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Durango Nordic Center in Colorado offers gear and groomed trails for snowshoers

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Editor's note: This is the first installment of a new series The Daily Times is launching thathighlights popular outdoor activities that anyone from a novice to an expert — can try out. Stories will publish on the last Thursday of the month this year. If you have a story idea, email City Editor Maggie Wegrzyn at mwegrzyn@daily-times.com.

DURANGO, COLO. — About six years ago, Sara Stover participated in a guided moonlight snowshoe hike while visiting Durango, Colo.

"The moonlight kind of lit everything up," the resident of Flower Mound, Texas, recalled last week during another visit to Colorado.

That moment, she said, got her hooked on snowshoeing.

Many nature lovers already know what Stover has discovered: with the right gear, snowshoeing can be a fun winter activity, particularly for hiking enthusiasts. Using platforms that strap onto regular boots, snowshoers can walk for miles without sinking far into deep snow.

On Friday, Stover strapped on her snowshoes and headed down a trail at the Durango Nordic Center. The center, located nearly 9,000 feet above sea level, has a snowshoe trail starting at its office next to Twilight Lake. The trail cuts through forests and provides views of Twilight Peak.

Because the center charges trail fees, many snowshoers prefer to hike on surrounding public lands, said Cindy Dunbar, a volunteer at the center.

However, for beginners or people who want to try out groomed trails, the center can be an attractive spot. It also hosts the annual Winter Warrior 10K, a snowshoe race along the same course Stover hiked on Friday.

The annual race will take place on Saturday, and center director Helen Low is already watching the weather. If it snows the night before the race, she said, she will be out on the course at 4 a.m. to pack down the fresh powder.

But if the weather remains clear, the trail will already be packed down, partially because of visitors like Donna and Barry Salmonsen, who rented snowshoes to hike at the center on Friday.

The Texas couple said they often visit Durango in the summer, but chose to vacation in the winter this year. Barry Salmonsen has snowshoed in the past, but Friday was his wife’s first time.

“It was awesome,” Donna Salmonsen said as she returned her snowshoes. “We pretty much had the place to ourselves. Very quiet. Very pristine beauty.”

She said she had always wanted to try snowshoeing.

“Skiing petrifies me, so snowshoeing is more my speed,” she said.

While there's certainly a contingent of people who opt for snowshoeing over winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, that's not always the case. Stover, for example, is also an avid skier. She said she has found herself transitioning to snowshoeing because it is easier on her knees.

“It’s really not very difficult when you compare it to downhill skiing,” she said. “I actually think you have to want to fall.”

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

Equipment

To snowshoe, the only necessary equipment is a pair of snowshoes, which can be rented for $12 at the Durango Nordic Center.

"They’re very easy to use," said Cindy Dunbar, a volunteer at the center as she demonstrated how to use them.

The one-size-fits-all snowshoes the center offers have a part that swivels every time the person wearing them steps down, which helps the claws dig into the snow. The snowshoes can also be fitted with extensions to help break a trail or with heal lifters for hill climbing.

People who plan on snowshoeing for a longer period should bring a snack and wear sunglasses to shield their eyes from the sunlight reflecting off the snow, according to center director Helen Low.

Low said some people opt to use ski poles, while others do not. Sara Stover, who has been snowshoeing for about six years, prefers the poles because they help with balance.

"We learned to do it with hiking,” she said. "And it makes sense to do it with snowshoes too."

Tips for beginners

  • "Especially at this elevation, a drink is important." — Helen Low, director of Durango Nordic Center
  • "Wear comfortable clothes, don’t overdress. … It’s so easy to overdress in these winter sports." — Cindy Dunbar, volunteer at Durango Nordic Center
  • "Go slow and you can go a long distance."  — Barry Salmonsen, snowshoer 
  • "It helps to be a little bit in shape and drink plenty of water." — Donna Salmonsen, snowshoer
  • "Get out there. If you can walk you can snowshoe." — Low

Three more places to snowshoe

Molas Pass and Andrews Lake: Located between Durango and Silverton on U.S. Highway 550, the pass offers a variety of trails. The Andrews Lake trail just south of the pass is a popular place to go snowshoeing.  

Haviland Lake: About 18 miles north of Durango off of U.S. Highway 550, this area has easy, ungroomed trails.

Cascade Creek: About 30 miles north of Durango, U.S. Highway 550 curves sharply. On one side of the highway, there is a small parking area at the trail head to Cascade Creek. 

If you go

What: Winter Warrior 10k

When: 9 a.m. Saturday

Where: Durango Nordic Center across from Durango Mountain Resort on U.S. Highway 550

More info and registration: Go to winterwarrior10k.com.

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