My wife, Liz, and I are in our early sixties and are always in search of a new adventure. We used to go alpine skiing in Colorado and Utah. As we became more “mature”, however, we began looking for an activity with aerobic benefits that was easier on the joints than downhill skiing.
Cross-country skiing was something that had always interested me. After watching several events in the 2002 Winter Olympics, I began doing some research on the Internet. As I examined Web sites for nordic centers, I noticed that most also offered snowshoeing, some with dedicated trails that would be good for beginners.
By the fall of 2002, we were hatching a snowshoeing trip to Colorado that winter. While on a September trip in our travel trailer, I bought a copy of Claire Walter’s book “Snowshoeing Colorado” in Leadville, Colo. It provided a good introduction to snowshoeing and an index, plus evaluation of snowshoeing areas in many parts of the state.
Armed with information, we headed out for our first snowshoeing adventure in February 2003. Since nordic centers rent snowshoes and offer advice about trails, techniques and equipment, it seemed logical to go to one on our first trip. We selected the Frisco Nordic Center, located conveniently in Frisco, Colo., on Highway 9 about 2 miles south of I-70. After purchasing a trail pass and renting snowshoes and poles, we were off on our first trail. It meandered through a beautiful forest located on a peninsula that jutted out into a frozen Lake Dillon.
The views were outstanding, and the trails peaceful and uncrowded. After about 30 minutes, we were both hooked, impressed that we could enjoy snowshoeing immediately. The learning curve for this sport is practically non-existent. Just walk with your feet slightly further apart; it’s that simple. The phrase “If you can walk, you can snowshoe” is literally true. Those looking for more of a challenge can select longer and steeper trails. The crampons on the bottom of the snowshoes make your footing very secure – an important factor for many seniors.
The principle behind snowshoes is very simple. On snowshoes, your weight is spread out over a larger area to provide flotation. Modern snowshoes are typically made with lightweight aluminum frames and a durable synthetic material for the decking. When most people think of snowshoes, they have an image of something akin to large wooden tennis racquets attached to their feet. Old-fashioned snowshoes made of wood with rawhide lacing for the decking are still available, but are now the exception rather than the rule.
A person’s weight and snow conditions determine the size of the snowshoes he/she needs. Heavier people require longer snowshoes, as do those who shoe primarily in dry, fluffy powder. Snowshoe manufacturers provide charts to help you select the correct size. Generally, the smaller snowshoes (22 and 25 inches) are lighter and more maneuverable. Most seniors would be well served by snowshoes no longer than 30 inches.
The remainder of our first trip consisted of a day each at Devil’s Thumb Nordic Center, (near Tabernash, Colo.), and Piney Creek Nordic Center (10 miles north of Leadville), plus a day of finding our own trails in the area around Buena Vista, Colo., and Salida, Colo. All of the nordic centers had excellent trail systems and Devil’s Thumb had dedicated snowshoeing trails. Otherwise, we shared trails used by cross-country skiers. You must be sure not to step on the tracks etched in the snow for the classical style skiers. They depend on the tracks and can get rather testy when inconsiderate or uninformed snowshoers trample them.
Snowshoeing on trails that are not part of a nordic center can be enjoyable and provide a more tranquil experience. They can be found in parks and on trails that are used for hiking in the summer. These have the added advantage of being free. Even at nordic centers, we found that we could snowshoe for about a week for what alpine skiing costs per day.
With the exception of snowshoes, you probably already own what you need in terms of clothing. Layering is the key, and you must remember that since you are moving, you will be warmer than you might think. We found waterproof hiking boots worked well with our snowshoe bindings. They can also serve double duty as regular hiking boots the rest of the year. A search for “snowshoeing” on the Internet will yield a plethora of information about what is needed for a successful outing (or read Snowshoe Magazine’s Beginner’s Guide to Snowshoeing: https://www.snowshoemag.com/snowshoeguide.pdf).
After returning from our February 2003 trip, we decided that purchasing our own snowshoes would give us more flexibility and, in the long run, be less expensive. Entry-level snowshoes can be purchased for around $100. You would be hard pressed to spend over $300 for the top of the line models. By waiting until the end of the season, we saved a substantial amount when we bought our recreational hiking snowshoes from Redfeather. We’ve been pleased with them so far. Liz’s are 22 inches while mine are 25 inches.
In the fall of 2003, we bought snowshoeing poles at REI in Dallas. While poles are optional, we found them to be helpful in providing added stability and a better upper body workout. Our poles telescope for travel or attaching to a backpack when not needed. They came with small baskets for trekking and we bought larger ones for snowshoeing. The baskets are interchangeable.
Now equipped with everything, we set out in February 2004 for our second trip, this time to New Mexico and Colorado. We discovered an excellent place near Red River, N.M., called Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Area. A good system of trails is maintained there for both cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
A trail pass for seniors (60-69) is $8 daily or $6 daily for three days or more. The is no charge if you are 70 years of age or older. Snowshoe rentals are $12 per day or $9 per half day. Enchanted Forest has 15k of dedicated snowshoeing trails and allows snowshoers to use the skating lanes of the cross-country ski trails (again, don’t trample the tracks).
For all of you fellow geezers looking for a new adventure next winter, give snowshoeing a try. You’ll find it to be fun, good exercise, easy to learn, and a low-cost alternative to downhill skiing. In addition, the cushioning effect of the snow is easy on more mature joints.
Jim Fagan lives with his wife, Liz, in Denton, Texas. You can reach him by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.