Beaver Creek is a powder playground for snowshoers and Nordic skiers
BEAVER CREEK — On an early winter morning in Beaver Creek’s McCoy Park, the only sound to break through the crisp air is the crunching of snowshoes on unbroken trail. In every direction, snow crystals glisten beneath the Colorado sunshine, sparkling on the surface of the powder like diamonds.
Nate Goldberg knows these trails well. As the Nordic sports director of Beaver Creek, he says that even after countless hours spent on all the routes, they never get old.
He steadily leads the way as we snowshoe up Middle Atlas Traverse — through aspen trees and animal tracks — and then onto Upper Atlas Traverse to the top of Sanctuary Loop, finishing our near-hour ascent from 9,840 feet in elevation to at now 10,300 feet above it all.
“I consider this to be one of Beaver Creek’s best kept secrets,” he said while we scanned the expanse of land all around us.
McCoy Park is unique, because although it’s connected to a bustling ski resort, it’s as peaceful and pristine as wilderness gets. The area is made up of 32 kilometers of groomed trails, accessed by the Strawberry Park Express Lift and the Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express. The park is open daily through April 5, from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. (It’s important to note that the final download for the lifts is at 4 p.m.).
So, why would you ride a lift up a mountain and then put your snowshoes on? It seems kind of like cheating, right? With the lift to McCoy Park, however, it’s like the boost you get when you drive to a faraway trailhead: You save time, and energy, getting to where the views really get good. That’s certainly the case with McCoy, as there are stunning mountain views from the moment you get off the lift and strap on your snowshoes or click into your cross-country skis.
“One of my favorite snowshoe routes in McCoy Park is taking Morningstar trail to the deeply forested areas of Upper Atlas Traverse, where photo options are abundant,” said Laurie Hardmeyer, Beaver Creek Nordic Sports Center guide. “On a fresh powder day, with the trees heavily laden with snow, letting out at Sanctuary and onto the Overlook trail, you realize you are standing upon one of the most beautiful places on earth.”
Get your gear and a guide
If you need to get gear for your adventure, then the Beaver Creek Nordic Sports Center is located at the bottom of the Strawberry Park Express Lift. This outfitter and guide service has what you need to get ready to explore the area by way of Nordic skiing, snowshoeing or telemark skiing.
“I think the big thing is that people understand that there are active alternatives if you’re not an alpine skier or snowboarder — that’s the void that we fill,” Goldberg said.
The Nordic Sports Center gets return guests, year after year, shared Goldberg, and even daily throughout their vacation.
“People come in for the first day, and they’ll come back all week,” he said. “That’s the cool thing about the shop, is that because we’re a little smaller, we get to know people by name.”
The center keeps up with necessary upgrades for all their gear — which is a lot, between the fleets of snowshoes, snowshoe boots, classic cross-country skis, skate skis and telemark skis. Goldberg said about a third of the gear is replaced every year.
“We try to keep up with changing technologies in the variety of equipment,” he said.
Group tours and lessons, as well as private sessions, are available for all the sports. On Tuesday afternoons from 4 to 5:30 p.m., the center offers a free Nature Valley Family Snowshoes Tour. The session lasts for about an hour, and then guests come back and can enjoy cookies and hot chocolate.
Melinda Marcus, of Dallas, has been coming on annual trips to Beaver Creek for nearly a decade. She said she enjoys snowshoeing, but what she really loves is to telemark ski and cross-country ski.
“One of the great things is, I like to split my day between telemark and cross-country, and my husband and I can be in Beaver Creek and do our own thing, and then meet up for lunch,” Marcus said.
She appreciates McCoy Park for its innate beauty, she said, and also because it makes it so easy for everyone to take advantage of a variety of snow sports during a winter vacation.
“I love McCoy,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite places on Earth. I love that it’s one of the few places that you can be within nature and still feel safe, and still feel all the incredible beauty around you.”
Free your heel
The extensive trail system at McCoy park has cross-country tracks cut in, and guests can also use skate skis if that’s the style they prefer.
“We get a lot of folks who have had a bad alpine experience, and they don’t like or have a fear of gliding,” Goldberg said. “So they come in to a cross-country lesson, and spend half the time on kick-and-guide and half the time learning control skills. Then they feel empowered, because they can control their skis.”
Cross-country skiers are familiar with the feeling of “freeing the heel,” and the Nordic Center offers telemark ski lessons for all those looking to take their turns out of McCoy Park and onto the downhill slopes of Beaver Creek.
A private telemark lesson is an ideal way to get one-on-one time with an instructor. The center also offers group lessons on Tuesdays — beginner sessions in the morning, and intermediate sessions in the afternoons. The two and a half hour group lessons are $79. Goldberg said a lesson is definitely the way to go when you’re learning.
“It kind of helps you cut to the chase,” he said. “So, say that you’re stuck and you’re not quite getting your turns down, then we can give you some good feedback and do some movement analysis. Sometimes what you can get in a couple hours will be a game changer for your season.”
The Nordic Center sells select equipment and accessories, too. So, once you find your groove with gear, you may want to invest in the sports.
“I usually bring my own equipment, but when I first started, I rented,” Marcus said. “The Nordic Center was very helpful — they are such experts there. So when I was buying tele equipment they recommended what kind of gear to get.”
Like Marcus, an avid adventurer may want to telemark in the morning and then cross-country in the afternoon. But, if a foot of snow falls, Marcus said she’ll be ready to snowshoe.
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