The Cross-Country Skiers Guide to Laramie, Wyoming

Laramie, Wyoming.

It doesn’t seem like a ski town, right? People come to Laramie to catch a football game or to get smashed at the brewfest during Jubilee Days, they don’t come here to ski.

But they should and here’s why.

Our ski trails are awesome! 

(you might get blown off the parking lot at the Tie City trailhead but that’s part of the experience right?)

Sure we’re not Canmore, Alberta or West Yellowstone, Montana…places known for their amazing nordic skiing. We also don’t have any fancy schmanzy ski lodges with hot chocolate, handsome foreign ski instructors named Sven, and ski rentals.

But what we do have is a vibrant ski community and trails just a short drive from town that have a funky local feel to them. They are the kind of trails shared by cowboys in blue jeans, high school and college ski racers, and even former world-class level nordic skiers and biathletes.

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Here’s where we give you the inside scoop on cross-country skiing in Laradise.

Where to Ski:

  • If you’re pressed on time and looking for groomed trails we recommend starting from the Tie City trailhead. We’re not sure how snow accumulates in this area or how Randy, the amazing groomer keeps snow on these trails sometimes. Nonetheless, this is the most popular place to cross-country ski near Laramie and your best bet for groomed trails. Trails are groomed often and you can check the grooming report here.  The Medicine Bow Nordic Association publishes a great map of these trails too, you can check it out here. 
  • If you’re looking to get out of the wind quicker and don’t mind going off the groomed trails one of our favorite places to start skiing from is the Happy Jack trailhead.  If you don’t feel like skiing you can always zip down the old ski hill on a sled or watch snowboarders wipe out when they try to tackle gnarly homemade jumps.

where to xc ski

  • Chimney Park is my favorite place to teach beginners how to ski. Often it is groomed by the Forest Service and occasionally you can even skate ski there. The trails are nice, gentle, and surprisingly fast. It is a little bit longer of a drive to get to Chimney Park than Tie City or Happy Jack but so worth it to get out of the wind (sometimes).
  • The Medicine Bow Rail Trail is awesome if you’re looking to get out on untouched and ungroomed trails with your touring or backcountry skis. Nobody ski’s there but they should. It’s Laramie’s best kept secret when it comes to nordic skiing. We like to start from the Woods Creek trailhead.
  • The Green Rock trailhead is a good place for a few different ski adventures. You can ski along the trail network there or if you’re looking for a fun adventure, park a car Green Rock, park another car at the bottom of Barber Lake Road and ski from Green Rock down Barber Lake road. Or you can park at Barber Lake Road and ski up the road and then down. Either way, this is a nice little ski that’s super fun (and one of our favorite places for full moon skiing). Of course Barber Lake Road isn’t groomed but it’s popular with skiers so unless you get first tracks after a storm you shouldn’t have to break your own.
  • Another fun ski trek, especially with kiddos is up Sand Lake Road. We like to park at the Little Laramie trailhead, take the trail that heads off on the left hand side of the parking lot and link up with the road. It’s not groomed but every once in a while you can find a snowmobile track to follow.

Where to ‘Gear Up’:

Our favorite local outdoor shop is Cross-Country Connection and it’s the best place in town to go to purchase or rent cross-country ski equipment. We love that you can rent kid’s ski’s for the season here too. You can also pick up anything you need to keep your ski’s waxed and finely tuned as well as a wide assortment of things like water bottle holders, day packs, coats, ski pants, hats and gloves. If you’re a Laramie local and you don’t feel like paying shipping Cross-Country Connection sells our Pole Mountain Trail Deck as well.

If you’re affiliated with the University of Wyoming you can rent a wide assortment of ski’s from the Outdoor Rec program. We’ve never rented ski’s here so we can’t vouch for their quality but it’s worth checking out if you’re a UW student.

gear up

Every once in a while we find a great deal on ski equipment and clothing at Sierra Trading Post in Cheyenne and now Fort Collins. So, don’t be afraid to look there for clothing and gear.

We get a lot of Cheyenne and Fort Collins based skiers on our trails. That’s awesome and we welcome you!

If you’re a Fort Collins skier looking to ski in southeastern Wyoming we’ve learned that the Outdoor Rec program at Colorado State University in Fort Collins doesn’t rent cross-country skis (but they do rent snowshoes).

If you’re a Cheyenne skier and looking to make the little bitty drive over the hill FE Warren Air Force Base also offers a wide variety of ski rentals if you’re in the military. Once again we can’t vouch for the quality of equipment but the prices are reasonable so if you’re stationed at FE Warren give it a shot, they even rent cross-country skis for the entire season.

