I pause and look behind me, expecting someone to appear. I swear I heard footsteps coming up on me. I continue on and realize the sound comes from me. Or, more precisely, from the snowshoes I am wearing. With each step, the tails of the snowshoes whap the snow, creating a muffled sound easily mistaken for human footsteps.
I pause again and listen to the silence and realize it isn’t all that quiet. The trees creak above as the tallest trees sway back and forth. The wind is howling up there and whistling through the upper branches. Down at ground level where I stand amongst the trees, the wind is hardly noticeable.
Piles of snow weigh down the lower branches, proof that the wind is minimal closer to the ground. Such is the wonder of both the Nordic ski trails and the multi-use trails at the Happy Jack Recreation Area. Wind can be strong enough in the parking lots to sweep children off their feet but, once in the trees, it is often calm and only slightly breezy.
Before this past month, I had not gone snowshoeing in several years. Last time was for a snowshoe race at the Wyoming Winter Senior Olympics. I didn’t get that much pleasure in picking up the pace and actually running in huge webbed feet. After that, I decided to leave the snowshoe racing to others. Truth is, I prefer skiing and choose to slide down a slope instead of walking.
I opted to dig out the snowshoes this season due to necessity. Because of recent rotator cuff surgery, I can’t ski. While I can likely maintain the skiing motion, I am under doctor’s orders to stay upright; I can’t fall. Most importantly, I can’t fall on my injured shoulder for fear the impact might rip out the still-healing repair job.
I rarely fall when Nordic skiing but I do take a tumble from time to time. I decided I couldn’t take the risk so I’ve stayed off the skis. In previous winters I typically hit the trails at Happy Jack a couple days a week so it’s been a long winter indoors.
The snow is calling, though, so I decided to give snowshoeing a try again as a safer travel mode. I’ve been pedaling a bike that goes nowhere at the Laramie Recreation Center through the winter but couldn’t take it anymore; I had to get outside in the snow.
I can see the attraction of snowshoeing. Basically if you can walk, you can snowshoe. Go fast, go slow; the choice is yours. There’s really not much to learn aside from taking a slightly wider gait to keep from tripping yourself.
On my first outing, six inches of light fluffy snow blanketed the trails and I was the first one breaking trail. It was truly lovely. I went off into the trees a couple times and sunk up to my knees even with the snowshoes. Sticking to the trail path with the packed base beneath the new fluff was the way to go.
I worked up a good sweat in no time. The beauty of the Happy Jack trails is that if you start at either the Happy Jack or Tie City trailheads, you go uphill to start. What goes up comes down, so the route is much easier on the return loop.
I enjoyed it so much, I grabbed the ‘shoes a week later and headed back out. This time there was four inches of snow overnight. Upon my arrival at the Happy Jack trailhead, I saw a snowshoe runner coming back in from the trails. The runner was Greg Schabron, Laramie High School track coach. He told me he enjoys snowshoe running as a change of pace in the winter. I told him I prefer a more leisurely pace but we both agreed that whatever the speed, snowshoeing is a great winter option to get outside.
Spring arrives next week but we all know that spring in these parts is mostly an extension of winter with brief bouts of faux spring. If you don’t ski but cabin fever is ready to drive you nuts, rent or borrow a pair of snowshoes. They offer uncomplicated outdoor outings with a great workout and a chance to breathe in the cool air.
Bigger ‘shoes are needed for larger people, those carrying a heavy pack, or for those going off trail into the fluff. Smaller versions work great if you travel light and stick to trails with a packed base. I prefer using poles but others opt to go without or use just one; it is a personal preference. Boots that keep you warm and dry are important, as are layers of clothing to put on and take off as conditions dictate. Carry some water and a snack and you’re all set. Just get out there and enjoy yourself since we still have a while to go before the grass turns green and the flowers appear.