A Really Big Shoe
by Elisa Bosleysnow.jpg "I feel like I'm wearing mommy's shoes!" laughed one woman as we took our first tentative steps up the trail, high in Colorado's Vail Valley. True, snowshoes at first made me feel like a wobbly toddler; but once I stopped concentrating on my feet, within minutes I was completely converted to this fun and easy form of exercise.

Snowshoeing has existed for centuries, but only recently has walking on (frozen) water become recreational rather than strictly functional. Gone are the oversized, racket-shaped contraptions favored by pioneers; today's snowshoes are lightweight, aluminum and strap easily onto regular hiking boots. "Quite literally, if you can walk, you can snowshoe," writes Claire Walter, author of Snowshoeing Colorado (Fulcrum Publishing). "The learning curve is minimal, the pleasures are virtually instant, and the chances for injury are far less than for most other outdoor activities." It's also an excellent workout: With snow resistance and the extra shoe weight, you burn 50 percent more calories snowshoeing than walking at the same speed.

Snow-area resorts are jumping on the trail. Many now offer snowshoe hikes alongside exercise classes. "We're always looking for ways to promote wellness using the elements of the seasons," says Ashley Lewis, spa director at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in Edwards, Colo. "With our long winter, snowshoeing is a perfect fit."

"It's great exercise, and it leaves no trace," adds Dave "Bigfoot" Felkley, who leads snowshoe tours near Nederland, Colo. One cloudless February day, a friend and I followed Felkley through a white landscape of snow-laden evergreens, with delicate animal tracks dotting the snow. Often, he stopped to point out beautiful wind-carved snow sculptures or lacy frost patterns beneath frozen waterways or to recount bits of local mining lore. The sky was a dazzling blue; he whistled at flying chickadees and they chattered excitedly in response. There was no other sound save the crunch of snow beneath our big feet, and the toddler in me was happy to be walking.

For more information about the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, call 800-877-3529 (www.cordillera-vail.com); for Bigfoot Snowshoe Tours, call 303-258-3157.

Photography by: Carl Schneider/FPG