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Colorado Basics: How to Snowshoe & Cross-Country Ski

Snowshoeing is sport that just about anyone can learn quickly (including children), and snowshoeing has the wonderful advantage of allowing you to access wintry, often untouched Colorado terrain, where it tends to be quiet and wildlife sightings are likely.

A Colorado snowshoeing trail cuts through fresh powder near Glenwood Springs
A Colorado snowshoeing trail cuts through fresh powder near Glenwood Springs
A groomed cross-country skiing trail near Glenwood Springs, CO
A groomed cross-country skiing trail near Glenwood Springs, CO


The idea of snowshoeing might call to mind images of cartoon characters strapping tennis rackets to their feet and trudging through vast piles of snow. In reality, snowshoeing is basically hiking on snow-covered trails, with the use of basic, specialized gear to help distribute your weight atop of the snow.


Cross-country skiing distinguishes itself from its slightly flashier cousin downhill skiing in a few ways. Cross-country skiing usually takes place over gentler terrain (although you can certainly glide down hills on cross-country skis as you encounter them), and the effort requires the coordinated movement of skis and poles to propel you across the snow on rolling, flat or uphill terrain.

Cross-country skiing has similar advantages as snowshoeing: access to pristine, snow-covered scenery, tranquil trails and a great cardiovascular workout.


Step 1: Select a location for your snowshoeing or cross-country skiing adventure. See below for options and ideas.

Step 2: Find a nearby shop to rent or buy the gear you’ll need. Ski and snowboard rental shops and outdoor gear retailers are the best places to inquire about snowshoe and cross-country ski rentals. Here is a list of gear you will need to bring, buy or rent:

• Snowshoes or cross-country skis
• Ski/trekking poles
• Ski boots (for cross-country skiing) or waterproof hiking boots (for snowshoeing; rental shops often have boots available, though your own may be more comfortable)
• Gaiters (these wrap around the top of your boot and the bottom of your pants to keep snow out)
• Wool or synthetic-blend socks (not cotton)
• Layers of clothing: thermal underwear (tops and bottoms), breathable long-sleeved shirt or fleece jacket, waterproof jacket or shell and snowpants
• Waterproof gloves
• Warm ski cap
• Polarized sunglasses or goggles
• CamelBak or other water system
• Daypack with extra socks, sunscreen, first-aid kit, camera and snacks

Step 3: Depending on the location you’ve selected (see below), consult the rental shop, Nordic center or visitor center for advice on trails that are appropriate for your experience level. Some will even have trail maps you can carry with you. Then, simply gear up and head out on the trail of your choosing.

Step 4: Give yourself time to get into the groove. On showshoes, you’ll feel a bit like an awkward Bigfoot at first, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it. On cross-country skis, expect some huffing and puffing to start, but it won’t take long before you find a rhythm, as you kick, stride and glide across the snow. A lesson may help you make the most of your cross-country ski experience.

Where to Snowshoe & Cross-Country Ski in Colorado

Nordic Centers
Many of Colorado’s ski areas and resorts have designated areas for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, which are a great way to get started on a well-marked and maintained network of trails. Read Colorado Nordic Centers: Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing for suggestions and for links to more information.

State & National Parks
The visitor centers at state and national parks across the state will be able to answer your questions about where snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are allowed and where the best trails are located. For starters, read our list of 5 Colorado State Parks Perfect for Winter

Ranches & Tour Locations
Guest and dude ranches and private tour guides offer access to a range of scenic terrain. Check out the members of the Colorado Cross Country Ski Association for a complete selection.  

Photos: Courtesy of Jack Affleck/Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.