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Originally published November 12, 2011 at 7:00 PM | Page modified November 14, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Happy trails at four cross-country ski destinations

Ready for cross-country ski season? Learn all you need to plan a trip to nordic ski trails at Whistler, Lake Wenatchee, the Methow Valley or White Pass.

Seattle Times NWTraveler editor

quotes I couldn't stand skiing in the Methow. The rules are that the slower skiers have to... Read more
quotes I love the trails at Lake Wenatchee with easy trails around the lake and golf course... Read more
quotes I think Echo Ridge, just outside Lake Chelan, is one of the best Nordic ski areas in... Read more

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When winter slithers into Seattle, bringing dank darkness, it's easy to hide in the house and yearn for spring.

Don't.

Instead, head for the snow and go cross-country skiing.

Within about a half-day's drive of Seattle are world-class areas for nordic skiing that also offer close-to or on-the-trails lodging.

Compared with downhill skiing, which can shred knees and wallets, a cross-country getaway is a budget-friendly and healthful way to go.

Here's a look at four destinations (most hope to open around Thanksgiving) in Washington and British Columbia for a skinny-skis weekend.

Whistler Olympic Park

The place: Whistler is best-known as the mega-downhill area in southwest British Columbia. But 14 miles south of the ski resort you'll find days' worth of groomed cross-country trails winding through a wilderness valley ringed by snow-draped peaks.

What's there: Whistler Olympic Park was developed for the 2010 Winter Olympics for nordic skiing, ski-jumping and more. Recreational skiers can follow in the tracks of Olympic greats on 56 kilometers (about 35 miles) of trails, groomed for classic (skiing in parallel tracks) and skate skiing (gliding in a V-shape).

Beginners will be happy on flat trails in meadows; more advanced skiers can surge up and down steep, thickly wooded hills. Weekends are getting busier as skiers embrace the new area, but on a weekday last spring with perfect snow and bright sun there were only a few skiers, counting their blessings.

Where to stay: There's no lodging within Whistler Olympic Park, but Whistler Village has dozens of hotels and condos with rates from around Cnd. $145 a night (Canadian and U.S. dollars are roughly equal) or double or triple that for luxury lodging. See www.whistlerblackcomb.com or www.tourismwhistler.com.

On a budget? Hostelling International's Whistler hostel charges about $35 per person for a shared room.

Ready to splurge? Callaghan Country Lodge is a ski-in lodge near Whistler Olympic Park. It's an 8-mile ski to the lodge, an island of comfort in the wilderness surrounded by dozens of miles of groomed nordic trails and endless backcountry skiing. Rates start around Cdn. $169 per person per night and include meals and a trail ticket plus snowmobile transport of luggage. www.callaghancountry.com.

More info, fee: A Whistler Olympic Park day pass is Cdn. $22 with discounts for youths and families. The base area has a spiffy big-windowed lodge with a cafe, ski rentals and shop. www.whistlerolympicpark.comP.S. Next to Whistler Village is Lost Lake Park with 32 kilometers (almost 20 miles) of cross-country trails. Ski for an hour or all day, although early-season snow often isn't great since the village is about 2,200 feet elevation (versus about 2,700 feet and up at Whistler Olympic Park). www.whistler.com/nordic/lost_lake/

Lake Wenatchee

State Park

The place: For a smaller-scale, closer-to-home getaway, drive over the Cascades and through the woods to central Washington's Lake Wenatchee State Park near Leavenworth.

What's there: Swarming with campers and swimmers in summer, the park's lakeside trails turn into about 18 kilometers (about 11 miles) of winding cross-country ski trails in winter, part of the state's Sno-Park program for winter recreation. It's a family-friendly place of narrow, gentle trails, groomed mostly for classic skiing. For more snowplay there's a popular sledding hill and snowshoe routes.

For more challenging terrain, ski on over to the adjoining Nason Ridge with 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) of trails on rolling (and sometimes steep) hills and a ridgetop with big views of mountains and the lake. It's also groomed through the Sno-Park program for both classic and skate skiing (there's also a new snowshoe route).

Where to stay: For ski-out-the-door convenience, stay at Kahler Glen Golf and Ski Resort adjoining the park. Condos and town houses are spacious and comfortable, and a ski trail (across what's a golf course in summer) links to the Lake Wenatchee and Nason Ridge trails. Rates start at about $145 a night for a two-bedroom condo with a fully-outfitted kitchen. See www.kahlerglen.com (and check for third-night and fourth-night-free special offers).

Individual owners also rent out Kahler Glen condos and vacation cabins around Lake Wenatchee at websites such as Vacation Rentals by Owner, www.vrbo.com

For a very budget-friendly stay, winter-camp within the 489-acre Lake Wenatchee State Park in a tent or RV (no hookups); www.stateparks.com/lake_wenatchee.html. Or stay in Leavenworth, the cheerfully faux Bavarian town about 20 miles away that brims with motels and B&Bs (see accommodations listings at www.leavenworth.org).

