Snowshoeing is a Versatile Way to Get a Great
By James Wall - Special to the
NewsOn summer weekends, Tracy Aiello of Denver, Colo., is a
runner taking part in a medley of races both in the Denver area and the
But in the winter, Aiello throws her dog,
Theo, into the back of her Saab and heads off to the foothills or high country
with a little more equipment: Redfeather snowshoes, old ski poles and a few
layers of clothing for warmth.
"I head to a good trail, what would work for
hiking in the summer," says Aiello. "That's what makes snowshoeing so
appealing: finding a new trail, letting the dog loose where allowed, and
getting all the aerobic benefits and more than running."
Snowshoers have always gotten strange looks
from skiers on mountains as they climb switchbacks meant to be used for heading
down on skis. Snowshoes also work well on mountain-bike trails, together with
trails through ski resorts and other high-country towns.
Just about anywhere you can hike in the
summer, late spring or fall works for snowshoeing in the winter.
Nordic-ski centers and some golf courses
also offer more refined terrain for snowshoers. Groomed trails designed for
cross-country skiers make the going easier and allow the amateur athlete to
slip more easily into that rhythm typically associated with running.
Kate Lewis of Boulder, a skier who has
telemarked from a young age, loves to snowshoe when "I just feel like a break
from the crowded mountain usually on a weekend." Lewis also takes her
black lab, Doc, with her on most excursions.
Says Lewis: "I love to strap on the
snowshoes and hit the trails around Vail. At any resort town, or mountain town
for that matter, it's easy to find a good trail. Just ask around or get a
hiking map from a local gear shop. Just make sure you know where you're going."
So, what are the health benefits of
snowshoeing? Tom Rutlin, designer of Exerstrider poles designed for use while
walking when the snow's melted (www.exerstrider.com), has collected data on
walking with poles (more or less what snowshoeing is) over the last 15 years.
Says Rutlin: "The upper-body part of
snowshoeing planting the poles in the snow to help propel the body
forward turns the sport into a full-body workout, burning more calories
and toning the arms, legs, shoulders and more.
"In addition, the slight extra weight on the
feet adds to the work you have to do with your legs, increasing the workout.
You'll burn many more calories than by simply walking."
Cross-country ski poles (or decent downhill
poles) are a necessary part of snowshoeing from a balance perspective, as well
as adding to the aerobic benefits.
Lewis says the workout can be moderate or
extreme, depending on the type of trail and the effort put in by the
"The folks you see climbing the ski-mountain
switchbacks are usually the endorphin junkies, looking for a tough workout that
gets the lungs burning and muscles throbbing," says Lewis. "But take a trail
that's fairly flat, and it becomes moderate to easy, depending on your
Extra weight on the feet has been reduced in
the last decade as technology has allowed for lighter, easier-to-use snowshoes
for both the advanced and beginner, according to Kris Koprowski of Denver's
Redfeather Snowshoes. Redfeather is one of the leading brands of snowshoes in
the nation, and No. 1 in the Rocky Mountain region, according to Koprowski.
"The manufacturers have designed systems
that make putting snowshoes on a piece of cake," says Koprowski. "Strap them
onto a pair of good winter hiking boots to keep the moisture out, and you're
away. And, with aluminum frames now the norm, these things are light."
Depending on conditions, Koprowski also
recommends using gators to keep the snow from getting in the tops of boots, as
well as good, ski-type pants if the snow is deep or the weather is cold.
He notes that his company and others make
different types of snowshoes for different levels of activity, so do your
research before buying.
One note of caution from both Aiello and
Lewis is to be sure to take a backpack stocked with layers of warmth and
waterproofing lest a storm unexpectedly rolls in during your trek. And take
plenty of fluids and snacks to keep you going.
Says Lewis: "I met a snowstorm head-on one
afternoon on a trail on the north side of I-70 close to Vail. Luckily I had
brought my ski jacket and a couple of fleece sweaters, plus some serious gloves
and a ski hat, to keep me from getting hypothermia and get me home OK. If it
looks like a snowy day, I may take a thermos of hot tea, just in case."
"It's the extremities that you have to worry
about, as well as hypothermia," says Smith, who hits a trail or two to test new
products quite a bit during the winter. "So take some very good gloves and some
layers in a backpack, and you'll be fine."
Snowshoers sometimes have the chance to dust
off their equipment along the Front Range after a storm hits. Denver's
Washington Park and South Suburban's Highline Canal trail get some snowshoers
when the snow decides to hang around after a big dump. "It's purely a matter of
being practical," says Aiello. You can't run when there's a foot or more of
snow on the ground, she adds.
And, that's the essence of snowshoeing,
according to Aiello. It's both practical and fun. Why not give it a go if you