Cross Country Skiing on the Flat Tops

When it comes to exercising, I liked to be tricked into doing it. Truly, working out works best when it’s heavily disguised; then it transcends from torture to I-barely-even-notice-I’m-being-really-healthy-and-active.

Growing up, things like team sports and dance were a super effective way for me to stay in shape. As an adult, I’m finding that hiking in the summer is up my alley (though elevation gains let me know I’m working hard), and in the winter time? Cross country skiing. It’s hard, and while you’re aware, there’s something about the cold and the distinct beauty of winter that keeps you from minding.

This winter, Chad and I inherited two pairs of cross country skis. Though we are novices at the sport, we’re loving it so far. Our area is gorgeous and snow has been plentiful this season. So, we’ve been loading up our three-pin skis into the Jeep and headed toward the trails.

Recently, we went up New Castle’s Buford Road, to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. We found a spot that welcomes skiers, snowshoers, and even pups, called the West Elk Trail System. We had a blast and quite the workout (seriously, I was sweating through my layers), and enjoyed the beautiful scenery around us.

After doing a little digging, I discovered that the area is groomed maintained by a group called the West Elk Trails Inc, since 2002, for various uses. You can check out their site here.

West Elk Trails


The West Elk Trailhead, located along Forest Road 245 (Buford-New Castle Road), about 7.5 miles north of the Forest boundary, is a large recreational area for both motorized and non-motorized recreational activities; there are several spots for snowmobiles and off-road vehicles, but to the east is where skiers can enjoy the pristine and groomed West Elk Trails.

The West Elk Trails are a 3-loop winter trail system, approximately 12 miles in length. It’s completely free to use, though donations are welcome.

According to their website, here are the available trails for cross country skiers or snowshoers:

  • Hwy 819
  • Kay’s Loop
  • Zeus’s Cutoff
  • East Cutoff
  • Eric’s Loop
  • James’s Loop
    Untracked powder

During our outing, we went along Eric’s Loop, and highly enjoyed the views and easy track, though it was mid-day and some of the grooming had been busted by then.

Getting There

From the edge of New Castle, travel north on Buford Road (County Road 245). Take this road for about 17 miles, where a large parking lot awaits. Please note that the road switches from pavement to dirt, and there are many switchbacks. Cars with 4 wheel drive work best in the winter.

My Overall Rating: 5/5 Stars


Trail information

Length: 12 miles
Fee: None
Usage: Medium – Heavy
Trail types: Groomed and non-groomed, loops and there-and-back options
Map: Sign at the trailhead, or available online
Cross country skiing, snowshoeing
: Be sure to check out for grooming updates and conditions before you go! Also, note that the road can get super dicey with snow and ice, so please be careful driving up to the Flat Tops.


xc skiing
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4 thoughts on “Cross Country Skiing on the Flat Tops

  1. Thank you for visiting West Elk trails and sharing your experience on your blog. We appreciate the publicity. Especially the 5 star rating!

    Here is some additional info:
    West Elk Trails Inc is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Our grooming program costs about $550 per week. 60% of our funding comes from government grants, including Garfield County & local municipalities. Those funds are predicated on matching user financial support. We rely heavily — 40% of our budget — on user donations to sustain our grooming program year after year

  2. I like JUST learned what cross country skiing actually is, I didn’t realize it was flat! That sounds so hard, but I need to be tricked into exercising too and at least this has some gorgeous views!

    1. It’s a TON of work, but it’s pretty cool to essentially glide over flat land. I’ve recently realized that there are so many different forms of skiing, like “alpine touring,” “skinning,” “split boarding,” that I’d never heard of. It’s all a little intense, lol. But yes, so beautiful!

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