Where to ‘Fuel Up’:

Unless you’re headed from Laramie to Tie City or Happy Jack for a quick hour or two long ski session you’re going to need some serious fuel because from Laramie you’ll have about an hour drive on either end of your ski trip.

where to fuel up

We usually eat a good breakfast at home, pack a lot of snacks, and brew our coffee or seep our tea at home.

But if you’re looking for a tasy warm meal or delicious hot drink after your ski we recommend these two places.

  • The cafe in the historic Mountain View Hotel in Centennial is our favorite stop either on our way up to the Snowies to refill our mugs or on our way down to refill our mugs again or grab a bite of lunch. Cat and Mike, the owners of the place are awesome and Mike might even dance with you. The food is delicious and affordable and service is outstanding. We’ve tried every restaurant in Centennial and this is our new favorite, (try the black bean wrap). You can also pick up a Trail Deck here too. Coffee and trail maps it’s a total win!

  • The Woods Landing Restaurant just down the hill from the Chimney Park trail system and another great place to pick up lunch. This rustic old building is quaint and full of Old West charm. The food isn’t too shabby after a morning of skiing either. We’ve eaten here several times, the most memorable being late at night after trying to full moon ski in a blizzard.

Who to Look For on the Trails:

When my Dad went to law school at the University of Wyoming in the late 1970’s he remembers the UW ski team’s Norwegian roster and that this town was hit hard by the cross-country ski bug. Times have changed but you’ll still find some incredible skiers out on the trails.

who to look forKeep your eyes peeled for the Laramie Junior High Ski Team and the Laramie High School Ski Teams training hard and of course the University of Wyoming Ski Team. They pretty much dominate things around here and sometimes even compete internationally. There’s another new team, WHAT, yep, Wyoming High Altitude Training which is focused on helping junior ski racers qualify for junior nationals. This is a team we can get behind.

If you’re lucky you might catch a rare glimpse of a member of the Wyoming National Guard’s biathlon team out on the trails. I coach this crazy crew so be sure to stop and say ‘hi’ if you see us out there. All that’s missing in Laramie is a robust biathlon program and biathlon range, but don’t worry, as a biathlete and biathlon coach it’s on my ‘to do’ list.

Where to Take Cross-Country Ski Lessons:

where to take xc ski lessons

With the absence of a local bonafide Nordic ski resort comes the absence of ski instructors. But, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t former world class caliber level skiers to learn from on our trails and coaches who love their job and their athletes and skiing, of course.

We’ve learned that the junior high and high school programs are great for young skiers, even those without any previous ski or racing experience are welcome and encouraged to join. Additionally, the  Medicine Bow Nordic Association offers several options for ski lessons for both adults and children. We’ll be helping out with their Wee Ski and Kids Ski program this winter.

Unfortunately, their Wee Ski program doesn’t start until age 5. I’m a firm believer in getting kids onto cross-country ski’s as soon as they can walk. If you have a toddler or preschooler and are looking to teach them how to ski check out this blog post or shoot me an email (rebecca@justtrails.com) and we can take our little ones skiing together. 

If you’re an adult looking to ski and affiliated with UW, the University of Wyoming Outdoor Rec program also offers several classes and ski clinics throughout the year.

If you’re looking for a virtual ski lesson, we have an entire blog series with everything you need to know about how to get started in the awesome sport of cross-country skiing. Check it out here.

If you just want to get out we love to ski with Just Trails fans too!

Where to Find More Information:

more info

You may have noticed that throughout this post we kept using the hashtag #xcskilaramie.

We want to get more cross-country skiers out on our trails and enjoying the awesome sport of nordic skiing. If you’re out there skiing post a photo onto your personal facebook, instagram or twitter account using the hashtag #xcskilaramie or give a quick update on the trail conditions. When we see that hashtag pop up we’ll share your photo on our social media channels and make you famous. Let’s show some ski domination here and put Laramie Wyoming on the map as a nordic ski destination. 

Have you cross-country skied near Laramie, Wyoming? Where do you like to ski, eat, and shop? Did we leave out the website of a local skier that we should be following or more information about things like rentals and lessons? Leave a comment below. 

How to Cross-Country Ski

If you’re a beginning cross-country skier you’ve come to the right place! Check out our series on cross-country skiing.

XC skiing

How To Teach a Toddler to XC Ski

This is the final post of our Cross-Country ski series for the winter. I like to think that we saved the best topic for last. It’s also a topic that probably applies to just a few of our readers. Today’s post is about teaching a toddler to ski.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of wearing my red and white polar bear ski’s inside of my parents house and moving awkwardly on ski’s across the backyard. I’d even take them outside in the summer and try to ski on grass. My ski’s were one of my favorite “toys”–in fact I loved them so much that I autographed the white bases in permanent marker once I learned how to write my name.

