Cross-country skiing gets cardio nuts out of their gyms – crowded with winter runners – and into the woods. The sport, which received more attention this year thanks to exciting Olympic races, is the ultimate cold weather workout and America happens to have one of the best spots on Earth to try it out. Jackson, New Hampshire has access to the most miles of trails on the East Coast and many of the region’s most striking landscapes. Skiing here can feel like sliding through a Robert Frost poem, except that even the road less taken is neatly groomed.
In Jackson, tackling a day of XC is a one-step process: Go to the Ski-Touring Foundation’s center in the middle of town. A twenty-dollar bill affords you a day’s worth of access to 55 miles of trails. First timers take hour-long lessons – that’s really all you need to be totally proficient in the sport – while seasoned vets head out through covered bridges, thick forests, and scenic valleys. Trails take efficient skiers into the White Mountain National Forest’s backcountry before splintering into smaller spurs.
The best intermediate slide is on the Ellis River Trail, a 5-mile groomed course filled with rolling terrain that runs along the west bank of the Ellis River. Longer days call for tackling Wildcat Valley Trail, a difficult 11-mile down-mountain venture that connects the summit of Wildcat Mountain Ski Area with Jackson Township (you can circumvent the $20 fee and pay $10 to do just this trail). You’ll shred through birch tree groves, farms, inns, and then you’ll meet up with the Dana Place Trail, which has some steep drops for tuckers.
Cross-country burns an amazing number of calories so, after a long day outside, you’ll want a hearty meal. That’s not a problem. Drive ten minutes into North Conway – base camp for hiking Mount Washing and skiing Tuckerman’s Ravine – and visit Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery. This restaurant and pub – located in an historic inn – serves up some of the best eats and ales in the state. Your first move should be to order a pint of Bone Shaker Brown, a smooth, crisp, toasty brown ale. Pair it with Moat’s locally raised pork tenderloin and smoked gouda and red pepper mashed potatoes. It will feel good to be back indoors, but only because you finally spent a day outside.
More information: Jackson is a roughly 3-hour drive from Boston on I-95N.