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Top This Trip: Cross-Country Skiing Colorado’s Never Summer Range

Does your last weekend escape beat a cozy yurt, fresh powder, and miles of XC trails?

Last weekend, I found out exactly what my do-it-all Nordic skis can’t do. Namely, those trusty edgeless skis can’t get me down a road steeper than, say, 15 degrees—at least, not without repeated crashes. And they can’t handle an extra 50 pounds of winter gear stuffed in my backpack—again, not without causing an epic face-plant into the powder. No worries, though; my three-day excursion into the Colorado State Forest was amazingly worth every snow bath I took. Educational, too. (Lesson one: Do not pass Go without metal edges.)

Lucky for me, snowshoes were enough to get me out to the yurt on our winter getaway. On wilderness yurt trips, you get to play in the snow all day but come home to a toasty, teepee-like shelter at sunset. Most yurts are outfitted with wood stoves, propane burners, actual beds, and other cabin-like amenities, so it provides the perfect opportunity to cheat at winter camping.

Our group (made up of Backpacker staffers and sympathizers) found ample mountain terrain to explore on snowshoes, cross-country skis, telemark skis, and alpine touring gear alike. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we glided back to the Upper Montgomery Pass Yurt (part of the Never Summer Nordic lodge system, a two-hour drive west of Fort Collins) to find margaritas and backcountry bruschetta waiting. (Lesson two: The secret to yurt margaritas = fresh snow. Backcountry Bruschetta= Saltines + mozzarella + tomato slice + a sprig of basil.)

Our yurt was a moderate 2.8-mile snowshoe trek from the trailhead—though the last mile had us gasping for air (don’t judge: You’d be huffing too if you were hauling absolute essentials like chocolate cake, ski boots, tequila, and a game of Catchphrase). We caught the scent of a cozy fire just as night was falling, then burst through the woods to find our yurt already warmed up, thanks to the tele skiers of the group who’d arrived before us. Grueling winter expedition? Not quite. Here’s how we got there:

Day one was a forest free-for-all. Senior Associate Photo Editor Genny Fullerton and I stepped into our Nordic skis to check out the Ruby Jewel Yurt Trail, an undulating path through aspen groves and sparkling meadows with crazy views of the distant peaks of the Rawah Wilderness. It was gentle enough for my skis to negotiate, though there was plenty of herringboning happening on the tricky uphill sections. The more hardcore among us—let the record show that includes Assistant Map Editor Kim Phillips and Assistant Editor Ted Alvarez—skinned up the snow-covered road toward Montgomery Pass for some tree skiing. (Lesson three: Learn alpine skiing, ASAP.)

After an almost-too-toasty night (tip: Don’t bother with a -20-degree sleeping bag—yurts get hot.) and a queen’s breakfast of cheese-and-sausage bagels cooked on the propane stove, we headed out for one more round before our return. Rather ambitiously, I went with the hardcore skiers back up toward Montgomery Pass. This plan worked just fine when we were all trucking uphill together. Not so great when it came time to descend.

But all told, I’m itching to get out there again. After all, Colorado is famous for its interconnected, ski-in hut and yurt systems. And next time, I’ll be ready for burlier terrain. Just don’t ask me if it’s going to be on alpine touring or tele gear (Lesson four: Wow, that is one debate you don’t want to spark).

—Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Photos by Genny Fullerton and Kim Phillips

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