Whether you want to perfect your skating on the challenging trails at Cabin Creek or hone your classic technique on the valley floor of the Methow, Washington state is a fantastic place to cross-country ski, with a ton of Nordic ski networks and centers offering groomed trails right off the highway, equipment rentals and lessons, ski racing opportunities and more. Here’s where to find them. And remember: With COVID-19 cases spiking in the state, it’s a good idea to stay close to home even when practicing this naturally socially distant sport.
Summit Nordic Center
490 Hyak Drive E., Snoqualmie Pass; 425-434-6778; summitatsnoqualmie.com/nordic-skiing
What it’s known for: Solid Nordic trails adjacent to Snoqualmie’s busy base areas
Though it’s known as a go-to spot for downhill, the Summit at Snoqualmie also has plenty to keep Nordic skiers busy, with 50 kilometers of trails groomed for classic and skate-skiing starting from the Summit Nordic Center located just off the Summit East base area. The terrain here is nicely varied; most trails are rated “more difficult” but are doable for skiers who are comfortable with hills, and there are even a few black diamond routes to keep seasoned speed demons entertained. For beginners, the Summit Nordic Center provides both lessons and equipment rentals, making this spot, an easy drive from Seattle, a good place to get acquainted with Nordic skiing if it’s new to you. With easy access to downhill areas, Snoqualmie is a useful compromise for families and groups with varied interests and experience levels, so you can hit the Nordic trails while your sister snowboards and your nieces go tubing.
- Distance from Seattle: 60 miles (approximately one hour)
- Pass details: Available for full day (9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., $27 for adults, $22 for youths and seniors) or afternoon-only (noon to 3:30 p.m., $23 for adults, $21 for youths and seniors). Kids ski for free.
- Equipment rentals: Package rentals (skis, boots, poles; Nordic or skate) available for full or half-day use
- Amenities/other activities: The Summit at Snoqualmie offers snowshoeing, tubing, and downhill skiing and snowboarding in easy proximity.
- Challenge level: Good variety, overall. Mostly intermediate terrain with a few trails for the advanced class; the Nordic Center makes Snoqualmie user-friendly for beginners, too.
Cabin Creek Nordic Ski Area
NF-4826, Easton (south side of Interstate 90, off exit 63); kongsbergers.org
What it’s known for: Advanced trails, ski races, the Kongsberger Ski Club
Located just off I-90, the Cabin Creek Nordic Ski Area is maintained by the Kongsberger Ski Club on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Nature Conservancy. The Kongsbergers began in 1954 as “a hearty group of Norwegian ski jumpers, headed by Olav Ulland.” The group champions cross-country skiing both recreational and competitive. And that should be a clue to this area’s terrain, which works best for experienced Nordic skiers, or at least those who’ve mastered best practices for getting uphill and downhill and yielding to faster skiers. Still, there is one beginner-friendly section of trail at Cabin Creek. Known as The Road, it’s 4.6 kilometers of easier skiing. Cabin Creek is also where the Kongsbergers host three Nordic races each season: the Gunnar Hagen Memorial (January), the Kongsberger Stampede (February) and the Ozbaldy 50k (March). If you want to get into ski racing, this was a good place to do it before COVID-19, and it will be again.
- Distance from Seattle: 69 miles (approximately one hour)
- Pass requirements: A Sno-Park permit is required to ski Cabin Creek. You’ll need a seasonal permit ($40) and a Special Groomed Trails Pass ($40) to ski the trails. Though doubling up on passes may seem like a nuisance, grooming isn’t free (you can’t ski without it). The Special Groomed Trails Pass is also a good deal if you think you’ll be skiing a few times throughout the season, since it also gets you into Chiwawa, Crystal Springs, Hyak, Lake Easton, Lake Wenatchee, Mount Spokane and Nason Ridge. (It’s also considerably cheaper than what you’d pay to go downhill skiing.)
- Amenities/other activities: You don’t go to Cabin Creek for amenities or equipment rentals. You go here once you know what to do on your skis and don’t mind a challenge. The Road is a good practice spot, but true beginners should check out a fully outfitted Nordic center elsewhere.
- Challenge level: As a cross-country skier, it’s rare to encounter truly advanced terrain, and Cabin Creek has it. Mount Ozbaldy is rated for experts only, and most other trails are truly intermediate. Off the Road, skiers should be comfortable with turns and hills, because Cabin Creek has them.
Stevens Pass Nordic Center
U.S. Route 2, Skykomish; 206-812-4510; stevenspass.com
What it’s known for: Great spot for beginners to learn to cross-country ski, with enough for the more experienced as well
With equipment rentals and lessons, Stevens is a great place to learn to cross-country ski. But those with more experience won’t be bored — the network includes seven expert-level trails (a rarity). One of these, twisty-turny Switch Back, is downhill-only. Translation: fast! (Also, be careful.) There’s even a range for biathlon, the skiing-and-shooting sport rooted in the military skiing traditions of Norway and Sweden.
