Snowshoe Hiking in Colorado

I’ve been running a lot this past winter. We’ve had a lot of snow this past month and the trails I usually use are very deep soft snow. Even the roads that the snowmobiles pack down are really loose and bad footing to run on. At the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake this January I was talking to a sales rep for a Colorado snowshoe manufacturer and he recommended I try snowshoe hiking.

Snowshoe Hiking Selfie - note the really cool shades
Snowshoe Hiking Selfie – note the really cool shades

I have a pair of MSR Evo Ascent Snow Shoes, and so long as you’re not trying to run, they’re decent enough for snowshoe hiking. I used them on Denali in 2011 and on Rainier a few years before that. I talked to the sales rep about switching out to running snowshoes, but thought I’d get some miles in with snowshoe hiking before I try running.

I started at the road intersection where the county stops plowing and put the snowshoes on. I headed up the hill trying to match my recent loose snow running pace of around 17:00 per mile. That’s really slow for some of you sea level pavement runners. Just for fun try running at 10,000′ and in shin deep loose snow over creek overflow ice and chopped up ice from the snowcat treads. With my snowshoe hiking pace I was able to stay within a minute or two plus or minus of that pace. My heart rate was good in the upper ranges of my primary training zone.

Snowshoe hiking behind Labonte's Cabin and Santiago Express at Keystone Resort
Snowshoe hiking behind Labonte’s Cabin and Santiago Express at Keystone Resort

After snowshoe hiking 3.1 miles (about 5k) I got to the base of the lifts at Keystone Resort. This is the road that the Ski Patrol uses to access the Outback and North Peak area of Keystone. I took a few pics and turned back toward the paved road with the target of doing a 10K, about 6.2 miles. I popped off my snowshoes at the shuttle bus stop. The roads were really bad from the snowstorm. I was glad to get to the hot tub after that. I was dressed very lightly since my intent was to go fast enough to stay warm.

Snowshoe Hiking Video

Is snowshoe hiking a good workout?

By the time I was done with my snowshoe hike I really felt the difference with that extra pound or so on each foot. I was wearing heavy goretex trail running shoes and I could feel the snowshoe bindings in a few spots on my foot. My legs were pretty tired. My stats from CLICK HERE show that I have a 29 hour recovery period coming my way after burning 1097 calories. If you go to that link to check it out, you will see some of the stats in Metric unless you register. Here’s a screenshot from my account so you can see my heart rate zones and other information to evaluate whether snowshoe hiking could be good cross training in your plan.

Snowshoe hiking stats on Suunto Movescount website
Snowshoe hiking stats on Suunto Movescount website

Snowshoe Hiking Tips:

Dress appropriate to your movement and speed and your body will go that fast. If you’re dressed like the Michelin Man you will shuffle along at a 1.0 MPH pace. Your hike will take forever. You might not have fun unless your goal is to count pine cones.

Same for shoes. You can go in Sorel style Mukluks or whatever you want. I’ve been on Denali in Everest Style System Boots (the big heavy boots with built in gaiters for high altitude and frigid temps) with snowshoes. I was wearing heavy running shoes today. The snowshoe racers wear racing flats with their snowshoes.

Learn to use a Nordic Grip on your trekking poles. This will allow you the most flexibility in using them for pushing off as well as balance. They’re not there to hold you up while shuffling. In the video I had to carry my poles in one hand so I could hold the camera in the other, so you don’t get to see pole action. I’ll try to get a non-selfie shot for you so you can see it.

Snowshoe Hiking Keystone Gulch GPS Track

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This won’t be my last time snowshoe hiking this winter. I’ll keep you up to date on how it works out for me. If you have any questions or suggestions, please drop me a note below in the comments. Thanks.