Not every day can be a powder day in our winter paradise of Aspen, on those days when it has happened to not have snowed recently many locals take advantage of the blue skies and groomed trails of the Aspen Cross Country center and go out for a Skate or Classic tour.
There are two main types of cross country skiing which falls into the category of Nordic Skiing; skate skiing and classic skiing. Skate skiing can only be done on a groomed trail, the equipment is generally lighter than classis and the poles are longer. The motion is similar to ice skating where you kick out to the side and double pole plant expanding from the chest to generate forward momentum. You will generally only pole with one side of the kick, so be sure to switch it up between your left and right to balance out the workload on your body. Most people can go faster on skate skis than classic but you need a higher level of fitness to participate in the sport at all. Like with most things in life the better the equipment you have the easier the sport is and the more fun you will have so it is probably worth the extra to get really nice gear.
Classic skiing involves a linear movement with both the legs and the arms for pole planting. Instead of the power from the skis being generated through the edge of the ski in contact with the snow, the power is generated from scales on the bottom of the ski underfoot that slide one direction and grip the other. The pole planting in classic skiing involves keep the arms parallel to the body and much of the force is generated from the shoulders. Generally skier doing classic skiing will follow a double set of trench tracks laid by a machine on the side of the skate course. This track provides stability and is much faster than just going across a snow meadow. The classis ski set up used on these tracks can be fairly light, but if you want to go off the tracks you can get a heavier set up that will have metal edges and be wider and longer to get more float. With these kinds of ski set ups fit athletes can cover significant ground in the backcountry.
It should be noted that you can get a set up that does both classic and skate, called a combi, but this is not recommended, instead of having a ski set up that does either version well it does both poorly. You are better off investing in one setup then a year or two later getting the other if your budget does not allow getting both at once.
Both versions provide some of the best workouts you can get from any sport in the world. They require strong legs to drive the skis, strong arms to drive the poles and it is an amazing core workout as the power generated from the arms needs to be delivered to the skis thought the body, requiring your core to be engaged the entire time. Working all these muscle groups like this gets your heart rate extremely high and provides a great cardio workout as well. The best part is the scenery is so beautiful it can be distracting from how hard you are actually working.
The communities of Aspen and Snowmass are home to one of the largest free groomed cross country courses in the country with over 60km of groomed trails free for public use. This includes trails that connect Aspen to Snowmass through wooded terrain, and trails that go all the way from Aspen to Basalt. There is a course right outside the high school that trains future Olympians from AVSC, this is not a joke check out the U.S. Olympic Nordic Team. There are also large complexes complete with shops and lounge/prep areas at both Aspen and Snowmass public golf courses. The Aspen Cross Country Center is a full service Nordic shop operated by local gear store Ute Mountaineer, they have everything you need to buy or rent a high quality skate or classic setup from the best brands in the business, Atomic, Madshus, Fisher, Salamon and Rossignol. In addition they offer lessons, tours and waxing of your skis, making the Center a one stop resource for all your Nordic Skiing needs. If the 60km of free trails are not enough there are another pay system up in Ashcroft for a change of pace. For the burlier skiers out there T Lazy 7 Ranch grooms from the Ranch all the way to the Maroon Bells, offering one of the most scenic grooms skate courses you can find.
The area is also home to some great races, Ski For The Pass is a classic race up the closed road on Independence Pass that raises money for the Independence Pass Foundation. There is an Olympic qualifier that is open to the public called the Owl Creek Chase that goes from Snowmass to Aspen and the Silverboom Race and BBQ that has 5/10/20km versions with a 3km Kiddidboom after the main races.
Cross Country Skiing is really becoming deeply rooted in Aspen and for good reason, it is a great way to get outside and get a great workout in the beauty of these mountains in the winter, it is a very organic experience as well with no lifts and very few people.