I always imagined snowshoeing to be a difficult thing. I pictured wicker baskets tied to my feet and frequent face planting. This being my first winter in Colorado, I have a lot to learn. I’m working at a gear store that functions as a bike shop during the warmer months and transforms into a ski shop in the winter. I understand bikes, but the looming transformation to the ski world was intimidating. People stop in the store frequently just wanting trail info-we should put a tip jar out for all the tips we give to travelers. I could talk the talk when it came to hiking or mountain biking advice, but I've had to listen in on my coworker's conversations to learn the way of the winter wanderer. I've learned that Denny Creek to Brown’s Pass is the go-to recommendation for snowshoeing around here. I think I once advised some cross country skiers to give it a try. Oops.
Leah and Allie, the snowshoeing dog.
The seasoned guys I work with encouraged me to take some skis or snowshoes out and explore the terrain we were sending tourists to. When I divulged that I’d been on skis maybe four times in my life and never strapped on snowshoes, my coworkers immediately made me put on a pair and stomp around the store. Turns out snowshoeing is high tech these days. No wicker baskets-they’re fancy! And there is a right and left, which I struggled with until I asked my snickering coworkers for help. I walked around the store taking steps that were too big thinking, "okay, this does not require a ton of skill." I felt like I had giant pancakes for feet, but it was just walking. Pretty straightforward. Well, walking around on carpet is completely different than trekking up a mountain pass with flapjacks for feet.
My roommate and I took Allie, the dog we've been watching while her owners gallivant around the Galapagos, and drove out to the Denny Creek Trailhead I have pointed countless customers to. I’m familiar with Denny Creek and Brown’s Pass because of the summer treks I've guided, when there’s no snow and the trail is clearly laid out before you. Luckily, we were not the first ones tromping through the fresh snowfall. We started up the trail laughing and wondering why the brand our store carries are called Lightning Ascent. Bah! Poor Allie kept running ahead and then waiting for her slow two-legged friends. Snowshoeing is cardio. Car-di-o=whoa. Luckily we had trekking poles to help us out. But the combination of 10,000 feet with a crisp wind leaves your lungs hungry for air as you’re ascending.
It's easy to stare at your feet when this is what you're wearing...
Denny Creek and Browns Pass are found along the road up to Cottonwood Pass. This drive, or ride, or hike, however you want to get there, is steep and beautiful. We’d ridden our bikes up it a few months before and huffed our way to the top. Almost. Browns Pass provides views of Mount Yale and presents a crossroads to travel through the Collegiate Peaks in any direction. It's my favorite summer route. On this endeavor, however, I was immediately disoriented. Maybe it was because I started stepping on my own snowshoe and was looking at my feet more than my surroundings. Maybe it was because I’d never seen Yale completely covered in snow. Or it could have been because we off-roaded just to see how far we’d sink in our spiffy snowshoes.
It was not the Sunday afternoon of surfing that I was used to in Charleston, but it was a Sunday of adventure. That's what we were after. I can now head back to the gear shop and recommend strapping on snowshoes with complete confidence. I've learned that winter is not for hibernating or always retreating to the gym for cardio. As long as you wear enough layers and have a pair of sunglasses, getting out in the woods is worth it. The mountains have an entirely different world waiting to be explored than any summer experience.
Leah Andersen is a chaser of words and adventure. She recently moved from Charleston to Buena Vista, CO where she spends her time climbing mountains, rafting rivers, and selling gear to outdoor types who do the same. She loves the Lord and being on the water (whether she is steering a raft on the Arkansas River or paddling a surfboard in the Atlantic Ocean). She smells like frankincense and can be commonly found singing off key. She makes a mean Guacamole, and is ready to share some of her adventures and thoughts on life with you.