Yampa Valley offers abundance of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities | CraigDailyPress.com

Yampa Valley offers abundance of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities

Lauren Blair

Longtime Craig resident David Morris and his daughter, Katie Morris, set out on cross-country skis at the Yampa Valley Golf Course Tuesday afternoon. Morris said he skis the golf course nearly every day in the wintertime.

— Cold temperatures and abundant snow in recent weeks have affirmed that it is truly wintertime in Northwest Colorado, but that doesn't mean there aren't still ways to get outside and make the most of the chilly weather.

Moffat County and neighboring Routt County are home to a number of ideal locations for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

One of them, Elkhead Reservoir, will play host to a First Day Hike, part of a statewide and nationwide initiative to encourage people to connect with the outdoors.

“It’s a great way to welcome the New Year with friends and family," said Park Manager and Trail Guide Ron Dellacroce in a press release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "In addition to the quiet beauty of nature in winter and spectacular views, participants may see wildlife such as eagles, elk and deer on the trail," the release said.

The one- to three-mile hike will begin at 10 a.m. Thursday at East Swim Beach at Elkhead Reservoir. Participants are encouraged to wear warm winter boots, and are also welcome to participate using snowshoes or cross-country skis. The $7 state park entrance fee will be waived.

Nearby Yampa River State Park also offers a mile-long groomed trail for cross-country skiiers.

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"They usually have hot chocolate," added local skier Dorothy Brown. "I do the loop twice because it's kind of short. It goes along the river and goes back through the campground."

Craig cross-country skiing enthusiast Steve Martinson has been enjoying the fruits of Northwest Colorado winters for over 23 years, and has spent eight or nine of the past 11 days on his skis.

Martinson and Brown shared some of their favorite spots to get outside with the Craig Daily Press.

Best place to see wildlife: Yampa Valley Golf Course

"It goes along the (Yampa) river there and sometimes you see wildlife, everything from fox to elk to deer to bald eagles," Brown said.

Best scenic vista: Steamboat Lake State Park

"It's big and open and the lake is snow-covered and frozen and there's just high peaks all around and big dark spruces," Martinson said. "If you go up on a sunny day, the sky is just a deep blue with snow-capped mountains."

Martinson reported that there are groomed trails, although the hills can be challenging for a novice. One drawback: the drive is 1 ½ to two hours from Craig.

Best workout: Yampa Valley Golf Course

"I think a lot of the snowshoers get a pretty good workout at the golf course," Martinson said. "It just depends on the pace, how fast you want to go and how far."

Best place to relax and commune with nature: Rabbit Ears Pass

"I was skiing up there yesterday," Martinson said. "You could hear no sounds of man at all. There are some beautiful parts of the forest that you can get into."

While Martinson is equipped to venture off-trail into the backcountry, which requires special training and equipment, he said there are several forest service trails near the parking area at the top of the west summit of Rabbit Ears.

"They're kind of moderate so people of all abilities can do it," Martinson said.

Best place to go out with friends: Yampa Valley Golf Course

"The golf course is kind of the place to go around here," Martinson said. "If you don't want to do the big drive, invest in a whole lot of special equipment and training, a lot of people just go out and enjoy the golf course."

Besides being close and easy to get to, other major perks are that it's free and appropriate for all skill levels. The only parameter is that skiers should stay off the greens.

"It's all flat, so novices will be fine," Martinson said. "If you can walk and hold onto two sticks, the golf course is the perfect place."

Snow conditions throughout the Yampa Valley are ideal after recent snowfall, according to Martinson.

"We've had years where it can be a fairly short season this end of the valley," Martinson said. "Right now and into January I think is going to be the best and most reliable…Don't delay, get out and enjoy it now."

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com.