Saturday, November 22, 2014

Let’s go snowshoeing!

Posted By on Sat, Nov 22, 2014 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge Snowshoeing in Florissant Fossil Beds Nation Monument. - COURTESY OF BOB FALCONE
  • Courtesy of Bob Falcone
  • Snowshoeing in Florissant Fossil Beds Nation Monument.
The subject of my last blog was how to prepare for cold weather recreation. Cold weather is one thing, but once the snowfall starts to accumulate, you’ll want to think about an alternative to hiking if you’re planning outdoor activities. So let's talk about snowshoeing, a very popular winter activity

When you’re sinking into snow above your ankles, strapping on a pair of snowshoes will keep you going without “post-holing” through deep snow. The biggest challenge is to get the right size snowshoes.

According to Jane Higbie at Mountain Chalet in Colorado Springs, snowshoes are sized based on the weight of the user. But, before you go running to the scale, you’ll need to include the weight of additional clothing, backpacks, etc. Longer length — and proportionally wider — snowshoes accommodate heavier weights than shorter, narrower models.

If you’re not sure you want to spend the money on a new set of snowshoes, Higbie suggests renting a pair and trying them out. If you find that you like it, you can then purchase the best snowshoes for you. When in doubt, or if you’ll be carrying a large load for backcountry camping, choose the next size up from what you think you’ll need.

You should also consider using hiking poles — even if you don’t normally use them. Make sure you equip your hiking poles with “snow baskets” which will reduce how far your poles sink into the snow.

Snowshoeing takes more effort than hiking on dirt, and you may not always be able to cover the same distance over a period of time as you normally would. Don’t let that stop you — you’re just in for a more intense workout. Having not snowshoed in many years, and not liking it much when I did, I bought new snowshoes last winter and took right to it. Having right-sized and good-quality equipment has really made a difference for me.

There are a number of places within an hour drive of Colorado Springs that make for good snowshoeing:

The Crags trail: A great summer trail and also a very nice snowshoeing trail. The hike is approximately 6 miles round trip but the hardest part is getting there. After turning onto Forest Road 383 off of Highway 67 (about 4.5 miles south of Highway 24), the road is fairly maintained until just past the Mennonite Camp. From there, you’ll almost certainly need a 4-wheel drive vehicle, and don’t be surprised to find someone in the ditch along the narrow road.

Mueller State Park: Just off of Highway 67 (about 4.25 miles south of Highway 24) Muller offers many miles of trails suitable for snowshoeing. My favorite is the Cheeseman Ranch trail, but be sure to stop into the visitors center and get recommendations from the park staff.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument: Located off of Highway 24 (approximately 35 miles west of the Springs) the national monument has 14 miles of trails, all suitable for snowshoeing. The monument occupies a fairly wide-open expanse of land that gets lots of sun so for the best snowshoeing, park rangers suggest getting out there early after it snows.

Gold Camp Road: The closed section of the road, above North Cheyenne Cañon Park is easily and quickly accessible from Colorado Springs. As with Florissant Fossil Beds, it gets plenty of sun so you’ll want to get up there soon after it snows. Take North Cheyenne Cañon Road past Helen Hunt Falls to the large parking area. Gold Camp Road is past the gate at the west end of the parking lot.

Rampart Range Road: Will now close, seasonally, to vehicle traffic but will remain open to non-motorized use. Your best bet to get there will be to take Highway 24 to Woodland Park, turn right at the McDonalds, follow Rampart Range Road to Loy Creek Road and turn right. Turn right again at the stop sign, and continue to the gate next to the reservoir road. Parking is limited and please, don’t block the gates.

There are also a lot of snowshoeing opportunities in the high country and skiers/snowboarders may want to consider snowshoeing up to their favorite slope then riding down. But if you’re doing any backcountry activities, consider purchasing a personal locater beacon and an avalanche beacon. (They’re not the same thing, and not interchangeable.)

Let the snow fly! Happy trails!

Bob Falcone is a firefighter, arson investigator, non-profit board president, college instructor, photographer, hiker and small business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for 23 years. You can follow him on Twitter @hikingbob, Facebook, or visit his website Hikingbob.com. E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to info@hikingbob.com.

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