The freedom of snowshoeing
It wraps across the northwest side of the summit, and provides a stellar view of the Tenmile and Gore ranges, as well as Dillon Reservoir.
But there’s a catch: The only way to get there is by walking on snowshoes.
Trotting across Summit County’s mellow, rolling hills is only one of the cool things about hitting the backcountry on snowshoes.
As winter’s answer to hiking, it opens up huge opportunities for fitness in the colder months that few other disciplines can match.
When snow conditions are right, snowshoes allow you to go virtually anywhere. They don’t require steep terrain to be fun, and they don’t necessarily require a trail.
There are a considerable number of options out there when it comes to buying snowshoes.
According to Monica Minogue, manager for Mountain Outfitters in Breckenridge, a lot depends on weight and simply the quality of shoe a customer wants.
Prices range from $120 to $300, and lengths range from 20 inches to 45 inches. There are also kids sizes.
“Twenty-five inches is pretty standard for guys and girls,” Minogue said.
An entry-level pair will suffice for anyone staying on packed trails, while a few dollars can go a long way toward longevity in the backcountry.
While Mountain Outfitters specializes in Atlas snowshoes, brands like Tubbs, MSR and Redfeather also make a reputable product.
Snowshoeing the summit of Swan Mountain is a backcountry excursion and should be treated as such.
An awareness of snow conditions, including avalanche theory, is useful and usually required.
But there are plenty of places to go that aren’t as difficult to prepare for.
Buffalo Cabin: This short hike begins at the top of Wildernest and goes a small distance through the woods before a brief climb to the remains of the Buffalo Cabin. Though the remains are usually buried deep under snow, the route is usually visible throughout the winter.
Mayflower Gulch: This summer hike off of Fremont Pass just south of Copper Mountain is a popular snowshoeing and cross country skiing trail in the winter. It is relatively short and opens up just above treeline into an amphitheater framed by several of the Tenmile Range’s southern thirteeners.
The Nordic centers: Any of Summit County’s Nordic centers are fantastic snowshoeing destinations, with specific trails set aside for them. Be careful not to snowshoe on the groomed Nordic skiing trails that are set aside for skiers. You can recognize these by the thin, parallel tracks that run along certain trails.
The ski resorts: Snowshoeing up into the county’s ski resorts is also a viable option. Just be sure to yield to skiers and snowboarders and stay to the side of trails. Also, all four ski resorts require that you hold a valid season pass or lift ticket. This allows you to take advantage of services like ski patrol assistance.
The backcountry: Many of Summit County’s smaller hills provide fantastic backcountry opportunities for snowshoers. Anywhere there’s snow is fair game, just beware that the backcountry is still the backcountry, even if you’re on level ground.
Take a map and compass and appropriate supplies, and be prepared for anything. You may encounter wildlife or small gullies that are capable of producing miniature avalanches. Don’t leave established routes until you’re ready to.
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