Cross-country skiing abounds

Several areas groom trails

Rico has groomed trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Early season conditions are good this year. Enlargephoto

Jim Mimiaga/Cortez journal

Rico has groomed trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Early season conditions are good this year.

Early snows created a good start to the cross-country ski season, but a recent dry spell has left some patchy areas on lower trails.

The 15 miles of the Chicken Creek trail complex, north of Mancos, is still skiable, said Chris Bouton, a forest service recreation planner, but snow coverage is getting pretty thin in some spots.

“It’s been groomed, but it has melted out a little and there are some bare patches,” he said. “It needs another snowstorm, and then it will be regroomed.”

Trailhead access and parking is from the Millwood Road, (County Road 40) not from the Chicken Creek Road. Dogs are allowed on the lower trails, but are prohibited on the three upper loop sections.

There is a separate classic track, (think old-school “shuffle” skiing), and the main area is expertly prepared and groomed to accommodate skate skiers.

“The upper trails are especially popular for skate skiers, even attracting athletes from Durango,” Bouton said.

The area is maintained by Friends of Chicken Creek, a volunteer organization. Donations are helpful. Check for conditions at

Rico Alpine Society

Moving up the Dolores Valley, skiers will be pleased with the 20-inch base in Rico. The Rico Alpine Society has been voluntarily grooming a 5-mile network of trails on the west and east side of town, said director Deanna Drew.

“It is really beautiful conditions up here right now. Early snows had us grooming the trail in October, and then it kept snowing and so the trail is in great shape,” Drew said.

The Rico trail system is decidedly casual, and not ideal for skate skiing, although it is still possible.

“We get lots of walkers, snowshoers, and traditional cross-country use. Dogs are welcome as well,” Drew said.

The western trail is flat and follows along the Dolores River for a couple of miles. The eastern trail, accessible from the Mill Road, is more forested with some gradual climbs and nice views of town and the valley.

Stop in to the Rico High Ground Coffee Shack, just passed the gas station, for maps, great coffee, tasty to-go sandwiches, and information.

Trout Lake

Moving on, Lizard Head Pass is a mecca of winter sports, with ample backcountry access, a deep early season snowpack, and plenty of room to explore fresh powder stashes.

True backcountry skiing in this region is fraught with dangers, like avalanches, and requires a lot of skill and experience. That is for another article, so before you climb up the slopes, get in shape at the Trout Lake Nordic Center. Park at the pass proper; the 5-mile groomed trail network is on the east side of the highway.

A short loop turns into a slight downhill slide to the Trout Lake community following the Galloping Goose Railroad route. Admire the original train trestle and water tank built in 1890 as part of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad.

“The trestle was about to fall down, so the Forest Service put a foundation under it to stabilize it,” said Lew Matis, of the Galloping Goose Society. “It is probably the best example of a wooden trestle on this rail line. Most were torn down for mining timbers, but this one was preserved.”

The graded skiing route is an approximate 5-mile out and back. There is a dedicated classic track, and the area is popular with skate skiers. Dogs are allowed.

The Trout Lake area consistently receives significantly more snow than any other Nordic trail in the region. It is always the first and last trail skiable for the season.

Go to for more information.


Cortez Journal/Jim Mimiaga Views of Sheep Mountain greet cross-country skiers on Lizard Head Pass