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Snowshoeing: Ya Gotta Know the Territory
Ellen Kolovos

Iapostropheve been a skier most of my life, trading the downhill thrills of my teens and twenties for cross-country silence over 20 years ago. But it wasnapostrophet until last year that I discovered snowshoes. Up until then, my only contact with snowshoers involved those who walked on the ski trails. In my eyes, they were slow and plodding. They were also inconsiderate, in that their wide steps destroyed our ski tracks, and when we yelled "track", usually they just stood in the way and looked confused.

Itapostrophes true, you donapostrophet have to be an expert at anything to snowshoe. You need to be a passable walker, but the learning curve is roughly 50 feet after you strap them on your boots near snow.

We bought snowshoes thinking to rent them from our mountain depot near Indian Peaks, but was I in for a surprise! Last season we had a blast, almost always on snowshoes. We now save cross-country skiing for when the conditions are perfect and the crowds are thin, i. e., weekdays in the middle of the winter.

The advantages of snowshoes were immediately apparent. Snowshoes go anywhere there is snow. You donapostrophet need a carefully groomed trail. In fact, thatapostrophes the secret to the fun. You can walk a country road or climb straight up or down the side of a mountain.

Groups can travel together regardless of skill and stamina. Our kids race up and down the hills, jumping small cliffs and rolling in the snow while their grandmother enjoys a slow steady walk in the woods. We stay within hearing distance of each other, enjoy the same sights and break together for a snack, often stopping in a sunny clearing.

Winter season fun is extended. Snowshoes work in conditions where you wouldnapostrophet dream of using even your "rock skis". When there isnapostrophet enough snow to ski, when itapostrophes too wet and heavy, when there are big drifts with bare spots between them, or when the powderapostrophes melted to slush, snowshoeing is still fun.

I learned this vividly one afternoon last April. Reluctant to call it quits after an outstanding morning of snowshoeing, two of us grabbed our cross-country skis and headed out on a trail. The sticky snow caked the bottoms of our skis and we gave up in frustration.

Unlike summertime hiking, you do not stamp out plant life when you are off trail. Snowshoes have no environmental impact unless you are extremely careless in breaking branches or leaving trash. Your footsteps simply melt, just like the prints of the wild animals you are almost sure to encounter.

Downhill skiers might classify snowshoeing as a sport without thrills, but just as I no longer believe all snowshoers are inconsiderate plodders, neither do I buy the idea that snowshoeing lacks the energy that makes skiing so addictive. Our snowboarding teenagers find snowshoeing invigorating as they tumble and jump down steep slopes. Snowshoeing is a high adventure sport for climbers above timberline as they tackle high peaks before the spring run off.

To my way of thinking, snowshoeing has only one real disadvantage. It is easy to lose your orientation without a trail or in inclement weather. Places that look familiar can change quickly and drastically as the weather shifts. Off the beaten path you are very vulnerable, especially in winter. Therefore, simple precautions are a must.

Know where you are going and carry a detailed map. It is wise to let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.

Never snowshoe alone. I will ski alone and so will many other skiers I see on the trail. We may not stop to talk, but there is an assurance that we would take care of one another in an emergency. Off trail, this safety disappears.

Carry some form of electronic communication and a compass. Also carry emergency provisions: first aid, food, extra clothing, matches, a signal and a compact blanket. Regardless of what you carry, you still need to stay alert to weather conditions and be aware of your physical limitations.

Part of enjoying the wilderness is respecting it. Snowshoeing accentuate this view because it takes you closer to the winter wilderness than other sports do. You can be away from everyone else as soon as you leave the parking lot. As Colorado becomes more attractive to more and more winter sports enthusiasts, snowshoeing is a welcome means of truly experiencing the wilderness of winter. Enjoy being out there, and be safe!

For information on joining a snowshoeing club with planned walks on Wednesdays and Sundays in and around the Indian Peaks above Boulder, Colo, please contact: info@activeadventures.com; www.activeadventures.com; (303) 469-2070 or (800) 292-4169.

Ellen Kolovos , a third-generation Coloradan, is a managing owner of Active Adventures. She has traveled around the world five times visiting over 40 countries. Her favorite is Greece, a country she has visited regularly for over 30 years with her Greek husband and bi-cultural bicycling family. Together they run bicycle tours in Greece (June/September) Her full time job during the academic year is in Boulder, CO with Semester at Sea, an around-the-world shipboard education program sponsored by The University of Pittsburgh .Web information: www.activeadvenutes.com or www.semesteratsea.com. Email: info@activeadventures.com or sas@colorado.edu. Phone: (303) 469-2070, 303-492-5351. or sas@colorado.edu. Phone: (303) 469-2070, 303-492-5351.

www.activeadvenutes.com or www.semesteratsea.com. Email: info@activeadventures.com or sas@colorado.edu. Phone: (303) 469-2070, 303-492-5351. or sas@colorado.edu. Phone: (303) 469-2070, 303-492-5351.