Outdoor Prolink editorial intern Julia Ben-Asher is a Jersey/Pennsylvania native who semi-accidentally worked in Glacier National Park, Montana for the summer after college. She now lives in the adventureland of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where she works at the daily newspaper’s copy desk at night and during the day likes to ski, snowshoe, hike, bike, play volleyball, hammock, draw nature, teach toddlers skiing, and nap. Her 5-year plan includes international backpacking, the PCT and a puppy.
When you live in a land of adrenaline-filled, constantly modernizing extreme sports, it’s easy to underestimate how great the slower, steadier, more tortoise-like ways of recreating can be. Maybe it’s because alpine skis and snowboards are shinier and more fun for shops to display in windows, with their adrenaline-pumping pro events flashing on screens in every corner. Fancy skis and snowboards are more prone to wear, tear and upgrades to the next sleek model, meaning big dollar signs for the industry. Snowshoes, on the other hand, are mellower in nature and less high maintenance, and are all and all a quieter affair.
Snowshoes are better sports about hanging out in the less glamorous areas of stores and in your closet for years longer than other winter toys, but are always reliable and ready to go whenever they’re called upon for duty. Plus, all you need are some decent waterproof hiking boots and warm layers and you’re good to go.
I always underestimate the energy involved in the ‘mellow’ sport of snowshoeing. For me, at least, the body-tired after a day of downhill skiing is kindergarten compared with the bone-crushing exhaustion after snowshoeing. I usually only remember how much work snowshoeing is once I’m miles from the car.
In a recent adventure, we chose to snowshoe to Steamboat Hot Springs. We headed out and as I gazed around me, a magnificent panorama of sparkly valley and icy river in every direction. It was pristinly silent and clear except for my huffing and puffing and the subsequent breath-clouds. The hot sweat drips filling my jacket felt glorious against the chilly December air. Every snowshoed step sent up a tidal wave-shaped spray of powder, each flake still intact as they landed again.
The landscape was gorgeous. The boulders we trekked around wore perfectly rounded snowcaps. The evergreens, sometimes leaning on the boulders, had snow stacked carefully on each needle. The snow on the ground was shaped by the wind except for the tiny tracks of a bird or a darting woodland critter. Every glance around was even more precious, because it was the last day this trail was open until the spring, as to not disturb elk migration. I tried to smile but my lips were too frozen. It probably looked like a grimace.
We came to an old blue spruce off the side of the trail, its long ropes of leaves dripping outwards to form a hollow den. It looked like it could be a home for a pointy-hatted wizard. Absurdly enchanting. Squinting through the falling white as we got closer, though, something was terribly wrong. Midway up its solid trunk, lacerated two inches deep, a huge, grotesque heart shape had been stabbed into its face.
Without a word, both my snowshoeing friends stepped under the tree and laid their hands on the trunk, heads down. We decided to pause there and the tree blocked the wind for us as we drank soul-warming hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps. On on our way again, we nodded our thanks to the tree.
Soon, a wooden sign reminiscent of old-time carnivals announced we were close to Steamboat Hot Springs. Then the path narrowed with 30 feet of rocky cliff draped in icicles to one side and an iced-over brook on the other, and suddenly we were there, overlooking the promised land of a valley steaming with hot springs.
The hot springs are only a few miles from downtown, and, I think, are a major reason why Steamboat is such a successful area. Working at the newspaper and hearing the police radio discuss the ridiculously constant number of car crashes along the precarious road up, though, paired with how little I trust my silly frog-faced Buick, I don’t visit them as much as I’d like to.
But now, snowshoes piled on the banks, floating flat under a stunningly bright gray sky, the wonder of truly earning my presence here was overwhelming. As my face thawed out of its deadpan mask of cold, I grinned at how fantastic it is to slow it down for a day and be able to appreciate every step and every snowflake and every tree, noticing the details, that, had I been on skis, surely I would have zipped by without a thought.