Best places to go cross country skiing

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 Finnish 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.

1. Austria

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.

2. Chile

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.

3. Estonia

Although it has a strong tradition of winter sports, Estonia is still off the beaten track when it comes to skiing. However, as cross country is part of the local culture plenty of trails await, and you’ll be able to take in both wild landscapes and historic sites with a whoosh of your skis. You can explore tracks around the 14th century walled city of Tallinn, as well as the remote landscapes of Otepaa, home to snow wrapped forests and hearty cuisine.

4. Finland

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.

5. Germany

The Black Forest is about more than fairytales, forests and fattening cuisine. It’s a top-notch cross country skiing destination, too. You’ll get away from the tourist crowds and glide through snow-laden pine forests and across wide open valleys, with traditional village guest houses providing a warm welcome after days out on the trails.

6. Norway

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.
Pyrenees, France

7. Pyrenees, France

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.

8. Switzerland

Switzerland is classic ski country, and attracts winter sports nuts from far and wide to sample the Alpine trails and slopes with a backdrop of dramatic mountains, deep valleys and pretty villages. The jewel in the crown? The Engadin Ski Marathon, an annual event when skiers from across the globe gather for a challenging 42 km cross country ski race.
The Dolomites, Italy

9. 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.
Travel Team
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Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Günther Sader] [Austria: Franco Pecchio] [Chile : Phil Whitehouse] [Estonia: punkel] [Finland: edweerdt] [Germany: james3214] [Norway: Trysil] [Pyrenees, France: Laurent Lebois] [The Dolomites, Italy: Franco Pecchio] [Switzerland: Roban Kramer]