Hike of the Week: Here’s what to do and what to wear for snowshoeing this winter
Hike of the Week
Happy December. With fresh snow from the last round of storms glistening on the ground, this is a great week to make sure you’re all set to get out and enjoy it. As our snowpack continues to deepen, Walking Mountains’ backcountry programs are getting ready for another great season of snowshoeing, and we will soon be back, updating this weekly column with weekly trail descriptions, conditions updates, and stories from the trail.
For those of you who have yet to venture off the groomed slopes of Vail, grabbing a pair of snowshoes and venturing into the backcountry is a great way to escape the crowds and bask in the solitude and quiet of our winter woods.
Snowshoes provide efficient winter transportation for two reasons. First, they provide flotation. Even if you are hiking on packed trails, your hiking boots will sink in a little with each step costing you valuable energy. Secondly, most modern snowshoes include metal crampons under your foot, providing traction. This traction keeps your foot from slipping, and helps provide extra stability on downhills, which are hard to avoid here in our valley.
Although it is often possible to hike on our valley’s trails without snowshoes, the best backcountry etiquette is to always wear your snowshoes when snow-depths are over 8-12 inches. This helps protect trails from “post-holing,” or sinking in while hiking, leaving deep holes in the snow. As the snowpack freezes and hardens, these post-holes remain, and make the conditions far more challenging for hikers, snowshoes, and skiers who use these trails.
Alongside your snowshoes, a few other pieces of gear can help make an enjoyable trip. Many snowshoers prefer to hike with poles. While this is a personal choice, poles can help with balance–and are great to bring along your first few times.
Additionally, keeping a comfortable temperature on the trail can be harder in winter. It is not common here in Vail to wake up to temperatures around 0 degrees, and then find yourself hiking in 30-degree weather, under the harsh Colorado sun, only a few hours later. For this reason, layering is king when venturing into the backcountry under your own power. Leave your puffy, insulated ski pants at home and wear a lighter base layer with a shell pant over it for your snowshoeing adventures. Similarly, wearing a base layer, a warm mid-layer, and a shell jacket will help you be able to adapt to changing temperatures.
Because you may find yourself layering and delayering throughout your trip, having a capable backpack is even more important in the winter. A few other things that always make their way into my pack for a winter adventure are an extra pair of socks, sunglasses, sunscreen, a first aid kit (including a space blanket, or other emergency insulation), headlamp, and a thermos of hot chocolate.
Walking Mountains snowshoe tours highlight the science of Colorado’s winter landscapes every Tuesday and Thursday beginning Dec. 10. Next week’s column will have the full schedule of guided backcountry snowshoe tours.
Nathan Boyer-Rechlin is the Community Outreach Coordinator for Walking Mountains Science Center. For more information on this hike and others with Walking Mountains, you can reach him at (970) 827-9725 ext. 144,or firstname.lastname@example.org.