long as snow levels permit. Spokane Park’s Mike Aho says in addition to the regular grooming schedule, “I always groom immediately after a snowfall, even if it’s a holiday.”
  • Colville National Forest has lots of great terrain at Frater Lake and Deer Creek. Check out http:// In Idaho, Nordic skiers can enjoy cross-country trails at Priest Lake, Round Lake, Farragut and Winchester Lake state parks. For pass information and trail descriptions check online at

Backcountry Opportunities

  • Sherman Pass – on Highway 20 between Kettle Falls and Republic, WA; 2 hour drive from Spokane. Sno-Park Pass required; Restroom facility provided. Avalanche awareness is essential for these ungroomed backcountry trails. Stevens Peak Traverse-start at Lookout Pass and end in Mullan, ID. Take two vehicles and do a shuttle. Fourth of July Pass-18 miles east of Coeur d’Alene; Requires an Idaho Dept. of Parks and Recreation “Park N’ Ski Pass”; 12 miles of backcountry trails, sometimes groomed.

Road Trip Destinations

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