Gliding to Nirvana

Aspen’s lesser-known ski trails offer a moving meditation.
Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club coach and two-time Olympian Nordic skier Sophie Caldwell Hamilton, center. Photo courtesy of U.S. Ski Team

By Tess Weaver 

Imagine a ski trail in Aspen all to yourself. It doesn’t require a lift ticket or waiting in line to access. Instead of the rumble of a chairlift, you hear the whistle of a chickadee and your skis quietly gliding through the snow. Rather than shivering under multiple layers on this cold winter day, you’re warm while challenging your entire body to push, pull and slide. Your mind is quiet as you inhale and exhale fresh mountain air, focused on a methodical, repetitive movement that’s carried people across snow for thousands of years. Immersed in nature, skiing through glittering spruce and aspen under your own power, your blood pressure lowers and your stress levels plummet. 

While Aspen is most famous for its four ski resorts, its Nordic trail system—spanning 60 miles of free trails connecting Aspen, Snowmass and Basalt, not including 22 miles of groomed trails at Ashcroft Ski Touring (where you can ski to the Pine Creek Cookhouse for lunch)—is often referred to as the area’s fifth resort. 

“The Roaring Fork Valley is a great place to be a Nordic skier—there’s a large variety of offerings, whether you want hard training trails, easy golf course trails or a scenic ski up to the Maroon Bells,” says local two-time Olympian Nordic skier Sophie Caldwell Hamilton, who coaches for the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club.

Vermont-raised Caldwell Hamilton comes from a line of cross-country skiers—her grandfather, John Caldwell, was an Olympian and wrote the first American guide to Nordic skiing, The Cross-Country Ski Book; her father, Sverre Caldwell, coached for Stratton Mountain School, which boasts one of the most successful Nordic programs in the country. Caldwell Hamilton won two World Cups, was the first U.S. skier to win a classic sprint on the World Cup circuit and stood on World Cup podiums 10 times before retiring as a professional ski racer in 2021. Now, living near Aspen with her husband and fellow U.S. Ski Team alumni Simi Hamilton and their 1-year-old daughter, Caldwell Hamilton designs and implements training programs, oversees athlete development, and provides guidance and support to the Roaring Fork Valley’s most talented Nordic skiers.

AVSC’s Nordic program is a favorite of local youth, just as Nordic skiing is growing in popularity in Aspen and beyond (participation numbers have more than doubled in a decade). 

“I think people realize it’s a great way to stay in shape in the winter and explore some new, less crowded areas,” says Caldwell Hamilton. “Nordic skiing is a great workout that requires fitness, balance and strength. It’s also one of the best ways to experience the outdoors—it’s easy to avoid the crowds and connect with nature. Sometimes I find it easier to find myself in a flow state gliding along skis than I do trying to sit down and meditate.” 

To tap into the Zen of Nordic skiing, visit the Aspen Cross Country Center for rentals, guides and instructors.