DENVER POST: We’re going to let you in on the secret about snowshoeing: It’s super easy.

Low-cost classes help get people onto snow-covered trails

EVERGREEN — Thighs and calves burned as we climbed straight uphill from Echo Lake, at about 10,000 feet elevation, off the road to Mount Evans. Everyone in our group of 11 was breathing hard. I looked around at the trees and flitting jays, which helped take my focus off my aching lungs and legs. This was sure better than working out on a machine at the gym, I thought.

The picturesque calorie burn was courtesy of REI’s “Introduction to Snowshoeing,” a two-hour, immersive crash course in snowshoeing skills, designed for people who want an informative, guide-led experience with proper equipment. Our snowshoes crunched atop the voluminous, slightly settled powder as we followed our guide, Kelsey Lane, 25. Lane grew up playing and exploring in Colorado and has been guiding with REI Adventures for a year.

After a fairly quick orientation, when Lane and her partners distributed gear and taught us how to strap in, we’d taken off, single file along the north edge of the lake. A biting wind blew snow across the frozen lake that collided with our cheeks, until Lane pointed us into the pines and uphill, on a trail to Chicago Lakes. Along the way, she shared tips about pole length, stride, and how to safely fall while wearing snowshoes.

We stopped to catch our breath, our bodies warm and our cheeks glowing — both from the physical exertion and the sheer happiness of being outdoors. The woman in front of me remarked how surprised she was that snowshoeing isn’t too technical. She thought it would require more intensive instruction than how to fasten the straps that keep the snowshoes on your boots.

“It’s just walking,” she said, sharing snowshoeing’s dirty little secret.

Indeed, we were just out walking in the woods — enjoying fresh alpine air, protected from the wind by the pines — aided by the expanded surface area strapped to our boots. It’s this lack of gear and logistics — not to mention lack of expensive lift tickets — that attracts many to snowshoeing as an alternative to skiing and snowboarding. Littleton resident Victor Peña and his wife, Kristen, had wanted to try snowshoeing for a while and were not disappointed by this first trek. Peña compared his first snowshoe experience to his normal sport of snowboarding.

“It’s a different sort of fun,” he said over instant coffee at the end of our hike. “You get to enjoy the scenery more.”

REI’s introductory class includes use of snowshoes, trekking poles and gaiters, which keep snow from settling inside your boots. Participants wear their own boots, layered clothing, hat and gloves.

If You Go

To book a class with REI, call 1-800-426-4840, or book on REI.com, or ask to see a class schedule at your local store. The company also offers snowshoe trips to Rocky Mountain National Park, a frozen waterfall ramble, moonlight tours, and women’s-only courses. Prices range from $5 to $169 per course, with discounts for REI co-op members.

Estes Park Mountain Park and Kirks Mountain Adventures offer guided snowshoe trips in Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding mountains. Pikes Peak Alpine School offers trips out of Colorado Springs. Breckenridge Nordic Center offers trips in Summit County.

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