Many popular winter sports in the mountains are expensive and require equipment, training and practice.
Snowshoeing is not one of them.
"If you can walk, you can snowshoe," says Sarah Stirt of the Breckenridge Nordic Center.
The privately-owned Nordic center offers one-, two- and three-hour guided snowshoe tours in and around the scenic and secluded lower areas on Peak 7, below the resort base area, offering newcomers to the High Country an opportunity to see and experience the mountains on their own terms and at their own pace.
Snowshoes diffuse their wearer's weight over a wider surface area, making it possible to tramp over feet of unpacked snow that would otherwise have been hardly more supportive than plain water. Thus, snowshoers can literally leave the beaten track and explore quieter trails and untouched powder stashes.
The experience tends to evoke the inner child, recalling the pure joy that once accompanied school cancellations and entire days spent playing in the snow.
Longer tours with the Breckenridge Nordic Center include the opportunity to learn to "yomp," - that first jump from a snowpacked trail into a snow drift - and to explore the Hallelujah hut, a historic Breckenridge cabin that was rescued and relocated to Peak 7 by the owners of the Breckenridge Nordic Center.
A snowshoe tour can be a vigorous workout punctuated by incredible views of the Continental Divide, local 14,000-foot peaks and the Ten Mile Range, or a laid-back family romp in the snow.
The hike can cover up to three miles, generally with some incline, but guides tailor the length, intensity and content of each private daytime trip to the individual needs and interests of the group.
In addition to being a walking, talking insurance policy against getting lost in what can be a confusing trail system, the guides are also full of interesting information about the forest and the Breckenridge area. While leading groups through the quiet lodge pole forests around Peak 7, guides may go over local ecology, geology, history, snow conditions, navigation and snowshoe techniques, while pointing out the tracks and evidence of local wildlife in the snow. There are few tours in Summit County that cover such a wide range of topics, from the mechanics of an avalanche to the wintertime activities of voles and mice.
The tour is also a great primer for non-skiers looking for an alternative activity that will allow them to be outdoors and enjoy the mountains while the rest of their group is on the slopes. Guides can go over basic trail markers, navigation and snowshoe techniques, preparing novices to make independent excursions later on.
Snowshoeing is also an ideal option for families who are looking to spend some time together after a few days of ski-school separation. The Breckenridge Nordic Center puts special emphasis on families and kids, with special snowshoes that will leave monster tracks in the snow, supplies for s'mores around a fire after a day out in the snow and a nearby sledding hill.
Stirt, a former kindergarten teacher, is the perfect guide for families with young children. With a warm personality and cute sense of humor, she'll entertain the smallest snowshoers with stories about the busy lives of Breckenridge beavers and the importance of the "grandfather and grandmother" trees to the forest.