Cross-country skiing is generally considered one of the best fitness regimens known to man. That makes sense. It’s a low-impact, high-cardio, full-body workout, as intense as you want to make it.
“What’s the attraction?” asked enthusiast James Trudeau of Beverly. “The joy of moving through the natural environment, the beauty of winter, the challenge of overcoming the weather. Simplicity. Silence. Self-reliance. There are no interruptions due to lifelines and slow lift rides. Like ice skating and cycling, there is a flow to cross-country skiing that’s a joy.”
“Whether it is climbing up and down hills, skiing on the golf courses, bridle paths, or hard-core racing, there is something for us all,” said Fred Sears, 77, longtime Nordic coach at Dover-Sherborn High. “When there’s a full moon and skiable snow, you can have a perfect evening.”
Prominent Nordic ski tracks close to Boston include the Leo J. Martin Ski Track in Weston, the North Shore Nordic Association (NSNA) trails primarily found in Hamilton and Ipswich, and the Blue Hills Reservation cross-country trail network in Milton. Of those, the Leo Martin Ski Track , maintained by the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the NSNA trails are groomed, allowing for both skating and classic kick-and-glide techniques.
The Martin track is “the only Nordic ski center that makes snow in Massachusetts, and is a short drive from Boston,’’ said Acton’s Chris Li, coach of the Wayland High cross-country ski team. “Without the ski track, high school ski racing probably wouldn’t exist in the Boston area.”
The DCR has invested $3 million there, including a $900,000 lighting and electrical upgrade project for night skiing and a more efficient and expanded snow-making operation. It hosts the Bill Koch Youth Ski League and DCR’s Universal Access Program for disabled skiers.
“With the ability to make snow in marginal conditions and having ski rentals, it gets people outdoors in the winter,’’ said Li, 40. “It’s very social thing. You always see groups of people meeting at the ski track to try something new or to be outside.”
The privately funded NSNA in Essex County is an example of local activism teaming with corporate donors, highlighted by the delivery of grooming equipment last winter. Trudeau, the Beverly enthusiast, joined Hamilton residents Carol and Thomas Catalano to take the nonprofit NSNA from concept to reality.
“NSNA wants to start small, with basic grooming at Appleton Farms, across Pingree to Bradley Palmer and a separate Patton Park location,” said Trudeau, 54, who has been Nordic skiing since 1976, the year American Bill Koch won silver at the Innsbruck Olympics.
“Longer term, extending trails to the neighboring trail networks in Ipswich and Topsfield,” he said. “A donated trailer will allow NSNA to groom further afield for special events. We’re trying to focus the excitement on making our short-term goals effective and well done, before biting off more than we can chew.”
South of Boston, Nordic fans shouldn’t confuse the Nordic opportunities at Blue Hills Reservation with the downhill ski area, which is run by a private contractor. A brochure entitled Ranger Tim’s Cross-Country Ski Routes details 10 different loops through the 100-mile network.
“I’ll admit it, as a skate skier, I’m a fan of grooming, so I tend to go where they groom well,” said Swampscott’s Steve Hunt, 60. “Of course, breaking trail on classical skis is fun too, and you get to be out in the woods.”
In addition to the three highlighted Nordic centers, local cross-country skiers can forge their own path on the trails at the following DCR properties. Like Blue Hills, they’re not groomed for Nordic skiing, so conditions can vary.
North of Boston
Middlesex Fells Reservation’s 2,575 acres offers an extensive trail network, including the Skyline Trail and Reservoir Trail in the western Fells that circles the Winchester reservoirs, and the Rock Circuit and Crystal Springs trails in the eastern Fells.
The Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsborough State Forest contains 1,140 acres of protected land, including 180 acres of ponds, swamps, and wetlands, as well as 6 miles of multiuse trails.
Bradley Palmer State Park is a 721-acre former estate that features acres of rolling meadows and accessible trails along the Ipswich River, straddling the towns of Topsfield and Hamilton.
West of Boston
The Great Brook Farm Ski Touring Center offers groomed trails for cross-country skiing at the DCR’s bucolic Great Brook Farm in Carlisle. Rentals are available.
At Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park, cross-country skiers will find 2 miles of trails along the Blackstone Canal towpath, and a 1-mile route along the Blackstone River and Canal. The Blackstone River Greenway offers another 7 miles.
Leominster State Forest offers approximately 20 miles of trails, many of which feature a quiet, peaceful escape in the midst of this urban tract.
South of Boston
At Myles Standish State Forest in Carver and Plymouth, cross-country skiers can glide over 15 miles of multiuse paths, including the largest contiguous pitch pine/scrub oak stand north of Long Island.
Wompatuck State Park in Hingham offers cross-country skiers 12 miles of multiuse trails and many miles of wooded bridle paths and hiking trails.