Looking for something new and exciting this winter? Tired of skiing and snowboarding or how much they cost?
Snowshoeing, one of the fastest growing U.S. sports within the last decade, is inexpensive, fast to learn and can get deep into some of the most pristine backcountry areas in Colorado without all of the gear and fuss.
"It is everything people are looking for – it's easy to learn and easy on the budget. You can do anything you usually do, from walking to running, in the snow and winter," said Claire Walter, author of two snowshoeing books, Snowshoeing Colorado and The Snowshoe Experience.
Colorado's Front Range offers many opportunities to get into the backcountry for some spectacular trails and scenery you won't see from the chairlift, from nearby Cameron Pass to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, northwest of Golden.
"Anywhere in the Cameron Pass and Poudre Canyon area is a wonderful experience. During the week, every trail is less-traveled," Walter said.
Rocky Mountain National Park is also open to snowshoeing.
"Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are magnificent ways to experience the winter season in Rocky Mountain National Park. There are marked winter tails, and the backcountry offers miles of scenery to explore," said Kyle Patterson, public relations for Rocky Mountain National Park, in a press release.
Although many people think snowshoeing is simply walking into the snow, within the last few years it has evolved into a sport of its own with many different types of equipment, technique and races around the country.
"There are some people in Colorado who train and coach specifically for snowshoeing, although the vast majority are recreational users seeking something in winter that is not expensive," Walter said.
Many runners and tri-athletes use snowshoeing as rigorous cross-training in the off-season.
"It is great aerobic exercise and cross-training for the Half Iron-Man I'm doing next year. I love it because you can still do everything you do in the summer, like climbing Fourteeners, but it all looks sweeter in the snow," said Callie Spencer, an intern at the Lighthouse and newcomer to snowshoeing.
There are snowshoes designed specifically for racing, jogging or climbing. Most snowshoes are user-friendly, durable, lightweight and around eight to nine inches wide and 24 inches long.
Snowshoes with a toe-cord rod are best for untracked powder and high tech materials such as lightweight aluminum are good for going into the backcountry.
Poles can be optional, but Walter strongly recommended to always be winter savvy when it comes to avalanche awareness, weather conditions and being prepared with maps.
Colorado is home to some of the most extreme snowshoe races in the country.
The Off-Beat Off-Track 10K Snowshoe Race in Leadville takes participants to more than10,000 feet.
"This race is unset and un-groomed. It demands not only technical skills, but navigation skills as well," Walter said.
There are several races in Colorado that even newcomers can participate in, from the gentle family 1K runs to 5Ks to even 20 miles, such as the 17th Annual Turquoise Lake Snowshoe Race on Jan. 7.
Visit www.snowshoemag.com for a listing of all races.
Upcoming races include the Luna Chase Snowshoe Race, a moonlight 5K run, on December 10 at Keystone Resort.
Beaver Creek also begins their adventure series of snowshoe races December 10 that continues throughout the season.
Visit www.active.com for registration details.
The 2006 Grand Lake Colorado Snowshoe Festival takes place on Jan. 13 to16. Registration in online at www.timberlinetiming.com.
If you are just looking to get out there and romp around, there are several opportunities in Rocky Mountain National Park for novices to get out and practice with fellow snowshoers.
There is a Snowshoe Ecology Walk on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays from Jan. 7 through March 26. This is a 2-hour beginner level snowshoe tour with a ranger to explore the natural world of the sub-alpine forest on the east side of the park.
On the west side of the park, more advanced snowshoe tours takes place on Sundays from Dec. 11 through March 12. All tours require reservations in advance. Call (970) 627-3471 for more information.
With all of the opportunities abound, snowshoeing is something anyone can pick up – even if it's just for a weekend.
"There is a joke about snowshoeing and the 12-step program. If you can take 12 steps, you are a snowshoer. It is really that friendly," Walter said.