Since we love to cross-country ski it seemed natural to put our toddler on ski’s this winter. He mastered walking and running early this fall and my theory on skiing is if you can walk, you can ski.

While I’m working on an e-book about teaching toddler’s to ski, it’s not quite done yet. So, today’s post is a sneak peak for a book which we expect to publish at the beginning of next winter.

When it comes to teaching a toddler to ski there are 3 steps that can occur concurrently or sequentially. They are:

1. Encouraging “indoor play” on skis.

2. Encouraging independent skiing in the backyard or at a local park.

3. Taking your toddler out on the trails skiing.

Step 1. Encouraging “indoor play” on skis. In our house, our toddler’s skis have a place of honor right by his bins of trucks, books and puzzles. When he wants to “practice” skiing our toddler will bring us his skis, we’ll strap them to his feet and let him wander around the house. This is important because it allows him to get familiar with having ski’s strapped to his feet in a comfortable environment without wearing bulky outdoor clothing.

Step 2. Encouraging independent skiing in the backyard or at a local park. On warm, sunny days we like to head to our neighborhood park to ski. We also like to go out on days where there are just a few inches of snow on the ground to make it easier for our toddler to ski. Since I’m not a fan of any beginning skier (adults included) using poles, it’s just fun to let our toddler wander around the park and watch him figure out his balance. Sometimes he likes to hold our hand as we walk alongside behind him. Other times he wants to be entirely independent and even refuses help up after a fall. Impromptu backyard or park skiing has helped build our toddlers confidence.

Step 3. Taking your toddler out on the trails skiing. Our kiddo has the fortunate (or unfortunate) luck of being born into a ski family. That means that when we hit the trails, he has no choice but to tag along. When we feel like skiing we simply bundle him up and toss him and his ski’s into our Chariot Cheetah and hit the trails. It doesn’t matter if we’re cruising on groomed trails or breaking track through a foot of powder, we always try to stop every once in a while to release him from his beloved ski trailer and let him ski. Sometimes he skis for just a minute, sometimes longer than we expect and sometimes it feels like we spend more time getting him and out of his skis and Chariot than actually skiing. It’s not always sunshine and cookies, we’ve had ski adventures that have ended in missing snow boots, diaper blowouts and epic tears but at the end of the day it’s always worth it.

I could go on forever (seriously) about how to dress a toddler for skiing, games we play on skis, the importance of starting a child out early rather than waiting until they are old enough for “real” ski lessons and where to find ski’s for a toddler. But, those are topics that will all be covered next winter.

Until then remember, a toddler than can walk is a toddler that can ski!

FAQ’s About Cross-Country Skiing

Lately we’ve received several questions about our cross-country ski series and cross-country skiing in general. As we wrap up our ski series we want to answer a few of our most frequently asked questions.

Where is a good place to buy a equipment package for cross-country skiing?

Package deals (skis, boots, bindings, poles) can be a great way for a new skier to get equipped. They also have the added bonus of ensuring that equipment, specifically boots and bindings are compatible. Our favorite place for package deals is REI but it’s also good to check out your local ski shop. One note of caution with a package deal though, usually one or two pieces of equipment are of lower quality. For example, ski’s, boots and bindings may be good but poles may not be.

What is a good age to teach children to ski?

As soon as they can walk! Some people recommend age 4 or 5 and most ski clubs don’t offer lessons for pre-school aged children but we say start ’em early. Stay tuned for the season finale of our ski series. A post about how to teach toddler to ski.

Can I take my baby skiing?

Absolutely as long as you are comfortable doing so. We recommend purchasing a Chariot which can be converted from jogging stroller to ski sled. If you’re a good skier and comfortable on snow you can also ski with your baby in a baby carrier, (we like the Ergo) or a back carrier, (we have a Kelty). Here are a few tips on skiing with a baby.

How can I find someone to take ski lessons from if I don’t live near an area that offers lessons?
Ahhh, the question that skiers throughout the United States are asking. West Yellowstone Montana hosts an excellent training year over Thanksgiving. There are demos, clinic for skiers of all levels and teams from across the country will be there enjoying early season snow. It’s a great place to be if your town lacks that nordic vibe and you’re looking for some top-notch instruction.
I want to learn to skate ski, you only blogged about classic skiing, why?
As a former biathlete and biathlon coach, skate skiing is actually my preferred method of blazing over the snow. Since our goal at Just Trails is to get people out exploring their local trails, this year I tried to stick with the basics, the essentials of classic skiing.  But our ski series was more popular than expected so next fall I’m planning another more in-depth series. This time covering skate skiing. Be sure to check back in November.

