By Adam Rowan
Don’t despair when shifting weather leaves your favorite stomping ground full of snow. The millennia-old practice of snowshoeing can turn any fair-weather trail into a scenic winter walk perfect for the whole family. Here’s a look at what prospective snowshoers should know about the activity, the equipment involved and spectacular snowshoeing locales close to Longmont.
A walk by any other name
Though Colorado’s winter sports scene is defined by activities like skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing presents a contrast to these more extreme pastimes. Snowshoeing is an easy, get-up-and-go type of activity, something parents, children and individuals of all ages can undertake without a major investment of money or time.
“If you can hike, you can snowshoe,” said Jeffrey Justice, manager of Longmont Bike-N-Hike, an outdoor sports retailer that rents snowshoes. “Snowshoeing is something anyone can do; there’s no learning curve.”
The snowfall required to snowshoe properly is roughly one foot or more powder, with anywhere from open space areas to hiking trails to golf courses (be sure to check rules for private property) making for ideal places to explore the snowy outdoors. Snowshoeing on packed-down snow is suitable terrain for any skill level.
“When you take a step, you punch a hole in the snow,” Justice said. “Snowshoeing is just like a strenuous, slightly awkward hike: It takes more effort in each step because you have an object on your feet.”
What to wear
In order to get the best traction and comfort, a sturdy hiking boot is the first step toward getting the most out of your snowshoe. Bindings securing the boot to the snowshoe are adjustable, and it’s important to get a snug fit without strapping in too tightly.
“You want to wear the same type of shoe you’d wear if you went hiking,” Justice said. “The binding should fit securely around your foot, and also keep your foot warm.”
Prospective snowshoers might also consider wearing gaiters (a kind of sleeve worn between the top of a shoe and lower pant leg that seals the pant leg off from snow). Depending on the participant’s ability, poles are another potential accessory worth having.
“Poles help you hike around and give you leverage,” Justice said. “They aren’t 100 percent necessary, but poles can be helpful.”
Renting can give snowshoers a taste of the sport without spending a lot of money on equipment.
“We recommend renting when you go do it the first time,” Justice said. “If you like it, you can buy the equipment and do it more extreme.”
Despite the relative ease of snowshoeing compared to other winter sports, participants should still be prepared before hitting the trail. Rocky Mountain National Park (home to popular snowshoeing areas like Bear Lake, Wild Basin, Hidden Valley and Kawuneeche Valley) encourages snowshoers to outfit themselves properly before taking on the elements.
“Even for short day tours, be sure to pack gear for all types of winter weather: snow, wind, cold and sun,” said Kyle Patterson, public information officer at Rocky Mountain National Park. “Strong winds are quite common, and warm, windproof clothing is essential gear to wear or carry.”
In addition to cold, snowfall and the possibility of avalanches (be sure to check conditions at your destination before strapping in), elevation is another concern for all Colorado sports enthusiasts, including snowshoers.
“Be prepared for the rigors of high elevation,” Patterson said. “Drink plenty of water, and travel at a pace where you can still talk and breathe easily.”
For beginners and people still finding their footing in the sport, taking a guided tour might be the best way to get acclimated to snowshoeing. The Nordic Center at Eldora Mountain Resort is just one Colorado winter destination that offers guided snowshoe tours.
“If you feel intimidated being alone in the woods, that’s when a guide is warranted,” said Rob Linde, director of marketing at Eldora. “It’s up to the individual; some people don’t feel comfortable going out alone.”
Selecting your snowshoe destination
BRAINARD LAKE RECREATION AREA
Trails at Brainard Lake in Ward, Colo., are accessible up to 10,000 feet, with the Continental Divide acting as a backdrop for snowshoeing and other activities. The elevation also means superior snowfall to surrounding areas, said Elaine Wells, information specialist for the Boulder Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service.
Brainard Lake can get busy on weekends, and changing weather and road conditions (some canyon roads to the area are still closed due to damage from the September storms and flooding) can affect accessibility. Wells recommends checking conditions via the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Web camera stationed in Ward on Colorado State Highway 72 before making a trip to the area.
“It’s important to know before you go,” she said. “If you brought a two-wheel drive and it starts snowing in the afternoon, you could be in trouble.”
Situated on national forest land, Arapahoe Basin offers uphill access to snowshoers and other winter sports enthusiasts. Decisions on uphill accessibility and open/closed areas are made daily by 6 a.m. and posted online and at the base area.
“Self-locomoting up the mountain has become super-popular in the last few years,” said Adrienne Saia Isaac, communications and marketing manager at Arapahoe Basin. “When the trails are open, it’s cool how often people get up and snowshoe or ski at sunrise.”
Before heading up the mountain, guests are required to pick up a free uphill access pass at the A-Basin season pass office during operational hours. A staff member will talk about guidelines, give updates and furnish guests with a waiver to sign.
Arapahoe Basin highlights the resort’s outdoor beauty and uphill access through the annual Moonlight Dinner Series. This recurring seasonal event showcases food from mountainous regions all over the world while giving attendees a chance to traverse the mountain by the light of a full moon.
“The Moonlight Dinner Series is a pretty cool way to experience the moonlight on the Continental Divide,” Isaac said. “It’s also a good way to earn your dessert.”
ELDORA MOUNTAIN RESORT
With approximately 40 kilometers of trails, the Eldora Nordic Center bills itself “Colorado’s best-kept crosscountry, skate skiing and snowshoeing secret.” Linde calls snowshoeing at Eldora “a unique, enjoyable outdoor experience.”
“The trails that take you back are in a wooded and well-protected area,” he said. “Particularly when it’s snowing, [the area] is quiet and secluded.”