My wife and daughter have just started cross-country skiing, so I've been considering the best local destinations for them. Steep hills are really hard for someone just learning to ski and overly long trails can make the sport seem exhausting rather than fun, so I was looking for areas that offered relatively level trails and relatively modest distances.
Kalamazoo's best places for beginners to cross-country ski
1. Alamo Township Park
Alamo Township Park is far and away the best local option for beginner cross-country skiers. Three loops wind through a mix of hardwood and conifer forests with a bridge over an attractive creek. The trails are groomed and never crowded. This park offers all the beauty of the winter woods without any steep hills and it's close to town. These trails are nice enough to satisfy more experienced skiers looking for a short outing.
2. West Lake Nature Preserve
West Lake Nature Preserve in Portage offers a nice short loop through the woods very close to town. It's very accessible for beginners, with no hills. It's probably too short to attract advanced skiers. This park attracts lots of foot traffic, so the snow is often packed down and I've never seen good ski tracks established, so it's probably best to visit when there is fresh snow.
3. Milham Park Golf Course
Milham Park Golf Course does have more hills than the other areas on this list. The hills are steep enough to be fun and they are wide open, without trees or obstacles, so even if a beginner veers off-course they should be okay. The trails are groomed, when there's enough snow, for both skate skiing and classic skiing. The golf course doesn't offer the same natural beauty as the other areas and if it's windy it feels colder. It's right in town, so travel time is minimal.
4. Schrier Park
Schrier Park offers a decent length trail system that can connect to West Lake Nature Preserve through Bishops Bog. The orchard area near the Osterhout Road entrance is a big open area good for practicing. The trails have some modest slope, but no demanding hills. Snow is the big drawback at Schrier Park. Since its main trails are paved, it takes fairly deep snow to make them skiable.
5. Russ Forest
Russ Forest in Cass County is another good destination for cross-country beginners. If it was closer to Kalamazoo, I would put it higher on this list. The trails go through mature forests with some really nice views of Dowagiac Creek. None of the loops have challenging hills. The trail system is longer than the others listed here making it worth the drive.
None of these areas charge admission and none offer ski rental. Lee's Adventure Sports in Kalamazoo does rent skis. They also have occasional demo days where you can try skis and other equipment. Two cross-country ski areas that offer on-site rental are within reach for a day trip: Love Creek County Park and Muskegon Winter Sports Complex. Update: Pigeon Creek Park also has ski rentals and its trails are beginner friendly.