3 XC Ski Tips for Beginners

If you’re new to the sport of cross-country skiing it can be a bit overwhelming thinking about everything from equipment to putting the actual mechanics of how to ski together.

As I’ve coached new skiers ranging in age from toddlers to grandparents I’ve noticed a few trends out on the trails. Today’s blog post is all about the best ski tips for beginners.

1) For a new skier figuring out balance on cross-country skis can be tricky. We need to be able to shift our weight to balance and glide on one ski and then the other ski. This is sometimes referred to as ski-to-ski balance. It’s easy to “shuffle” on the snow and not take advantage of the glide that nordic ski’s offer. The best way to learn weight shift and proper balance is to ditch the ski poles and learn to glide without them.

It’s tempting for new skiers to rely too heavily on their poles for balance. If you’re learning to ski, it’s a good idea to spend the first 15-30 minutes of the day gliding without poles. It will be awkward and uncomfortable but you’ll be much better off if you master balance, weight transfer and glide before you strap your poles on. Every winter I spend a good chunk of my first few days back on snow skiing without poles to regain my balance and technique.

2) Have you ever tried to hike up a really steep hill while looking at your feet? Not only do you miss the scenery but it’s harder to maintain your balance. Cross-country skiing isn’t any different. It’s tempting to look at our feet to see what our skis are doing, but this body position causes our weight to shift forward too far–forcing our legs to slip out from underneath our body.

While skiing it’s important to keep a good athletic stance with the body. This means  that the ankle, knee and hip are slightly flexed. A good tip is to look forward. Not up, not down, just forward, especially when climbing a hill.  If we try to look too far up and over the hill or at our feet it throws off our balance. This can be fixed by looking into the hill.

3) If you’re a cross-country skier you know that some of the terrain we ski on can be gnarly enough to cause the body to tense up. It can also be easy to focus so hard on just learning to ski that we simply can’t relax and let our body’s natural instincts take over.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a World Champion or a beginner, tension and cross-country skiing are not a good combination. If you find yourself getting frustrated or tensing up (especially on a steep or technical downhill) smile, take a deep breath or two and try to relax. You’ll have a much easier time out on the trails.

Recently I had a skier ask me what they could do to get better at skiing. My response was simply to ski. To become a better skier you’ve just gotta get out and ski!

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So, new skiers, welcome to the wacky and awesome world of nordic skiing. What are some questions that you have about the sport?

For those of you who ski regularly, what tips or advice do you have for the new skiers out there?

Groomed Ski Trails vs Ungroomed Ski Trails

One question that we’ve been asked lately is whether or not it’s better for beginners to learn how to ski on groomed or ungroomed trails.

Before we dive into this question it’s best to break down the difference between groomed and ungroomed trails.

Groomed trails are those which have been packed. Sometimes with just a snowmobile pulling a sled or at a larger ski area with a big groomer like you’d see at a downhill ski resort. Without getting into the mechanics of grooming it’s important to know that groomed trails leave behind a sink-free layer of packed snow. This makes them perfect for any type of ski, from skate skis to waxless touring skis. It is easier to learn to ski on groomed trails than on ungroomed trails and skate skiers are pretty much restricted to groomed trails (except for super fun spring crust skiing).

While groomed trails are the best for beginners, they often aren’t always available, convenient or cost effective. I’m pretty sure that when I learned to ski as a toddler it wasn’t at a fancy schmanzy cross-country ski area with packed trails. It was on ungroomed snow following behind my parents ski tracks.

Ungroomed trails are a little bit more wild. With ungroomed trails the skier ‘breaks track’ by skiing over pristine untouched snow. Ungroomed trails have some disadvantages. It can be hard work moving through deep snow and without proper skis (a backcountry ski or touring ski) skiing can be slow and difficult. Skiing on ungroomed trails allows skiers the chance to really get off the beaten path and avoid the crowds. We like to ski ungroomed trails on weekends and holidays.

Where do you prefer to ski? Groomed or ungroomed trails?

Hydration on the Ski Trails

It’s easy to forget about hydration when it’s a cold winter day and you’re out on the trails. However, when you’re working up a sweat cross-country skiing or snowshoeing (especially at altitude) it’s vital to drink.

There are several great options for hydration devices, each has it’s pro’s and con’s, and those pro’s and con’s are more personal preference than anything else.

Here are a few things that we do a few things to stay hydrated.

