Snowshoeing: ‘Viewing the world in a different lens’

Snowshoeing is inexpensive option for socially distanced outdoor activity

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With health officials continuing to encourage outdoor activities amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there’s one affordable winter activity that’s getting folks outside, active and socially distanced: snowshoeing.

The sport, essentially the winter version of hiking, is a great way to enjoy being outside in the winter without having to empty one’s pockets to buy ski or snowboard gear and pricey lift tickets, said Frank Bulkley, owner of Eskimo Ski Shop in Centennial.

“If you want to get outside and get some fresh air, it’s a great way to do it. It doesn’t have to be a 10-mile hike either,” he said. “It’s a simple way to get out there and do something different in the snow.”

The only things needed to start snowshoeing are waterproof boots, waterproof layers like a jacket and pants and of course, the snowshoes, which can be rented for under $20 per day.

While hiking boots and shoe spikes can perform well when a trail is packed down with snow or a bit icy, snowshoes really thrive in snow about a foot or more deep, Bulkley said.

Jake Thomas, manager at Mountainside Gear Rental in Golden, says the best way for beginners to try out snowshoeing is to head to familiar territory.

“(Go) somewhere you’ve already been, somewhere you’re comfortable with going that’s not super remote,” he said. “Maybe somewhere you hike in the summer.”

It’s also best to go with a buddy and remain within cell service, he said.

“Any precautions you would take while hiking, you should take while on snowshoes,” Bulkley said.

That includes carrying a headlight, being ready for weather changes, bringing plenty of water and snacks and knowing how to react if confronted by wildlife. Those snowshoeing off trails or in the backcountry also need to be aware of avalanche precautions.

Many hiking websites, such as AllTrails.com, will have comments from recent hikers on snow conditions for specific areas or trails. Thomas likes to recommend Golden Gate State Park, St. Mary’s Glacier and trails around Nederland to those interested in snowshoeing.

How they work

Snowshoeing is largely intuitive. The shoes snap on and off easily and are lightweight enough to carry in a backpack until needed.

“They’ve come a long way from the big clunky ones that looked like tennis rackets on your feet,” Thomas said. 

Snowshoes vary in size based on a person’s weight and the snow conditions. They work by distributing the wearer’s weight across the surface of the snow, preventing the person from sinking more than a couple inches.

“As long as you’re fit and able to push yourself a little and try something new, it’s really for everyone,” Thomas said. “It is a little more physically demanding than hiking.”

Thomas likes to bring trekking poles when he goes out. They aren’t essential, but they can help with balance, he said. 

“In the wintertime, when everything is covered in snow, things are much more serene and quiet. You get to be more in touch with what’s going on around you,” he said. “It’s viewing the world in a different lens. Looking around and seeing untouched snow all around you is a really cool thing.”

Crescent Moon Snowshoes, based in Englewood, also makes foam snowshoes, which are perfect for beginners, said Tanner Dunn, vice president of the company.

The shoes strap on and connect to the heel of the wearer’s shoes, unlike other snowshoes, Dunn said. 

“You can give them to anyone, they’re so intuitive and easy to walk in,” he said.

Normally, the company offers direct sales and rentals of these shoes, but this year, their inventory has been depleted as a surge of buyers have appeared during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dunn said.

“It’s one of the few winter activities besides skiing,” Dunn said. “Snowshoeing is easier to go and grab real quick.”

For Dunn, one major benefit of snowshoeing is how easy it is to feel like you’re the only person on a trail.

“It’s so quiet. I love hiking, too, but it’s really hard to find a trail that’s not packed — whereas snowshoeing, it’s just dead quiet. It really is different,” he said. “So many people hike but not that many snowshoe.”

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