Runners hitting snowy trails around valley
EAGLE COUNTY — While skiing and snowboarding seem to take precedence in the winter, putting foot to trail goes year-round for some locals.
Many trails across Eagle County are open year-round, but running on snow changes the game plan a bit.
“The trails that you run in the summer are typically well packed down and you’re able to run on them in the winter,” said John O’Neill, a professional triathlete living in Edwards. “There are a lot of trails that are different. In the summer, you would run them, but in the winter, you wouldn’t want to.”
O’Neill is constantly training for competitions across the world and said his favorite trails in the winter are West Lake Creek and Berry Creek in Vail.
In the summer, O’Neill likes East Lake Creek, but he opts for West Lake Creek in the winter to avoid the steep drops and narrow path, complicated by the snowy conditions.
Emma Giebler, of Avon, is training for the Leadville 100 and runs in Eagle-Vail and East Vail “quite a bit,” she said. Giebler doesn’t use snowshoes, just yaktrax.
“It’s a bit of a struggle,” she said of winter trail running. “Normally the snowpack is pretty OK to run up and down. It adds a little bit of a challenge to it because of the snow. The fact that it’s drier, too, you don’t realize how dehydrated you are.”
Snow can hinder trail running, but also opens up access to certain parts of the mountain because of the snowpack over all of the debris exposed in the summer.
“People think the snow is such a hindrance and takes away where you can go, but really, if you have the right equipment, it allows you to go so many more places,” O’Neill said. “You can put your snowshoes on and go for a run.”
However, running on snow is quite different than running on trails in the summer sun.
“You just got to go slow. You work so hard to go so slow,” O’Neill said. “Every step you take, you slide backwards just a little bit. So you’re working, your heart rate’s like 150, you’re dying, and you get to a split on your watch and realize how slow you’re going.”
In the winter, O’Neill said he will run about a 10-minute mile, opposed to a six or seven minute mile in the summer. He’ll also go for shorter distances in the snow.
The Rocky Mountains provide an amazing place for outdoor recreation, and the winter really amplifies the natural beauty.
“They’re quite peaceful,” Giebler said. “There’s a lot more solitude in the winter.”
“The valley looks completely different in the winter than it does in the summer,” O’Neill said. “You’re out there running and it’s just tranquil. In the summer, you hear the creeks running and the birds chirping. In the winter, you take all that away and it’s just you running in the snow.”
Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.