You enjoy the snow, but you’re looking to try something new this year that’s a bit less intense than pulling nose grab tricks on your snowboard down a double-black diamond. With the lift lines getting ever-increasingly too expensive and the thought of the nearest mountains possibly hundreds of miles away, it’s no problem. There are other winter sports to enjoy in the snow that don’t involve a lift ticket, long lines or a large wad of cash. Try snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, which are becoming more and more popular by the year. No experience with these sports? No worries. It’s easier than it looks. Don’t give the excuse that you can’t do anything outside because it’s snowing. Here are two reasons to get outside and enjoy the white stuff.
There is a popular adage that says, “If you can walk, you can snowshoe.” As the fastest growing winter sport, North Americans are waking up to the idea that snowshoeing is a great way to enjoy great hiking out in the snow. In fact, some people enjoy it more than downhill skiing. It’s an easy concept. In its raw form, it’s like going for a hike in the snow by strapping giant flip-flops to your shoes. It’s not your image of wooden tennis rackets tied to the feet of reluctant snow hikers. But if you are looking for a workout and a peaceful day on a trail, this is your ticket. In regions where snow falls pretty regularly in the winter, most outdoor and sporting good stores will rent out snowshoes for a moderate price by the day or half-day. They are easy to put on and slip right on your hiking boots or tennis shoes. The basic concept is that wearing snowshoes increases the surface area of your feet, allowing you to walk on top of the snow, rather than sinking in and having a difficult time getting out. Therefore, the deeper the snow, the more their effectiveness and fun!
Find a good local trail or trail map, or do some research on the Internet for some great sports in or near where you live. After a good snowfall, grab your buddies and some snowshoes and hit the trail—or blaze your own. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon in the woods with friends. Even if it takes a few hours to drive to a good trail, it will be well worth your time. If you ever find yourself in the great state of Colorado in the wintertime, don’t miss the opportunity to try it out. My wife and I recently took a trip to Crested Butte, Colo., for the weekend and spent a morning snowshoeing on top of four to five feet of untouched snow. It was the epitome of a Colorado winter and a photographer’s dream.
If your buddies want to hit the slopes at the ski resort, but you prefer a lighter day, ask the ski shops where to rent snowshoes, and have them point you to a good local trail. It’s easier on your knees and on your wallet. If you enjoy snapping a few photographs, don’t forget to bring your camera along for some great pictures (black and white film adds a deeper dimension in the white fluffy stuff).
If you’re looking for more of a winter workout than snowshoeing, cross-country skiing might surprise you. Cross-country skiing (also called Nordic skiing) can be deceiving. It may look like a sport for wimps, but if you have ever tried it, you know that it is the best entire-body workout you will ever have (why do you think the NordicTrac was invented?).
Though it’s not as “intense” as downhill skiing, and you probably will never see it make the X-games highlight reel, cross-country skiers burn twice as much energy and calories as a downhiller will in a day. It works all the major muscles in the upper and lower body. So when you’re done with a day of XC skiing, you’ll probably be plenty sore, and you will no longer think it’s merely an activity for wimps. You have officially been warned. In fact, Newsweek claims that elite Nordic skiers are the champions of oxygen intake—even more so than marathon runners.
Nordic skis are longer and thinner, and the boots are pliable and not much different than high-top tennis shoes or hiking boots. Even the ski poles are much taller and more useful on the trail, making the activity more of a distant cousin to downhill skiing than most people realize. You can rent the proper equipment for about $10-$15 per day, and many places will offer short lessons for you to get the hang of the gliding motion. (If you get hooked, another benefit of cross-country skiing is that buying all the equipment is a fraction of the cost of downhill skiing equipment).
Make sure you find a trail that is relatively flat. Ascending up terrain on cross-country skis can be an even tougher workout, and going downhill on them is next to impossible. It’s greatest draw for people? It’s quiet, it’s peaceful, and it’s a great workout for a fraction of the cost than a day on the mountain at a ski resort. Check out www.xcski.org and www.scskiworld.com for more information on the sport.
Whether you are ’shoeing or XC skiing, make sure to dress in layers. Though you might be cold when you start on the trail, your body will warm up with your workout, and you’ll want to shed your layers. Don’t forget your sunscreen and sunglasses either. It’s surprisingly easy to get a sunburn out in the snow while working up a sweat.
After trying these winter sports, you’ll be wishing for more snowfalls and longer weekends in the deep stuff.
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