The human foot is poorly designed for travel through deep snow. Just ask anyone who has spent a frustrating afternoon plunging through waist-high powder.
Inspired by Mother Nature’s best adaptations, such as the snowshoe hare’s oversized hind feet, humankind developed the first snowshoes roughly 6,000 years ago, and we’ve been merrily making our oversized tracks in the snow ever since.
Snowshoes not only open up a vast world of wintery wonders, they are a great way to get a solid workout in the process.
Types of snowshoes
Most modern snowshoes consist of a metal or plastic frame that has a tough decking material and flexible foot binding with a crampon (or claws) on the bottom. Traditional snowshoes were made from wooden oval frames with crosshatch bracings. As shoes evolved to be faster and lighter, a teardrop shape with an extended tail allowed for greater maneuverability for hunters and fur trappers. Adding in high-strength components and metal frames allowed snowshoes to be mass produced (though perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing as the classic wooden shoe).
Nowadays, snowshoes are categorized roughly by four main types: racing, recreational, backcountry and expedition. Racing snowshoes are smaller shoes specialized for running on pre-packed courses. The foot bindings are very light or non-existent; highend racing snowshoes will bolt directly into a special racing boot. The most common snowshoe is the recreational variety, designed to perform well both on and off the trail. Hikers select their snowshoes based on their weight (pack and gear included, of course) and what type of binding system they prefer. Recreational shoes are great for most types of Colorado adventures. Backcountry snowshoes are similar to recreational shoes but employ more aggressive spiked cleats and contoured designs (for example, a teardrop-shaped shoe will be less obtrusive through tight woods and allow for a natural stride). Finally, expedition snowshoes are mammoth pieces of footwear that almost always oval-shaped for maximum float. They are made to be ultra durable, tough and ready to be worn into the deepest parts of the backcountry while carrying heavy pack weight.
What shoe to get depends on your outdoor goals. Obviously, racing shoes are specialized for just that. For on-trail adventures with the occasional off-trail excursion or hut trip, recreational shoes will be just fine. Backcountry shoes are just as good for the terrain recreational shoes cover, but also excel at steeper climbs and more arduous outings (they are also usually more expensive). Expedition shoes are great if you want to spend a month in the woods tracking the Yeti.
One feature of snowshoes worth looking into is fixed versus rotating bindings. A rotating binding allows the shoe to hang on an axle, meaning you will be able to step more naturally but sacrifice some control and maneuverability. A fixed binding is more secure on the foot for more control but has the side effect of throwing a lot of snow up on your backside and pack when you are hiking. Poles are a good investment for snowshoe enthusiasts, not only for balance but to check snow depth. You don’t need super-fancy poles but optional snow baskets on the end of your poles can be helpful. Finally, if you’re going into avalanche terrain, an avalanche beacon (and knowledge on how to use it) is a good idea.
Go local with Crescent Moon Snowshoes.
If you are in the market for great snowshoes and want to buy locally, check out Crescent Moon Snowshoes, which are handmade right here in Boulder. Co-founder and president Jake Thamm has taken his passion for adventure and used his insights to engineer some of the highest quality shoes on the market. Crescent Moon snowshoes have arguably the most secure, ergonomic and easy-to-use foot bindings of any brand available. Add to that they are tough, stylish and come with a great warranty. Crescent Moon snowshoes are available at most major outdoors stores, or you can visit them online at www.crescentmoonsnowshoes.com.
Where to go
The Boulder area has tons of fantastic snowshoeing opportunities within an hour of town. The Hessie Trailhead out of the little town of Eldora and Moffat Tunnel out of Rollinsville are great options. Lost Lake from Hessie is a classic destination that is good for all experience levels. The Brainard Lake area is also chock full of trails, though recent dog regulations might put a damper on your day out if you want to bring along Rover. Twin Sisters Peaks out of Estes Park are 11,000-foot-plus summits that are mostly in tree line if you want to snowshoe up to a summit. And one more: Herman Gulch off of I-70 just east of the Loveland Pass exit is a beautiful area that quickly gets away from the rush of traffic and offers great mountain views and the frozen allure of Herman Lake.