How, not intentionally, you can become an expert snowshoer

Invited by friends to ski in Taos Ski Valley, I had a real dilemma: “To ski or not to ski?” “To snowshoe or not to snowshoe?” I love both, but I love downhill skiing a little more. Wanting to spend more time with Pete and the dogs, I came up with a brilliant idea: we can drive together from Santa Fe, Pete will drop me off at the Taos Ski Area, and he will snowshoe with our Labradors somewhere in the nearby canyons, and after he is done, he will pick me up after the ski lifts close at 4pm.

We do not know Taos Ski Valley area very well if it comes to hiking or snowshoeing.  Without giving it any more thought, I Googled “Snowshoeing in Taos Ski Valley” and  a great Village of Taos Ski Valley Chamber of Commerce website popped up showing us exactly what we wanted to see:  a detailed list with great descriptions of close to the Taos Ski Area snowshoeing trails:

Taos Ski Valley’s website provides good maps of snowshoeing trails in the area

After some deliberation, we settled on Manzanita Canyon Trail, starting about 4 miles from the Ski Area on Highway 150. The website describes the usage of the trail as “light”, which was important considering the never-ending energy of Jackson and Wheeler, our Labradors, who do not belong to crowded, popular trails. Also, 4.2 miles one way would give Pete a choice to turn around any time. He could even consider hiking Lobo Peak, if time allowed. And having a stream (not under the ice) to follow seemed to be a great plus if you hike with two big, always thirsty pups.

“It started easy”, reported Pete. “The first 15 minutes I just hiked. After that, I had to put Yaktrax on, and after 45 minutes snowshoes became a must. I unstrapped my Tubbs snowshoes from my CamelBak pack, put them on my Sorels, tossed the Yaktrax back into the pack  and enjoyed snowshoeing up the beautiful canyon along the side of the creek for about another hour. Then the trail became narrower and steeper and whoever had blazed the trail before me had turn around.

Making fresh tracks on Manzanita Trail near Taos Ski Valley, February, 2012

There was not a soul in sight and there was no trail to speak of. Soon, with every step  I was sinking my 25 inch long snowshoes  in 3 feet of snow but we ( myself and the labradors) did not give up and kept creating our own trail. It was hard work. Sometimes we had to back-track and find another route.”

Wheeler, the chocolate lab, several times seemed to sense that Pete, the fearless leader, was way off-trail  and needed some guidance . He would leave the comfort of staying behind Pete in already made tracks and plowed in deep powder looking for better ways to continue the hike.  “We needed half an hour to travel less than 100 yards. It was crazy and fun!”

After about 3 miles in, they reached the point that they had to cross the creek again to continue, but this time the crossing looked too difficult . He would have to cross snow and ice covered logs. At this point  Pete checked the time and decided there was not sufficient time to explore a safer crossing and he chose to turn around in order to pick me up at the ski area.

One of the stream crossings on Manzanita Trail near Taos Ski Valley, February, 2012

“Did you have fun?” I asked Pete at the ski are parking lot. “Yeah!  And those two” he pointed at the dogs curled up in the back of our car “had even more”.  I gave them all hugs, feeling a little envious of their expedition far away from the noise of the ski lifts and happy for the great time they had.

Post-hiking thoughts:

Pete is thinking about up-sizing his snowshoes. As a beginner, 4 years ago, he thought Tubbs suggested sizing seemed right for his lean 150-pound frame. Not any more! Since he has not decided if he wants to upgrade to 30 or 36 inches snowshoes, he is seriously thinking about designing some extensions to his existing ones.

Ewa is seriously re-planning her downhill skiing schedule. She also wants to sink in three-feet of snow in her snowshoes.

Jackson and Wheeler are happy that they have fully waterproof feet.  Wheeler still wants to hike Wheeler Peak  (he is named after this highest New Mexico peak, near Taos Ski Valley) and hopes, he can again pick the best route.

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About Ewa Sanders

Ewa Sanders is a downhill skiing and snowshoeing "aficionada". She and her husband Pete love to hike with their labradors, Jackson and Wheeler, in beautiful Northern New Mexico all year around. Ewa would like to share the stories of her hikes, travels and outdoor adventures with Snowshoe Magazine Readers. She has a journalism degree from the University of Warsaw, Poland. Ewa, Pete, Jackson and Wheeler live in the bucolic village of Glorieta, 18 miles outside of Santa Fe.

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