RMNP snowshoers explore hidden winter ecology | SummitDaily.com

RMNP snowshoers explore hidden winter ecology

PAMELA DICKMAN
(Loveland) Reporter-Herald

** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS APRIL 4-5 ** With Hallett Peak soaring in the background, Park Ranger Don Stewart, left, talks with a group of snowshoers about tips to improve your snowshoeing experience in this photograph taken on March 4, 2009, during a "Snowshoe Ecology Walk" near Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. (AP Photo/Loveland Reporter-Herald, Christopher Stark)

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK ” Driving up the Big Thompson Canyon on a weekday morning last month, the only snow visible was in the mountains looming to the west. But when you reach those mountains, areas boast 4 feet to 5 feet of the white stuff, plenty for a quiet day of snowshoeing.

“If you can walk, you can snowshoe,” said Don Stewart, a ranger and snowshoe guide at Rocky Mountain National Park.

“It’s not that much technique like cross-country skiing. It’s inexpensive too. When lift tickets are $92, it’s a nice alternative.”

Many summer hiking trails turn to snowshoe paradise during the winter, offering different difficulty levels and varying views.

Take Rocky Mountain National Park or the Poudre Canyon or even Hermit Park; all are open to snowshoers until the snow melts into summer recreation.

Often, it is easier to follow drainage paths than established summer trails because, when snowshoeing, you are a good 5 feet higher up and may run into trees and other snags.

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Phebe Novic, whose company offers guided snowshoe tours around Estes Park, loves to take people off trail.

“You can go to places you don’t see a lot in the summer,” she said. “We’ve discovered ponds completely off the normal route, in fact, they’re off the normal snowshoe route.

“Anybody who loves to hike is going to really love snowshoeing.”

High up in the Poudre Canyon, near Cameron Pass, trails are packed each weekend with snowshoers and cross-country skiers. So are trails at Rocky Mountain National Park.

“The park has great charm in all of its seasons,” said Stewart.

On a recent weekday, he led beginning snowshoers along a path to Bear Lake and Nymph Lake ” two of the 147 lakes in the national park.

The air was cool and crisp, the sun warm and nature nearly silent.

So silent and so white was a snowshoe hare sitting still near a tree that many of the snowshoers had to look two or three times before they spotted the critter by focusing on its eyes.

The hares blend into the snow to mask them from predators.

Other creatures such as mice and voles also remain active in the winter, Stewart said.

The path to Bear Lake offers scenic views of Hallett Peak and Longs Peak, frozen lakes, and in one resting spot, looks out onto the scene that inspired the Colorado quarter.

The crowd stopped to rest and take in the view, a line of snowshoes in different styles, designed for people with different abilities or different needs.

Snowshoes date to the shoe ski created in Central Asia in 4000 B.C. and have morphed throughout history.

American Indians used latticed wood snowshoes, as did French trappers, to traverse Colorado and other states in the depths of winter.

More than 30 years ago, snowshoes made from synthetic materials came onto the scene ” predecessors of the different styles people use today.

“They’ve come a long way,” Stewart said. “The fun of being able to float around and be on top of the snow is the same.”

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On the Net:

Rocky Mountain National Park: http://www.nps.gov/romo/