Grand Nordic Corner: Evolution of Off-Track Skiing |

Grand Nordic Corner: Evolution of Off-Track Skiing

Skiing before resorts

By David Maddox
Vice President of Grand Huts Association

About 100 years ago skiing was on the verge of popularity. It was decidedly a European sport, heavily influenced by the Norwegians (they were considered somewhat backwards at that time) who used it as a way to get around and play in the winter.

Norwegian university students introduced it to Germany in the late 1800s. They were strong and fit and impressed folks who were worried about the slovenly habits predominant in Europe at that time. Skiing looked like a good solution. Out in the clear crisp air in a manly pursuit – and yes, it was very manly and not suited for women. 

By 1900 the sport had split into two distinct camps and they didn’t really get along. Those who saw skiing as a strenuous wander around on the hills like Norway and the Black Forest of Germany became Nordic; and opposed those who saw it as a daring adventure flying down the slopes of the Alps who became Alpine. Fast forward to today, Nordic and Alpine have worked things out and both gleefully take advantage of today’s modern equipment and prepared venues. And surprise guys, the women have made their own mark in record breaking style!

In those early days, it was all backcountry and the equipment was the same for both. Ten-foot skis, leather boots, and some sort of binding were what you got. Not so today. We have so many choices of equipment and terrain that it can be intimidating.

Alpine equipment is alpine equipment although it does vary depending on your style and terrain preferences.

For Nordic, your choice needs to accommodate more terrain variety and functional differences, and Grand County offers it all. Nordic resorts make it easy – get a good track ski or skate ski and take off. If you are out on one of the many trails maintained by the Headwaters Trails Alliance almost any good cross-country ski works fine.

For the latest trail conditions go to 

Important Considerations

If you decide to go “off track” you need to consider which track. You might be blazing through a foot of fresh powder (YEE HAH!), battling a mean crust or anything in between. Out there it’s all up to mother nature, and who has gone before. Generally for that, I want something a little heavier duty and find a metal edge very handy at times. I also prefer a ski with fish scales rather than climbing wax as it is more versatile in varied conditions. I carry a liquid wax to accommodate varying conditions because it’s quick and easy. 

Things to consider off track are that you may not have cell service and weather can change quickly, so carry all you might need (water, food, extra layers, first aid, ect.). If you are heading into the steep and deep, you need more than that. You need to add a beacon, a shovel, a probe pole, at least one partner and knowledge of where you are headed. Most importantly, don’t forget to tell someone where you are going.

That brings us to the snow. We are having a good snow year, not great, but good. Last winter it was wind. This winter it seems to be cold, bitter cold, and wind. It keeps the snow but, when interspersed with warm days, it makes for a shaky snowpack.

This year’s snowpack is very unpredictable and unstable. The slides are going to the ground. This isn’t a problem if you are on gentle terrain but you need to be cautious of what is above you. You can be in the flats and trigger a slide off on yourself if the snow above you is looking for a trigger to turn it loose. You need to be aware of the terrain on all four sides and you need to be aware of the quality of the snowpack.

A good place for information on snow conditions is the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Google “CAIC” to get the latest before you go out. Google winter backcountry education for classes to learn the fundamental skills and knowledge to recreate in avalanche terrain. 

David Maddox uses a recreational off-track trail.
David Maddox/courtesy photo

Local trails

The list of good, safe, recreational off-track trails in Grand County is long. There are six options from the Deadhorse Trailhead in the Experimental Forest – one in every direction and they are all in good shape. Jim Creek is always pleasant. For a long trek, the Strawberry Road and Strawberry Trail are both good options. The Vasquez and Blue Sky area is in great shape and easy to get to. For a gentle trek in the woods, the trails along St. Louis Creek are fun. They are also a fun place to take the kids. The list goes on.

Many of these are summer bike trails so if you have a favorite bike trail give it a try on skis. One other thing, there are no lift lines at any of these trailheads and parking is rarely an issue. Have fun, ski well and be thankful for all we have.

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