It’s the middle of a chilly February. At the edge of picturesque Vail Village in Colorado, bundled tourists snake in lines at the base of Vail Mountain. Gondola 18, carrying hundreds of eager skiers and snowboarders, jerks and tugs with each cabin’s arrival. Every few minutes, another skier links to the back of the line. Most have been waiting in line 30 minutes.
This is skiing in one of the world’s premier ski towns. If you come early with your own gear, you’re likely to catch a gondola ride without much fuss; you’ll spend most of your time on pristine white runs, weaving between peaks. Uninitiated skiers, however, often amble up midday after spending the morning securing their skis and boots. Then there’s the painful lift tickets — easily over $100 for a day’s worth of skiing — an excruciating wait for the gondola, and frenzied mountain activity with hundreds of ski aficionados zigzagging between wobbling newbies.
Doesn’t really make for the best winter adventure, does it?
If you’re hankering for a taste of the outdoors in Colorado’s awe-inspiring backyard, then consider scrapping the skis and finding yourself a pair of snow shoes instead. Not only is there prime snowshoeing in and around Vail, but the equipment is cheap to rent and access to the gentle slopes and open plains of snow is very inexpensive — sometimes even free.
What’s more, the measured pace of snowshoeing gives you more opportunity to soak in the majesty of Colorado’s wintertime vistas — something speedy downhill skiing doesn’t afford.
Vail Snowshoeing: Rent your shoes
If you need a pair of snow shoes, you’ll find plenty of rental spots in Vail Village. Many of these places also cater to skiers and snowboarders, though, so it’s recommended you get your shoes early; this ensures you aren’t competing with hundreds of other tourists just to get a simple pair of snowshoes.
Expect to pay $15-20 for a full day’s rental. If you’re new to snowshoeing, don’t just go for a half day; you want time to enjoy your trek and return well before you need to return your shoes.
Find your snowshoeing domain
If you’re looking to explore the Vail area for free, head up I-70 toward Meadow Mountain. Offering a combination of open plains and gentle slopes that lead into an aspen and evergreen forest, this destination is perhaps the best for those wanting to avoid the crowds.
Vail Nordic Center in East Vail is a more accessible option. With more than five miles of trails, it’s a great way to experience a moderate snowshoeing expedition while also being close enough to Vail amenities to begin or end your adventure with a meal, notably at the Grill on the Gore restaurant. Also, Vail Nordic Center offers snowshoe rental onsite.
A touch further away, at Beaver Creek Resort, is McCoy Park, offering more than 20 miles of snowshoeing terrain. Not only are trails groomed — making your ‘shoeing easier — but open glades, aspens, and towering evergreens make for a breathtaking backdrop.
Vail Snowshoeing tips for beginners
While “walking” in the snow may seem like it requires little preparation, you’d be surprised to learn how much dexterity and practice is required to make the most of your snowshoes — and the terrain. To get you started on the right foot, study these tips from seasoned experts:
- Consider taking a class before your first trek. Vail and Beaver Creek both offer classes, though your best bet is likely the Vail Nordic Center. If you want to take a class before heading to the mountains, several REI locations offer snowshoeing courses for free.
- Stretch before you ‘shoe.’ Make sure your muscles are warmed up to ensure you don’t pull anything or suffer undue fatigue. If you’re stiff, not only will your journey through the snow be uncomfortable, but you increase the chances of suffering an injury.
- Use poles. As part of your rental, you can get poles. These will help with maintaining momentum and, more importantly, balance. Getting a pair before your first venture into the snowshoeing world is advisable.
- Don’t head off trail. It may be tempting to explore the depths of the forest or a dramatic ravine, but resist the temptation. These areas have not been vetted by rangers or trail keepers; if you go too far afield, you may end up injured.
- Dress warmly. It may seem obvious, but dress for the cold — even if it doesn’t seem all that nippy out. After 20-30 minutes in the open air, you’ll begin to feel it. Also, make sure you use flexible but warm gloves as you’ll be using your hands to guide your poles.
- Adhere to posted signs. Those who maintain snowshoeing trails post signs for a reason — largely to ensure your safety and the safety of the wildlife in the area. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re optional.
For more information about Vail snowshoeing, visit the Vail Resort website.