Article by Laurie Wagner Buyer
Local Attractions – January 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine –
“Sunshine and shadow
aspen and pine
just for an hour
these woods are mine. . .”
THESE SIMPLE LINES of poetry echoed through my mind the first time I cross-country skied at the Nordic Ski Center just outside of Fairplay. It was a new, luxurious feeling for me to ski on groomed trails.
All my early years in the West, I snowshoed. It wasn’t until 1980, in the Bitterroot Mountains near Conner, Montana, that I first slipped on a pair of skis and realized a thrill of movement akin to riding horseback. Throughout the early ’80s I skied every winter in Wyoming: to visit my nearest neighbors three miles away on Tosi Creek, to work and back on the O Bar Y Ranch (a grueling eight-mile round trip with the return half all up hill), and out to the highway to pick up our bi-weekly mail. I came to love skiing and relished the outdoor exercise it gave me. It became my favorite mode of winter travel.
When I moved to South Park in 1988, I assumed, since we were in the high country, that I’d go on skiing as I always had. Wrong! Despite our 9,600-foot elevation, our winters were consistently dry and mostly snowless. What snow we did get was quickly blown to Kansas on an express freight called “the west wind.”
I hiked, rode my horse, and on nice days I even rode my bike … but I missed skiing.
Then last year I discovered the little gem tucked away near Beaver Creek, outside of Fairplay: the Nordic Ski Center. At 10,000 feet, nestled in groves of aspen and pine, the Nordic Center is protected so that snow accumulates and doesn’t blow away. The area, just over the Divide from the renowned downhill ski slopes in Breckenridge, consistently receives more snow than the town of Fairplay, and much more snow than my ranch location about 14 miles southwest.
Owned and operated by Gary and Valerie Nichols, the Nordic Center is in its 10th successful season. To reach it from Main Street (Colo. 9) in Fairplay, turn north on Fourth Street. After four blocks, there’s a T — turn left, and follow Beaver Creek Road for 1½ miles.
There are 13 miles (22Km) of groomed trails, varying from “easiest” to “experts only.” All trails are clearly marked and are identifiable by their descriptive names: Hare’s Lair, Chickaree, Range View, Corkscrew, Roller Derby, Dances with Voles, the Bullet, Hyperventilation, and Last Chance, to name a few. There is a comfortable warming hut where snacks and hot drinks can be purchased, outdoor restroom facilities, and a sun deck with picnic tables.
The Center has complete ski/boot/pole rentals available for all ages and also offers lessons by experienced instructors. Named “Best X-country Ski Center” by Colorado Guide, the Fairplay Nordic Center has become quite popular with cross-country ski enthusiasts as well as professional ski racers.
As a novice skier and a lover of remote places, I was apprehensive about trying the Nordic Center. However, after a half-dozen delightful trips, I realized how private a place the center can be. I seldom see people on the trails, even when the parking lot has a host of vehicles. The trails are arranged so that skiers are dispersed across a large area, generally moving on one-way trails so there is little danger of interference by others. I’ve been overjoyed to hear the song of chickadees in the trees, see the tell-tale tracks of deer and coyotes, and, on my last ski visit, I was rewarded by the rare sight of a greater ermine leaping across the trail in front of me with a vole in its mouth. By the time I stopped my slight downhill speed, the ermine (whom I promptly named Herman) had disappeared like a white furry magician into the soft snow under the jack pines. The image of his sleek wildness has stayed with me.
Spectacular views surround the Nordic Center and a visit there for a day of skiing will prove to be a satisfactory and memorable adventure for anyone who loves the outdoors. Owner Gary Nichols likes to tease that the Nordic Center has the simplest, most effective diet plan now available: “EAT LESS – SKI MORE!”
Day rates are moderately priced: $10 a day per adult and $5 a day for children under 12 and for seniors over 60. Season passes, which include unlimited skiing during normal hours of operation and discounts on rentals and instruction, are $75 per individual, or $125 for a couple or family of two; additional family members are $25 for those under 12 and $50 for those over.
Improvements for the 1997-98 season include remodeling of the warming hut, and more trail connectors which will give skiers different options on combined loops to ski. For additional information, call Gary or Valerie at the Nordic Center at 719-836-2658.
When she’s not skiing, Laurie Wagner Buyer raises cattle at the DM Ranch near Fairplay and writes poetry; her most recent book is Glass-Eyed Paint in the Rain.