By Brad Downs
Winter days in Colorado can seem more confining than those summer days where it’s easy to be active outdoors and eat fresh, healthy food. We have access to great summer activities like hiking, biking, and trail running. But, if you think that summer is the only time to be active outdoors, you’re missing out on half of the fun! The Northern Front Range mountains in winter are just as glorious as they are during the summer, maybe even more so. You just need to be a little more prepared for the action.
We are blessed to have downhill and backcountry skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing, ice climbing, and much more during the winter. In this article, we focus on one of the most enjoyable and easiest activities to start — snowshoeing. Snowshoeing trails are abundant in the Northern Font Range and you don’t need expensive equipment to get started. If you like to hike in the summer, you’ll love snowshoeing. It offers the same beautiful scenery and serenity as hiking does, and it adds more to the fitness aspect.
Snowshoeing requires little more than a pair of snowshoes, winter attire, and a desire for fun and activity. You’ll need a winter jacket, snow pants, stocking caps, gloves, scarf, and winter boots. Layering your clothing for winter activities is the best approach to staying warm. Outer layers like jackets, pants, and boots should be waterproof, while your inner layers should be warm and moisture wicking. Snowshoes vary in price by materials and skill level and range form $60-$250 depending on the options. You can also rent snowshoes inexpensively at numerous area stores, like Outpost Sunsport and Jax Outdoor Gear, for $12-$15 per day. Pack a small backpack with water, snacks, maps, and extra layers. And remember — the most important things to bring along with all of your gear and nutrition is a joyful attitude and desire to spend a beautiful day in the mountains!
Nutrition and Hydration
Eating healthy and staying hydrated should be a part of your daily life, not just for your winter activities. Drinking plenty of water and consuming a diet of real, whole foods, like fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and high quality (i.e. not factory farmed) proteins. While preparing for your day of snowshoeing, be sure to be hydrated and nourished so that you will be full of energy on your trek. Drinking 64- 100 ounces of water and consuming extra complex carbohydrates the day before your trip will be helpful to your performance. Eating a breakfast that is light and nutritious in the morning will add to your energy — something like peanut butter on gluten-free toast with a banana is a good example of a quick and easy pre-hike breakfast. While you are snowshoeing, be sure to keep drinking water because even at a slow pace snowshoeing will burn calories and deplete your water reserves. Be sure to bring a hydration bladder or bottles of water with you in your backpack so that you have easy access to water.
A little trick to keep warm and happy is to tuck a thermos of your favorite hot beverage like tea or coffee into your pack to enjoy on your breaks. Bringing simple, fast processing, carbohydrate loaded snacks to eat during your breaks will help keep your energy up as you move. Fresh fruit, dried fruit, trail mix, and healthy granola bars are great midhike snacks. If you are planning on a 5 to 20-mile trek, take extra precautions and bring more food and water than you expect to consume. A post exercise snack or meal on the way back home will help your muscles recover from the exertion. Protein and carbohydrate rich foods are the best to consume during this time. Protein will help repair your muscles while the carbohydrates will replenish your energy stores. As always, you should include protein, fat, and carbohydrates in all of your snacks and meals. Our bodies rely on these macronutrients to run and perform at an optimal level.
Snowshoeing is an activity that can be performed by people of any age, fitness, and skill level. Beginners should start with shorter, flat trails that will allow them to learn the movements and feeling of snowshoeing. As you move up to more intermediate and advanced levels you can opt for longer trails with more incline and challenging features. A key to staying warm while snowshoeing is controlling your pace and heart rate zone. You want to keep your pace and heart rate in a zone where you are moving fast enough to stay warm, but slow enough to not sweat too much. If you start to lose your breath or sweat, stop for a short break. Sweat combined with cold air can drastically increase your chances of developing hypothermia, a deadly condition. Be sure to know your fitness and skill level, and pick your trail and pace accordingly.
Being active outdoors in the winter is not only fun, it provides great health benefits to your body. Our bodies respond to activity in numerous positive ways. Our muscles, lungs, bones, and heart grow stronger, our hormones release mood enhancing endorphins, and our blood circulates better throughout our system. Proper nutrition and an active lifestyle help to reduce our chances of disease and illness.
There are an incredible number of great snowshoeing trails along the Northern Front Range. From beginners looking for entry level fun to advanced snowshoers looking for a challenge, the Northern Front Range has it all. A great trail for beginners is Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. This area has a vast network of trails that are relatively flat and have unbelievable views. The main trail system is a 1 to 4-mile hike around Bear Lake, depending on your trail choice. If you are looking for a more lengthy and challenging hike, you should head up the Poudre Canyon and visit the Big South trailhead. This beautiful 6-7 mile out and back will get you away from the crowds and into the deep wilderness. The trail climbs and descends throughout the hike as it takes you along the South Fork of the Poudre River and through the thick forest. The Big South Trail will leave you filled with joy and a feeling of trekking through true mountain wilderness.
For a steeper and more advanced trail, check out Montgomery Pass high up the Poudre Canyon. This trail climbs steadily for 2.5 miles before reaching the open saddle of Montgomery Pass and the surrounding Diamond Peaks. From there you can hike to the summit or continue along the ridges exploring the peaks. Be sure to check avalanche conditions, bring plenty of food and water, and be prepared for open, stunning views. With it’s steep trail, high altitude, and exposure to winter conditions, this hike is sure to challenge and please any advanced snowshoer. Other great trails to note are: Michigan Ditch, Blue Lake, Gem Lake, and Odessa Lake. This abbreviated list of snowshoeing trails is only a drop in the bucket of what the Northern Front Range has to offer. You can find directions and more information on these and more amazing trails at www.trails.com and www.alltrails.com. Get out and enjoy them all!