Snowshoeing: A winter way to boost fitness

When coach Steve Ilg talks about snowshoeing, his face radiates pure joy and his enthusiasm is contagious.

“One of my missions in life is to get more people out on snowshoes,” said Ilg, a personal trainer and creator of Wholistic Fitness. “There’s a mystical element to mountain snowshoeing that you can’t relate in words. I’m puzzled why more people aren’t out there doing it.”

Ilg says snowshoeing is invaluable as an off-season cross-training tool for runners, cyclists and triathletes.

“There is nothing like it,” he said. “It trains every biomechanical and physiologic system that instantly transfers over into other sports. There are many techniques and different workout patterns you can use to maximize the training effect.”

Durangoan Sandra Lee became a snowshoe enthusiast last winter after participating in the Vallecito Nordic Demo Days snowshoe clinic. A self-proclaimed outdoor girl, it seemed like the logical winter choice to supplement her hiking and ultimately got her into trail running.

“I was getting out every day,” Lee said. “I would go up Horse Gulch, the FLC Rim trail and even Animas Mountain. If I couldn’t sleep at night, I would put on my snowshoes and run alongside the railroad track. It was so cool – you’re practically the only one out there.”

Ilg thinks some people are confused about the equipment, assuming they need boots and poles.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “It’s as simple as throwing on your favorite pair of running shoes and stepping into the self-adjusting bindings.”

There are different snowshoe choices, depending on whether you prefer running on packed trails or plan a trek into the high country powder and trees.

“In the early 1980s, the technology began to get more refined and racing began,” Ilg said.

Within the last five years, the sport has grown considerably as evidenced by the many ski areas that have added snowshoe trails and the abundance of races that have sprung up.

Locally, snowshoeing is permitted on the Hillcrest Golf Club and Vallecito Nordic Club trails, and the Nordic Center at Purgatory has a course that winds through national forest lands.

Racing also is becoming more popular. On Feb. 9, the Nordic Center will host the third annual Winter Warrior Snowshoe Race with 10K and 5K distances and a Kids Snow Dash. Other events in the Rocky Mountain region are listed on the U.S. Snowboard Association website at www.snowshoeracing.com.

Ilg hopes to encourage more interest in snowshoeing through races and group training opportunities.

Lee credits Ilg for her introduction to the sport.

“The learning curve was quick,” she said. “The first time, I fell a few times, but then I got used to it. Coach Ilg taught me a lot about running up and down hills. That helped a lot.”

Rentals are available at the Nordic Center and local ski shops. Durango Mountain Resort regularly offers snowshoe tours, and Seniors Outdoors! has weekly snowshoe treks into the high country.

As winter bears down and the promise of snow becomes reality, outdoor enthusiasts can don a pair of snowshoes and take their fitness to the next level.

Reach Marjorie Brinton at runswim55@gmail.com.

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