Devil’s Thumb Ranch Nordic Center

The place: If you’re a Coloradan who cross-country skis, you’re probably familiar with Devil’s Thumb Ranch’s 120 kilometers of classic- and skate-ready trails that wind through the bucolic Ranch Creek Valley near the base of the Continental Divide. For sheer distance, trail variability, and views, few Nordic systems in Colorado rival the one at this 81-year-old resort.

Vibe: Decidedly upscale, yet somehow still casual and family-friendly. Zach’s Mercantile serves as a rental shop, convenience store, retail zone, and general meeting place for anyone clipping in, and the trails are buzzing—but not overcrowded—with both hardcore athletes and families pulling chariot sleds with toddlers.

Unique feature: Not very many cross-country ski trail systems rest adjacent to a luxurious day spa. If you’re smart (and flush), you’ll book a massage at Ranch Creek Spa to cap off your workout.

Best beginner trail: Broken Barn. From the Nordic center, take Meadow to reach two-kilometer-long Broken Barn. It’s a steady climb on the trek out, but the trail takes you far enough away from the lodge to feel like you’ve accomplished something and goes past a—you guessed it—broken-down barn (stop for a selfie). The trip back is pure cruising.

If you get brave: Blue Extra combines some decent length (it’s a 12-kilometer loop), rolling terrain that encourages a bit of speed, a fair amount of climbing, and gorgeous views of the valley.

Rentals: Gear is $25 for ages 13 to 64; $15 for 65-plus; $10 for ages 12 and younger

Fees: Trail passes are $25 for ages 13 to 64; $15 for 65-plus; $10 for ages six to 12; kids five and younger are free

Après option: On-property, Heck’s Tavern has a spacious bar with comfy stools and easygoing barkeeps who will pour you a cold one—and keep ’em coming without you having to ask. Off-property, Tabernash Tavern is a nearby locals’ joint with strong drinks and hearty dinner entrées.

Where to stay: If you’re not staying at Devil’s Thumb Ranch (which, despite the high prices, you totally should), then you could consider its less-spendy sister property, Vasquez Creek Inn, located right in downtown Winter Park.

Snow Mountain Ranch. Photo courtesy of the YMCA of the Rockies.

If you have another day to ski: Just down the road from Devil’s Thumb is one of Colorado’s other XC skiing gems: Snow Mountain Ranch. With more than 100 kilometers of terrain (some of which is dog-friendly), helpful staff (one of whom chased us outside to deliver more appropriately sized skate skiing poles), and an atmosphere devoid of any pretension, Snow Mountain Ranch really is worth a full trip on its own.