Seniors on Snowshoes

As the new year approaches, this is a good time to focus on the snowshoeing season. This will be the ninth year of senior snowshoeing adventures for my wife and me. We eagerly await the feeling of snow crunching under our snowshoes, or silent steps into new fallen powder.

We have snowshoed in different parts of Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. A couple of times, when heavy snow fell unexpectedly here in North Texas, we astonished the locals by using our snowshoes to travel around. That gave us the chance to tell those who were puzzled all about how much we love snowshoeing. We want to revisit some of those favorite places and possibly try some new ones in the Sierras and Cascades.

For you seniors out there, and brand new Baby Boomers, I hope this article will encourage you to try snowshoeing yourselves this winter. There are a number of reservations and misunderstandings people may have that I hope to dispel.

Trail Recommendations and Snowshoe Lessons at a Nordic Center

If you are open to trying something new, let’s examine some locations that might be good for novices. You’ll be pleased with the wide variety of places you can go. We were preparing for our first senior snowshoeing trip to Colorado in February of 2003, discussing where to go for the first few days.

Rather than finding some trails and striking out on our own, we opted to go to Nordic centers the first two days. That turned out to be a good decision. Armed with a copy of Claire Walters’ excellent book, “Snowshoeing in Colorado”, we began this new adventure at Frisco Nordic Center. The staff was knowledgeable and very helpful to novices. They assisted us in renting snowshoes and provided us with a trail map of the area.

Dedicated snowshoeing trails took us through a beautiful, forested area located on a peninsula that jutted out into Dillon Reservoir. Trails were well marked in terms of directions and difficulty levels. Since the learning curve for snowshoeing is practically non-existent, we thoroughly enjoyed this newfound winter activity on the very first day.

The second day, we drove over Berthoud Pass to Devil’s Thumb Ranch, near Tabernash, Colo. That was an equally enjoyable experience in a different setting. There, we tried another brand of snowshoes with a different binding system. Modern snowshoes are fairly similar, with the exception of the bindings. That is why it is better to rent before you buy.

Many seniors are security-conscious. The safety and system of groomed trails at Nordic centers makes them a good place to start. If you want to experience some deeper powder to find out what flotation is all about, just take a brief detour off the main trails. Total flotation is a myth, but you will sink less with snowshoes as your weight is distributed over a larger area than your boots. For added stability, I recommend using poles. They are typically available without added cost when you rent snowshoes.

Employees at the center will give you a “lesson”, which involves learning how to put the snowshoes on and adjust the poles. After that, it’s simply a matter of walking with your feet slightly apart.

To locate a Nordic center in a certain area, do a search of cross-country ski areas on the Internet. Most have added snowshoeing trails. Those web sites will provide much useful information. In addition to the book previously mentioned, another excellent source is Jonathan Wiesel’s “Cross Country Ski Vacations.”  It provides more information and photos of Nordic centers throughout the United States and Canada.

Go Out On Your Own

After getting your feet wet at a Nordic center or two, you may decide like we did, that you are ready to strike out on your own. We were able to find some good trails by referring to Walters’ book and doing some Internet searches of snowshoe trails. While snowshoe trails are hardly crowded at Nordic centers, the tranquility and solitude of those discovered trails was a different experience.

Remember to be careful, dress in layers, and take an ample supply of water, along with nutritious snacks. Above all, don’t wander into areas that could pose an avalanche danger or trespass on private property. Stick to the main trails. It is easier to get lost in the winter. The terrain takes on uniformity when covered in a blanket of snow.

Parks and public golf courses can also provide some enjoyable snowshoeing. Remember- you don’t need mountains or a lot of snow. Trails that are used for hiking in the summer are almost always good snowshoeing trails, too. Six to eight inches, and you’re in business.

What’s The Cost and What Do I Need To Bring?

Many seniors tend to be cost-conscious, either from necessity or habit. For some of us, frugal (OK, cheap) spending habits have enabled us to retire early while we are still young and healthy enough to enjoy a sport like snowshoeing. One of the great attractions of snowshoeing is that it is probably the least expensive of the winter sports. Check out the costs of downhill skiing these days. You’ll be convinced.

Clothing can be quite basic. You may already own most of what you need. Remember that layering is the key. Since you are moving, you will warm more rapidly than you might think. A layer can easily be added or removed. We both have a pair of moderately priced waterproof hiking boots that have served us well for eight seasons, doubling as regular hiking boots the rest of the year.

When renting snowshoes, expect to pay around $15 a day. Always ask for a senior discount. Most Nordic centers will probably offer them. A trail pass should cost about the same as snowshoe rental (about $15). Sometimes, a multiple day pass will be discounted. In addition to senior discounts, some Nordic centers offer a freebie to those 70 or over. When you snowshoe in places that are not part of a Nordic center, there is typically no charge. However, unless you rent from a sporting goods outfitter, you will need your own snowshoes there.

After our first season of snowshoeing, we decided to buy our own snowshoes and poles. The cost was around a hundred dollars per pair for good quality recreational snowshoes. The adjustable poles were around sixty dollars a pair. They have held up well and, if you do the math, it’s easy to see that about ten days of renting will pay for the snowshoes. The poles can do double duty for hiking or walking in warmer seasons. They really help to provide stability, as well as taking some of the strain off of your knees. Better snowshoes go for around two hundred dollars and up.

Now that you have some basic information about this wonderful winter sport, get out there and give snowshoeing a try. If a guy born and raised in Florida enjoys it, you’re bound to enjoy this fun and exhilarating sport.

Good luck. I’d love to hear from you after your next outing.

Happy “senior” snowshoeing!



  • Jim Fagan

    Jim Fagan was born and raised in Florida, has lived in Texas for 38 years and loves to snowshoe. You figure it out. He and his wife Liz are both in their late 60s, early 70s and are about to embark on their 10th season of snowshoeing. They hope to venture beyond the friendly confines of Colorado and New Mexico - perhaps to Utah, California, and Oregon. Keep checking for reports on their retired senior adventures.