These bucket-list cross–country ski races are worth the trip.
Whether you’re a seasoned racer or an aspiring beginner, some events are worth chasing, even if that means months of training and hours of travel. The course, the crowds, the vibe—they’ve just got a certain magic. Nathan Schultz of Boulder Nordic Sports shares his favorites.
- American Birkebeiner, Hayward, WI
The name Birkebeiner is a reference to “The Last King” of Norway, an illegitimate prince whose life was saved 800 years ago by two skiers in their birch-bark leggings who skied the boy over a mountain to safety during civil war. The American iteration of the event in Hayward, Wisconsin is North America’s largest cross-country ski marathon, offering 50K skate and 55K classic races. “It’s a scene,” says Schultz. “It’s crazy to get out there with 10,000 other people. The energy is just amazing. And, it’s really fun to do a big point to point race. There’s a great course and usually has good snow. It’s a pilgrimage every skier should do at some point.” birkie.com
- Snow Mountain Stampede, Tabernash, CO
Set at YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch,
For nearly 40 years skiers have been putting this race on their must-do list. The Saturday skate/Sunday classic format draws the hard cores, and each one has 10K, 25K and 50K options, as well as a 25K tour for non-racers. “It’s a real skiers course—usually very challenging, and if you’re crazy, you can do two 50Ks in a weekend. It’s a fun way to end the season and a good goal to set,” Schultz says. It’s one of the most challenging.” snowmountainranch.org
- Alley Loop, Crested Butte, CO
A funky, active town is the perfect scene for a funky, active race. And it’s no wonder the population of Crested Butte takes the Alley Loop race and racers to heart—the Nordic center sits in the heart of town and is a community institution, so it’s no surprise this race has become one, too. Racers whip through the snow-covered streets in costume, with shorter for-fun distances, kids events, and more hardcore racing all weekend long. “It’s such a scene because of crazy people dressing up in costumes,” says Schultz. “You ski through town, across bridges, through the roads in a downtown which is totally unique. The spirit is competitive but fun. The whole town comes out for it. One year I skied it in disco pants and a fanny pack with a bluetooth speaker.” cbnordic.org
- Frisco Gold Rush, Frisco, CO
This race comes with a ton of history—it’s the longest-running Nordic race in Colorado. The 20K skate and 7.5 open (skate and classic) races are competetive, but “it’s a fun race that’s easy to get to, offers some different distances, and Frisco is a town that’s pretty fun,” says Schultz. There’s a 1K kids fun ski for the littles. townoffrisco.com
- Boulder Mt. Tour, Sun Valley, ID
This is a great race for someone aspiring to do a big ski marathon, because it actually loses 1,800 feet of elevation over 32K. “It’s a fast course, with great weather, great snow, a nice place to visit. And being a point-to-point race makes it more of an event,” adds Schultz. “You cover more ground, there’s something to be said about not doing loops, doing a long event where you’re covering big distances.” bouldermountaintour.com