  • If we know we’re going to be going on a crazy hard or long ski, we pay attention to what we’re eating and drinking the day before.
  • It’s no fun to drink alone! This means that if Al is sipping from a water bottle, it’s a visual reminder for me to stop and drink and encourage our trail toddler to drink too (even if he’s just enjoying a free ride in the Chariot).
  • Nothing tastes better than a cup of tea, cider or hot chocolate on the way down the mountain. Often we’ll leave a thermos with boiling water or our jet boil in our car. Then we’ll enjoy a cup of warm goodness when we’re done skiing. Hot chocolate isn’t the best source of nutrition, but it’s a good tasting way to up the fluid levels.

How do you stay hydrated on the ski trails?

Cross-Country Skiing On A Budget

Cross-country skiing is like most sports, you can drop a whole lot of money into fancy equipment, waxes, coaching, races, clothing and gear or you can invest very little money on the basics.

When I was racing it was common for me to spend every cent that I earned at the ski shop. But for most people cross-country skiing can be done without breaking the bank.

If you’re looking to get into recreational nordic skiing here are 4 frugal ways to get out on the trails.

  • Rent or buy used equipment. A few months ago we went into detail about how and where to buy used equipment.  Our favorite places for used equipment are ski swaps and second-hand gear stores. We haven’t found a good second-hand gear store in Southeastern Wyoming or Northern Colorado (if you know of one please let us know). Our favorite second-hand gear store is Secondwind Sports in Bozeman, Montana.
  • Shop big sales, buy used clothing or make your own. We love REI garage sales (here’s a good post about how to shop them) and Sierra Trading Post. If you’re following Sierra Trading Post‘s social hub or on facebook or twitter you’ll notice that they are always having a huge sale or promotion. The Sierra Trading Post Memorial Day and Labor Day sales are unbeatable. We also like to buy used ski clothes (especially for our trail toddler). Sometimes it takes some scrounging on the internet and used clothing or gear stores but it’s worth it not to pay full price for something that a kid is going to grow out of in 3 months. Every once in a while we get crafty and make our own ski clothing, but only if it’s faster and cheaper to sew it than it would be to find what we’re looking for.
  • Swap ski lessons. We’re a big fan of learning to ski from other skiers. While we’ve been posting video’s and “how to” information about skiing a video simply isn’t a good substitute for a real live ski lesson. The downside is that ski lessons can get expensive, and quality ski instructors may not even exist in places without bonafide cross-country ski areas. That’s okay though, join a local ski club or start making friends with good skiers and offer to buy them a case of beer, babysit their kids, or take them out to dinner in exchange for a one-on-one ski lesson. If you’re in the US and going to splurge on a ski lesson, try to find an instructor that is PSIA (Professional Ski Instructor of America) certified.
  • Don’t pay to ski on groomed trails. Around Laramie it costs $5.00 to park at most trailheads where the Forest Service grooms our trails. If you live near a cross-country ski area, it’s easy to drop almost $200/winter on a season pass. Groomed trails are fun, but if you’re on a tight budget hit the backcountry where you won’t be paying for groomed trails. Around Laramie we’re fans of the Albany County Rail Trail in the winter.

We’d love to hear how other skiers save money while still getting out to enjoy the ski trails. What works for you?

How to get up when you fall on XC ski’s

When it comes to skiing we’ve all been there, trying to get up after a fall. It can be something as simple as a little fall while trying to put your ski’s on or a major collision with a snow bank during a backcountry adventure.

So far in our cross-country ski series we discussed equipment, clothing, waxing skis, and a little bit about how to ski. Today’s post is probably the most important of them all, how to get up when you fall on cross-country ski’s.

What’s your most epic fall? Mine occurred when I was going off of a homemade jump on some wicked fast icy snow. I did a face plant and acquired some “road rash” on the left side of my face just a few hours before a high school dance. As if high school dances weren’t already awkward enough for a nerdy nordic skier!

 

XC Skiing Downhill-The Step Turn

We’re back today with the last video portion of our cross-country ski series.

We’re covering what I like to call ‘the big 5’ techniques of basic nordic skiing: the diagonal stride, double pole, herringbone, snowplow and today the step turn.

The step turn is my favorite of downhill techniques on cross-country skis because unlike the snowplow it allows the skier to maintain their momentum while staying in control on a downhill. Speed is good on downhills, because often a downhill leads to an uphill and who wants to climb a hill if they could just use the momentum from a downhill to glide up it?

The step turn is a bit more of an advanced ski technique, so we’d recommend practicing on a gentle to moderate downhill and groomed tracks if they are available.

The key points are to maintain flex in your knees and ankles and to make quick little steps with your skis as you go around a corner.

Anyone else have any pointers to make good step turns?