- Distance from Seattle: 83 miles (approximately two hours)
- Pass requirements: Trail pass required (can be purchased in the Nordic Center).
- Amenities/other activities: Snowshoeing, downhill, easy access to Stevens’ base area.
- Challenge level: Stevens is rare in that it has solid offerings for skiers at every level. Whether you’re on cross-country skis for the first time or perfecting your skate technique after decades on them, you’re likely to find some challenge here.
Plain Valley Ski Trails
18636 Beaver Valley Road, Plain; 509-763-3836; skiplain.com
What it’s known for: Easy-to-intermediate skiing and a hardware store story
Plain’s ski trails aren’t as established as the other ones on this list, but they’re worth your attention: 25 kilometers with plenty of easy-to-intermediate routes managed through a hardware store that rents ski gear in the winter. With reasonable distances and a dedicated “ski playground” for kids, Plain’s ski trails are the most family-friendly of the bunch.
- Distance from Seattle: 106 miles (approximately two and a half hours)
- Pass requirements: Day passes are $20 for adults. Kids ski free. Snowshoeing is $10. Rental equipment is $20 for adults and $16 for kids.
- Amenities/other activities: Lessons are also available ($50 for one skier, $35 to add a second skier), as is snowshoeing. Easy access to other nearby Nordic areas if you run out of trail.
- Challenge level: For the most part, this is easy, family-friendly skiing, with a few intermediate sections. Good for kids and skiers looking for something on the chill side.
Various locations in Leavenworth; 509-548-5477; skileavenworth.com
What it’s known for: Gentle grades in the Northwest’s own Bavarian village
Skiing in Leavenworth is the soul of leisure. From the Icicle River Trail (7505 Cyo Road, Leavenworth) to the Golf Course (9101 Icicle Road, Leavenworth) to the charming jaunt through downtown (Waterfront Park, Leavenworth), these trails aren’t really where you go for a vigorous workout, but they’re incredibly fun, and great for families. For kid-free adults, too, you really can’t do much better than a day of easy skiing followed by a beer and — in the Before Times, at least — a snack at any number of local brewing companies, plus a dip in a hot tub.
- Distance from Seattle: 119 miles (approximately two and a half hours)
- Pass requirements: Day passes for Nordic skiing start at $22 for adults (or $15 for a half-day). Family day passes ($68) are also available, and tickets for youths and seniors are discounted ($17). Kids ski free.
- Amenities/other activities: Alpine skiing, snowboarding, tubing and sledding are all options at Leavenworth’s ski hill and other designated locations. The town of Leavenworth offers a number of lodging choices, from in-town motels to Sleeping Lady’s eco-friendly forest retreat.
- Challenge level: This is easy skiing — the in-town ski is short and sweet, and the hills on the Golf Course and Icicle River routes are gentle. Good for beginners, kids and anyone interested in taking the scenic route.
309 Riverside Ave., Winthrop; 509-996-3287; methowtrails.org
What it’s known for: The state’s biggest and best Nordic trail network
While Nordic centers adjacent to downhill areas often feel like afterthoughts, the Methow Valley is a Nordic skier’s paradise, home to the largest network of cross-country ski trails in North America. It’s so big it spans two towns, Mazama and Winthrop. Here, you can ski all day on varied terrain, a number of ski schools offer lessons to beginners, and the landscape is storybook-pretty, with glittering snowdrifts, frozen rivers and staggering mountain walls. If you like cross-country skiing, the Methow will make you love it even more. It’s a special place — and one popular with Seattleites on skinny skis this time of year.
- Distance from Seattle: 234 miles (approximately four and a half hours)
- Pass requirements: Ski passes are required and start at $25 for a day pass; discounted multiday passes start at $63. Both are available for online purchase at methowtrails.org. Passes are also required for snowshoeing ($5), fatbiking ($10) and dogs ($10).
- Amenities/other activities: The Methow has a number of fatbiking and snowshoeing trails in addition to its Nordic ski network. The towns of Mazama, Winthrop and Twisp all offer a range of lodging options, from budget motels to fancy-pants Sun Mountain Lodge and Freestone Inn, plus bakeries, restaurants, gift shops, art galleries, a bookstore and a number of ski gear outfitters.
- Challenge level: The Methow has it all! Lessons and equipment rentals are plentiful; you can’t find a better practice spot than the level meadow trails adjacent to the Mazama Country Inn; and more experienced skiers will enjoy the rolling hills from Basecamp to Winthrop, with warming huts and local landmarks — like the Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge — along the way. If you want something more grueling, tire yourself out on the Rendezvous Trails.