Snowshoeing provides exercise and fun to novices and experts

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 2 2011 5:00 p.m. MST

The thing about snowshoes is that there are now so many options. They're lighter and better-looking that ever — and they have bindings that are easy to use but very secure. When choosing snowshoes, you have to take into account several things — your weight (including pack), where you'll be trekking and what the conditions are.

Frankly, there are many snowshoes that will work for a variety of adventures. They even make snowshoes strictly for runners.

Poles aren't necessary, but Lee brought me a pair to borrow, and I found them to be incredibly helpful.

While Lee has very detailed instructions about how to get started, these questions are a good checklist for beginners.

1. What are you using them for: running, deep powder or hiking on a groomed trail or moderate snow pack?

2. Where do you want to go? Luckily, there are about a zillion trails within 10 minutes of any of the Wasatch Front suburbs. Lee's website offers a detailed description, complete with directions and indications about difficulty on hundreds of Utah trails.

3. Once you've chosen your destination, ask yourself how much you'll weigh with your winter clothes and pack. That will help you rent a shoe properly, which you can do at almost any local outdoor retailer.

4. With a trail in mind and shoes in hand, do you have the right provisions, such as water, snack or avalanche safety gear? While most groomed hiking trails are safe year-round, Lee suggests checking www.avalanche.org before any backcountry adventure.

"Every year, there are snowshoers killed in avalanches," she said. "You need to check to see what the avalanche danger is. You can find a lot of trails with low avalanche danger, but you should just be aware."

Lee gave us a two-minute lesson on hiking in snowshoes, which basically boiled down to this: Push on the ball of your foot. The crampons on the bottom of the shoe will do the real work.

Finally, it was time to hike.

Lee led us up Grizzly Gulch instead of the groomed track, which we did use near the top of our hike and periodically on the descent. I was glad to be in the shade as we made our way up the mountain and we started shedding layers immediately.

It was a glorious day. The sun was bright and warm, and the sky was blue and clear. We could see the haze hanging over the valley below, and we were very grateful to be above it.

We talked as we hiked, and in one quiet moment, I realized the action of hiking up the slope was something like the stair climbing machine at the gym — with one huge difference: I was sweating and breathing hard, and I was not looking for an excuse to be finished.

It took me only a few minutes to fall in love with the sport, but reaching the top — about 10,000 feet — cemented the deal. We ran into some backcountry skiers hiking up the other side of Alta. I have to say I was a bit jealous that they'd get to ski down the hill, while I had to walk.

But once Lee showed us how to run in the powder (leaning back with your arms out is the key to this ride), I wasn't craving my skis quite so much.

Lee acknowledged that a little information goes a long way when trying something new. That's one of the reasons she posts her book online for free.

"For people who are just getting started in the sport, having a destination is a big thing," she said.

Her guidebook gets you to any number of trailheads and then, in all honesty, it's up to the individual snowshoer to stick with the groomed trail or strike out on his or her own.

We meandered all over the mountain on our trek with Lee. We stopped to talk to backcountry skiers, as well as taking pictures of some young, extremely ambitious — they drove to the mountain, built a jump, slept in their car and returned to throw tricks off the jump and then hike back up the mountain — snowboarders and skiers.

The freedom of the snowshoe was almost as energizing as the scenery. Interestingly, despite riding and running almost every day, my legs were a little sore, albeit in a different way, from my usual workout.

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