Imagine you are gliding on the powdery soft snow of a forest trail so still you can hear the gentle swoosh of your cross-country skis as you take long, even strides. You are 1,800 feet above sea level in High Point State Park, surrounded by a stunning vista of the ridges and valleys of three states. You can see your warm breath in the cold air, yet this brisk winter trek invigorates you.

“On the weekend, we can have more than 2,000 skiers when the snow is great,” says Hans Karlsen of the High Point Cross Country Ski Center in Sussex, NJ (973-702-1222). “We have 60 percent beginner trails, 15 percent intermediate, and 25 percent expert.”

High Point is a full-service Nordic skiing facility, offering cross-country ski rentals, lessons, groomed trails, snowshoeing, and more. There are roughly nine miles of ski trails and five miles of snowshoe trails.

In previous years, the ski center has been known to step in when faced with an uncooperative winter weather forecast. However, “we’ll be depending on Mother Nature for snow this coming season,” Karlsen says. For nine years High Point made snow and hauled it from a snow depot, but for this season, Karlsen says they’re looking into installing a new system where they can make snow right on the trails.

Freedom (Ski) Trails

If you have your own skiing equipment—or if you can rent it for a day, a weekend, or even for the season—there are plenty of other places across the state for you to discover as well.

“Cross-country skiing offers freedom and fun wherever you find snow,” writes Steve Hindman in Cross-Country Skiing: Building Skills for Fun and Fitness. “You’re not restricted to the marked trails of summertime or the designated slopes of an alpine ski resort.”

For example, you might strike out across the Green Knoll Golf Course on Garretson Road in Bridgewater, or enjoy the rustic scenery of the mostly level trails at the Environmental Education Center on Lord Stirling Road in Basking Ridge. Or you could explore one of the many state parks and forests that offer cross-country skiing, such as Allaire State Park, Monmouth Battlefield State Park, and Ramapo Mountain State Forest. (Check New Jersey Department of Parks and Forestry, along with your city/county websites, for more information on cross-country trails in your area.)

Make sure you are properly attired in peel-off layers of clothing and stretch your muscles before any cross-country outing. And, if you’re a beginner, stick to the flat trails until you’re ready to tackle less predictable terrain.

“Give skiing a couple of days or more of your time to get the hang of it. Give it time to sneak up on you,” Hindman advises. “Keep at it and you will soon find that moment when you stop trying, when you stop practicing and you simply ski, riding on skis as you would a bike, startled by the clarity of the winter air as they carry you forward.”

Mary Ann McGann is a freelance writer from New Jersey.