More info, fee: The Lake Wenatchee and Nason Ridge ski trails are maintained through the state's Sno-Parks program: www.parks.wa.gov/winter/trails/ (click on "Non-Motorized Sno-Parks"). If you're not staying at Kahler Glen, you'll need a Sno-Park permit for your car at the Lake Wenatchee and Nason Ridge Sno-Park lots (there's no extra trail fee). A Sno-Park permit is $20 per day or $40 for the winter season. (At some Sno-Parks, including Lake Wenatchee and Nason Ridge, you'll need an additional $40 groomed-trails permit when buying a season pass.) www.parks.wa.gov/winter/permits/

P.S. The often overlooked Chiwawa Sno-Park is about a 10-minute drive from Lake Wenatchee State Park with about 8 kilometers (5 miles) of cross-country trails. www.parks.wa.gov/winter/trails/

Near Leavenworth, the Sleeping Lady resort has about 8 kilometers (5 miles) of the Leavenworth Nordic trail system at its doorstep. Or ski just a block from downtown Leavenworth along its Waterfront Park trail. See www.skileavenworth.com/nordic

Methow Valley

The place: For extensive and top-notch trails — one of the biggest Nordic trail systems in the U.S. — head to the Methow Valley in North-central Washington. You could ski for days through the peaceful, bucolic valley on the interconnected system of 200 kilometers (124 miles) of meticulously groomed Nordic trails.

What's there: The trails wind through the long, narrow valley among farms and cabins, along a tumbling river, and up and down forested ridges.

There's a trail for everyone. Preschoolers to grandfathers glide along miles of gentle, flat trails. Lycra-clad speedsters embrace the challenging climbs and broad skating lanes. There's even a stretch where dogs can bound along with their skiing owners.

Where to stay: Accommodations are scattered through the valley, from cabins and luxurious rural lodges to down-home motels in the little Western-style town of Winthrop. At the upscale Sun Mountain Lodge, perched high above the valley, ski trails start right out the door. Sun Mountain rooms start at about $150 a night in winter, or check for packages such as the "Ski More Pak" at $200 per person (based on double occupancy) for two nights lodging, breakfasts, and cross country ski trail passes. www.sunmountainlodge.com

The comfortably rustic cabins of Brown's Farm (www.methownet.com/brownsfarm) are by a ski trail at the other end of the valley near the little community of Mazama, as are the luxurious Freestone Inn (lodge rooms and cabins, www.freestoneinn.com) and the cozy Mazama Country Inn (www.mazamacountryinn.com).

Get more lodging and visitor info at www.winthropwashington.com.

More info, fee. For trail maps and more, see the website of the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association, www.mvsta.com, a nonprofit group that wove the network of trails on private and public land. A one-day pass is $20 for an adult, with discounts for multiday passes and youths and seniors.

P.S. For a Nordic overnight adventure, ski from hut to hut along groomed trails at the Methow's Rendezvous Huts. Bring your sleeping bag and food for stays in the bare-bones but cozy ski-in cabins. www.rendezvoushuts.com/

White Pass

The place: For friends or families who want an easygoing weekend of both cross-country and downhill skiing, White Pass in Washington's South Cascades is the ticket.

What's there: The White Pass Nordic Center, nestled in the woods by the White Pass downhill ski area, isn't big and it isn't fancy. Buy a cross-country ticket at a yurt. Lace up your boots at an outdoor picnic table. Cover the 18 kilometers (11 miles) of trails, groomed for classic and skate skiing, easily in a day as they circle the small Leech Lake (far prettier than it sounds) and meander among the firs.

Where to stay: The Village Inn is the only place to stay at White Pass (development is limited since it's national-forest land). The cross-country trails and downhill area are each just a two-minute walk from the Village Inn.

Condominiums in the three-story building are privately owned, and vary widely in size and furnishings; the "deluxe" units are nicest. All have kitchens. And kids of all ages flock to the heated outdoor pool that's toasty as a hot tub.

A standard studio begins at $140 a night; a deluxe one-bedroom that can sleep 4 to 6 is $225 a night. Add a Thursday or Sunday night to a weekend booking and get the third night at 50 percent off; also check for midweek specials: www.whitepassvillageinn.com

More info, fees: The Nordic Center is open Thursday-Sunday as well as holiday periods; the trail fee is $14. See www.skiwhitepass.com

P.S. If the Village Inn is full (and winter weekends can book up quickly), stay down the road in Packwood although it's about 20 miles away. Among Packwood's moderately priced motels is the Crest Trail Lodge (www.cresttrail.whitepasstravel.com), a friendly motel with rates beginning at $80 per night, including breakfast.

Kristin Jackson: kjackson@seattletimes.com

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