Best places to go cross country skiing
A WINTER’S TRAIL
Imagine a dish full of oysters perfectly chilled on ice, and there you have your world of cross country skiing. Wild, winter wildernesses far from the powder poser and chalet chic brigades. For superb readymade trail or ‘loipe’ networks, the Nordic countries are amongst the best places to go cross country skiing, although head into Swedish Lapland for real off the beaten track wilderness skiing. Just you, the moose and the reindeer. Further south, the French Pyrenees have some of the sunniest winter days and the Dolomites or Austrian Alps are always magnificent. But for hot cross country, head to Chile’s volcanoes. Molten lava waiting for you at the top, and a thermal spa waiting for you at the bottom.
North of Innsbruck, five villages make up the Seefeld region, renowned for having hosted the Winter Olympics twice, with over 300km of cross country skiing trails. Further south, in the Stubai and Zillertal mountains of the Alps, you’ll find a find a few more remote spots, skiing across meadows and valleys from one chocolate box village to another. They like their spa hotels here too. And with spas come saunas.
Cross country skiing from volcano to volcano in Chile. It doesn’t get much cooler or, given that some of the volcanoes are active, hotter than this. Serious ski touring territory, so experience and fitness is recommended but, with the support of expert mountain guides, you’ll traverse some of the most extraordinary mountain landscapes in the world, such as Corralco, Araucarias, Villarrica or Pucon, staying in cabins along the way.
Go for the guided wilderness option, traveling from hut to hut in far northern Finnish wilderness on the edges of Russia, with your bags transported for you. Skiing through untouched heathland, across frozen lakes and deserted forests, it all feels frozen in time. Or go for the slightly softer-round-the-edges Finnish Lapland, to combine cross country with other winter activities, including the Northern Lights, in Pallas Ylläs NP.
The birthplace of cross country skiing. The 70km Peer Gynt Trail is a wild, winter wonderland, as is the Espedalen Valley, and the never ending Rondane and Jotunheimen National Parks. The winter sports hub is Lillehammer, home to the 1994 Winter Olympics. The trails systems are superb, as are the guides who take you into remote valleys, across lakes and through the ultimate in peace: a snowy, soulful Norwegian Wood.
Following age old thoroughfares through isolated valleys of the Pyrenees NP is this cross country skiing Shangri-La. Although the traditional pistes, some of France’s sunniest, attract crowds, the 100km of trails around the 1,400m high plateau of the Cerdagne and Capcir regions proffer serene snowy solitude. No trip is complete without visitng the UNESCO-rated Cirque du Gavarnie, perfect for ski touring.
The Carpathian Mountains are split into ranges such as the Apuseni, or ‘Mountains of the Sunset’, as they are in the west. So you can imagine the sunsets against this crispy white limetone landscape, such as the Lost World karst plateau. The ?ara Mo?ilor villages, where the Moti people lead traditional lives, feel like a lovely lost world too, with hearty Transylvanian food and similarly hearty welcome.
Although one of Europe’s most mountainous countries, it’s still off the beaten track for skiing. However, as cross country is part of the local culture there are treats of trails awaiting, with over 80km in the High Tatras, bordering Poland, and webs of wild trails emanating from the medieval town of Levo?a and Slovak Paradise NP, where the snow wrapped forests, meadows and hills befit the name.
The place to go if you want to go a bit wild. You may even be offered traditional wooden cross country skis, just to add to that timeless feeling – skiing through ancient forests or along frozen rivers, reindeer tracking, having winter cookouts, or staying in wilderness huts. Treat yourself to a husky sled ride too, a traditional part of the local Sami culture. Northern Lights are a traditional part of nature here too.
The Dolomites, Italy
Seeing the jagged rose-tinted Dolomites against a winter blue sky is simply dazzling. Right up in the north of Italy, the cross country skiing tracks around the Alta Pusteria region are just stunning, with the landmark Three Peaks Nature Park now a UNESCO site and world class cross country skiing location. Flying into Innsbruck in Austria is often a good way to access the mountains, shared with their Tyrolean neighbours.