What is cross-country skiing?
Want to escape Seattle’s gray skies for some good old-fashioned exercise with beautiful views of snow-covered pines while skipping the costs and crowds that come with resort skiing/snowboarding?
Cross country skiing is one of the most accessible and affordable ways to recreate in the Pacific Northwestduring the winter, with awesome Washington cross country skiing trails as close as 60 minutes from Seattle. It provides fantastic cardiovascular exercise with the opportunity to either socialize or enjoy some solitude. Cross country skiing is great for all ages, and beginner friendly. While the skis are long and narrow (which can be intimidating at first), after an hour or two your confidence will blossom, and you’ll be dreaming of your next adventure.
Getting Started Cross Country Skiing
There are two different types of Cross-Country Skiing (aka Nordic Skiing).
Classic is the more beginner-friendly of the two techniques. When classic skiing, the skis are typically in two parallel grooves on the side of the groomed trail; the skis remain parallel in the grooves as you kick one ski back and glide forward on the other. The skis contain some form of traction (like skins or fishscales) on the underside of the ski and the boots are more flexible.
Skate skiing is done on a groomed trail that is completely flat. When skating, you and your ski move in a diagonal motion down the trail, similar to roller blading. It is faster and more technical than classic, and consequently, instruction is highly recommended. The underside of skate skis are waxed from tip to tail for optimal gliding, and the boots are stiffer and contain ankle stability and support medially and laterally.
Take an intro class
We’ll provide the gear, transportation, pass, and instruction. Or, you can get out there yourself.
Get Cross Country Skiing Gear
Choose between classic or skate skis (we recommend classic for beginners). We'll also get you fitted for boots and poles. Helmets are not required. Bring your own socks and gloves!
What you'll need
Cross-Country Skiing Gear
Book a kit or individual pieces below.
Cross Country Skiing Packing List
Alright! You've secured your gear, what else is there?
You’ll want to dress for an active day – breathability and stretch matters!
Shell or windbreaker
Softshell hiking pants or moderately thick leggings
Fleece gloves or other gloves that aren’t as thick as downhill ski/snowboarding gloves (your hands will get too warm, and they won’t be able to fit into the straps which velcro around your hand)
Beanie or headband
Optional: small pack with water and snacks if you plan to be out for more than a couple hours
Hone your Craft - Skills Progression
Everything you need to start your cross country journey, courses, clinics and events we recommend you attend to steadily improve your skills!
Intro to Cross-Country Skiing Class
Skill Level: Beginner, free for members
Cross country skiing is easy enough that anyone can do it and it's a great workout in the snow! It's as easy as walking and much more efficient than snowshoeing. This intro class will be on flat terrain - more advanced adventures go on rolling terrain!
Member-led Cross-Country Skiing
Skill Level: Intermediate, free for members
Show up at Gearhouse and find others that want to XC ski that weekend! We'll outfit you with gear, ensure we have enough drivers, and head out somewhere to explore! You should have XC skied before - if it's your first time, come to an intro class first! Classic or Skate welcome.
Intro to Skate Cross-Country Skiing Class
Skill Level: Intermediate, free for members
Skate skiing is the next level for those that have tried Classic XC Skiing and gotten the hang of it! (Or for anyone that has skied or skated/roller bladed a lot). Come try the flowing nature of skate skiing and cover some distance! It's tricky to learn but once you get the hang of it, you may never go back to classic.
What level am I?
You’ve never been on cross country skis before or have been out a couple of times, but you don’t feel comfortable picking up speed or slowing down on hills and are still working on staying upright.
You feel pretty comfortable going up and down hills, are familiar with the different poling patterns, and how to make a turn.
You are comfortable with skiing most any terrain, continue to focus on fine-tuning your technique and efficiency and improving your endurance.
Where and when to go
When to go cross country skiing in Washington
Cross country ski season is typically a bit shorter than resort or downhill ski season. In the Northwest, it often lasts from December to March. You can check the sno-park grooming reports and other independent trail system reports online.
Where to go cross country Skiing in Washington
Washington Sno Parks
There are a number of sno parks in the state, the closest of which are in the Snoqualmie summit area and include, from West to East: Hyak, Crystal Springs, Cabin Creek, and Easton. They require what’s called a sno park pass, which can be purchased for a day or the season and is per car, not per person. It can be purchased online or a Ranger Station.
Note that if you are purchasing a season sno-park pass, you need to purchase the Seasonal Permit AND the Groomed Trails permit.
Hyak is a good spot for beginners if you don’t mind an out and back trail. It goes for miles along the John Wayne trail, on the south side of the “tree stump lake” that lines I-90.
Crystal Springs is also a great spot for beginners. It has a variety of beginner loop trails that are flat and pretty, as well as an intermediate/advanced loop trail with a couple of steep hills. Additionally, there is a trail that meets up with the John Wayne trail and heads west toward Hyak sno-park.
Cabin Creek is a popular park for intermediate-advanced skiers. While it has a lovely out and back trail called “The Road”, it is only about 5K roundtrip. The rest of the trails are quite hilly and include an awesome 5K loop. There are a series of races that take place on these trails in January and February, which is fun to witness. Non-racers can ski on the trails simultaneously. Finally, there is a trail that ascends to Amabalis mountain. It is a steady climb, followed by a return descent. Given the difficulty of learning to control skiing downhill on the narrow skis, this is an intermediate or advanced trail.
Easton is the smallest of the sno-parks and is very beginner friendly.
Non-Sno Park Washington Cross Country Skiing Trails
Nordic Center at Snoqualmie: If you have some experience under your belt, there are trails up at the top of the chair lift at Snoqualmie Summit East, where the Nordic Center is located. The challenge with these trails is that you have to ski down the mountain afterwards (not for the faint of heart). There is a green, gradual groomed path down, but it is still a challenge for those who haven’t spent much time on cross country skis, as they have no edges! There is another beginner friendly trail that is accessible here, and they offer some great classes for all levels. Passes are purchased at the Nordic Center/Snoqualmie Summit East.
Plain (near Leavenworth): There is a thriving Nordic community in Plain, WA, and they have some wonderful trails that are groomed daily. It is beginner friendly, with several loop trails just opposite the Plain Hardware Store, where trail passes are purchased. There are also several more advanced loops including a “Sprint Loop” which is used for local races. Passes can be purchased at the Plain Hardware Store, which is just across the road from the main trailhead.
Leavenworth: Leavenworth has three trail systems maintained by the Leavenworth Ski Club. You can purchase a day pass at any of the three locations (Ski Hill, Icicle River Trails, Golf Course), and use the pass at any of the three locations that day.
Methow trails: The premier spot for cross-country skiing in Washington state is the Methow Valley trail system. There are over 100 miles of trails groomed every day. They range from beginner to advanced, and span from Winthrop to Mazama. If you have not been to this area before, it is well worth the trek (and it is a trek–about a 4-hour drive from Seattle!). But imagine skiing alongside a meandering river, beneath towering craggy mountainsides with names like Goat Wall, past designer cabins, to the infamous Mazama store–home to delectable pastries, baguettes, coffee, and always-stylish Mazama Goat clothing. The Methow Valley is the perfect spot to retreat to in the dead of winter. Trail passes can be purchased.