Snowshoeing, Winter Hikes and Finding Inner Peace
By Susanna Nilsson
Last weekend, I snowshoed up the Loch Vale fire route with my friend Monica. In the summers, Monica lives in the park (no really, she’s a park ranger), but she kept telling me how lovely it is to see the world famous lakes and mountains in the winter. The deep powder muffling the noise of the activity around us. The meandering track marks left in the snow by rabbits, squirrels, birds and moose. Wild winds whipping around us as soon as we emerged from the trees to in take in the expansive peaks.
“I’m never up here in the winter and it is completely different, I love it!”. Along the trail, we made some John Muir quips, updated each other on our jobs, our boyfriends, and what we’re doing with our lives. But our longest discussion was how important our time in the wilderness was to us. How disconnecting from our technology and instead choosing to connect with nature was our sanctuary. Finding the peace that only comes with acknowledging the exact moment in which we are currently living. We considered ways that we can explore that peace and share it with others, and how that time can heal emotional wounds and free us from anxieties of our day to day lives.
Loch Vale, Rocky Mountain National Park, January 2017
In summers, outdoors-women seek wildflowers and enjoy camping in the warmer evenings and longer days. Hikes can often be a last minute decision. Just grab a layer, some water and a snack and you can go exploring. Winter hikes require more. More gear, more layers, more preparation. Maybe that is why we often decide not to seek our outdoor sanctuaries and instead choose to hunker down on the darker, colder days. We at the Betties don’t want anyone to have an excuse to not try to go outside! As we schedule our meetups, we see that many of the Betties are trying something new when they sign up to go snowshoeing. We love this! We love teaching, guiding and encouraging women as they earn the serenity that comes with ascending a mountain. We also see that many of you have everything you need, and are joining a particular meetup for the friends and female community – also great! We’ll see you at the top!
So let’s discuss winter hiking and snowshoeing. It’s obviously more difficult, right? How do you pick the right snowshoes and gear? How do I pick trails? What if there is avalanche danger? Great questions – let’s learn!
Gear brought on a Mt. Elbert winter ascent 2016
Snowshoeing – How do you do it?
Snowshoes are sized by weight. When you are selecting a shoe, you should think about not only your weight, but the weight of your gear, your pack, the water you are bringing etc. Additionally, you may need an extender for your shoe. This depends on the type of snow you are traveling. If you are traveling off trail on powdery cushions of new snow, you will likely sink more deeply into the snow (known as post-holing). Having more “float” on your shoe will you keep you on top of the snow. Most of the Bold Betties trips, we will be traveling on established trails, even the snowy ones, so it’s a good idea to choose the smallest snowshoe that will accommodate your weight.
The movement of snowshoeing requires that you take larger steps (especially uphill), and that your steps will be wider. It’s a good idea to warm up, stretch out your hip flexors, your quads and your hamstrings. When you do take breaks, it’s good to stretch a bit again. Other than that, it’s the same as walking.
You may also decide that you’d like to use poles. You can rent poles, or if you have trekking poles for hiking, you can buy snow baskets to keep the poles above the powder. Poles will assist with balance and can make traveling across slopes easier.
OK, got my shoes! What else do I bring?
We recommend a larger daypack for snowshoe hikes to accommodate the following gear:
(If you are planning on attending a Bold Betties Snowshoeing event, please use this as your packing list. It is IMPERATIVE that our betties come prepared! If you show up and don’t have the correct gear, we may not be able to take you with us up the mountain, as we adhere to Leave No Trace Principles).
- Insulated, waterproof boots
- Wool socks
- Gaitors (knee height) or waterproof snow pants
- Base layers (moisture-wicking and insulating)
- Insulating layers (polyester fleece and insulating down are good choices as they retain heat even when wet and are breathable)
- Outer layers (waterproof and beathable, yet windproof) Goretex, etc make good choices
- A buff or balaclava – where we go in the winter, it is WINDY and you need to protect your face
- Hat – wool or synthetic insulating is best you can also choose one with a brim to protect you from the sun
- Warm and insulating gloves or mittens to keep your hands warm and dry. You may also consider bringing hand warmers and liner gloves
- Sunglasses, sunscreen – UV rays can be intensified on the snow on our sunny CO days
- Water! 3 liters for a full day hike. A camelback tube may freeze, so bringing insulated water bottles is a good idea.
- Snacks, lunch, etc – it is important to fuel properly! Personally I like keeping a pack of Clifbar ShotBloks in my pocket and popping one in my mouth every hour or so, in addition to other snacks.
- Plastic baggies and toilet paper. If you need to go on the mountain, we pack it out!
- Non essential day trip items: camera, an insulated thermos with hot water or tea, post activity layers or change of clothes, headlamp, etc.
- If you have them, please bring utility knife, first aid kit, emergency kits, etc. Your Alpha should have these things, but extra items are always helpful!
- A positive attitude, a curious mind and your sense of self will be instrumental in helping you Discover Your Bold!
James Peak ascent on a bluebird day of snowshoeing - April 2016
How do I know where to go?
The great thing about snowshoeing, is that we usually pick regular hiking trails to snowshoe. This means you can hit your favorite trails year ‘round, but there are a few special considerations you should make.
In addition to checking the temperature, road and trail conditions and chance of storms (which we always check before we head out on any of our adventures, right? Right. Ok good), we should also look at wind reports and avalanche potential.
Here are some good resources for you to check conditions before you go:
CAIC (Colorado Avalanche Information Center) is a great resource to check after big storms and if you are planning on a steeper hike. For Bold Betties hikes, we will only embark on a trail that has low avalanche risk. If you have not had any training, we recommend only low risk conditions for you as well. REI and Wilderness Exchange often have free (!) courses that give you a great introduction to reviewing snow conditions and how to start assessing danger on individual trails.
For regular weather predictions, I like NOAA and Weather Underground, as they give you hourly updates and you can select fairly specific areas to track weather. Pay special attention to wind chill and speeds, as they can make a huge difference in your preparation and expectations for the hike.
I also recommend looking up your hike on the state park services to double check for any closures or restrictions.
Always let people know where you are going and hike with a buddy! Let your mind wander and be present in the journey out in the wild winters. Stop and enjoy the views, live a moment as presently as you can. For me, nature puts everything else into perspective and reminds me to live my life more fully, more openly and to be more engaged in all aspects of live. More vitality in my days makes more gear, more prep and more warm layers a worthwhile investment.