I’ve never been a huge fan of winter. I grew up in Utah where we used to ride inner tubes pulled by ATV’s down the street and get whipped off jumps that we made from the snow banks (as a parent now, don’t even ask me how we survived). I was in the ski and snowboard club in high school when I moved to Vegas (yes, there’s skiing in Vegas). It didn’t matter, I still wasn’t a fan of being cold and would rather hang out by the fireplace with hot chocolate. I’m a summer person at heart. Every year when the first snow falls, my heart sinks as I wait for the world to come alive again in the spring. I end up battling a pretty bad case of the winter blues every year because of it.
I really don’t see myself strapping on a snowboard again after a serious accident that nearly broke my neck and landed me in spinal rehab for a while. I really don’t want to do it again. That limits any potential winter sports to sledding with the kids, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and snowshoeing. I tried snowshoeing once before when I was on a writing assignment in Steamboat, but I wasn’t impressed. And let’s face it, at the time I was more interested in the food and the hot tubs than being forced to go out in the snow.
But, thanks to writing Fresh Air Fort Collins I have to suck it up, load up my pockets with hand warmers and get out there. It wasn’t until our hunting trip and hiking through knee-deep snow that I thought about how much I’m probably going to enjoy this winter because of the blog.
Well, holy hell, was that a severe understatement. I went snowshoeing with a friend last weekend and it was absolutely incredible. It was one of those outdoor treks that left us grinning ear-to-ear afterward, completely full to the brim with fresh mountain air and pure joy. This was a real Rocky Mountain high and it lasted for a solid two days. I’m hooked for life!
Since we were both just getting into it, we don’t have our own set of snowshoes. No sweat! We stopped by Jax to get set up with rentals. This is a great way to test out any potential outdoor sports before spending a wad of cash on gear that you might not like after all. Rentals are very affordable and perfect if you have out-of-town guests visiting Colorado for the holidays and want to experience some outdoor awesomeness while they’re here.
I had the rest of the gear from our hunting trip – although I left my gaiters at home. Big mistake, but my feet survived just fine.
There’s not a whole lot of snow in the mountains until you drive into Upper Poudre Canyon and the Cameron Pass area. Cameron Pass is a popular area for both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and frankly, I think it’s the most beautiful part of Poudre Canyon.
We drove to the top of the pass and decided to try the Cameron Connection Trail on the north side of Highway 14. It’s at the main parking area that’s usually full of moose. You can’t miss it. There are more cross-country skiers than there are snowshoers, and there are a few backcountry skiers and snowboarders as well. It’s a pretty diverse area there around North Diamond Peak.
One this side of the highway it’s all backcountry work – no matter what sport you’re participating in. There are no groomed trails or packed snow. You’re hoofing it in deep powder, essentially following moose tracks through fir trees in the forest. It’s also in a potential avalanche area, so the higher you go, the more prepared you need to be with axes, beacons, and shovels. Because of this, we didn’t go far up and mostly followed highway 14. This trail takes you to the Zimmerman Lake parking lot, about 4.6 miles down the road.
Backcountry snowshoeing takes an incredible amount of effort. Many people assume that snowshoeing is pretty much like winter hiking. At least I did before getting into it. No, it’s not – at all. Backcountry snowshoeing takes a lot more effort than hiking, it’s a great hip and glute workout, it’s at a much slower pace, and you don’t get the same amount of milage. I was a little frustrated at first because I went into it with a hiking mindset. Once I changed my perspective and enjoyed it for what it is – a great way to slow your roll and take in the scenery – it became a completely different experience.
We decided to switch styles and try snowshoeing on the Michigan Ditch Trail directly across the road from the Cameron Connection Trail parking lot. This style is much easier since it’s on a packed, level trail with a very gradual incline. It’s pretty much snowshoeing on a forest service road and the risk of avalanche is lower with the exception of a few spots as you get closer to Thunder Mountain. This trail has better views of the Never Summer Mountain Range and the Nokhu Crags. It was still a workout, and there were plenty of times we had to stop so I could take off layers (and put them back on, and take them off again – it was ridiculous).
This area tends to get really windy as well and the Michigan Ditch Trail becomes a wind tunnel. At least it was this way for us. We kept going until we got to the cabins and turned around there since the weather was starting to turn a bit nasty. This is important to remember – the weather changes just as quickly in the winter as it does the summer, and you need to be prepared with good winter gear. If we had kept going, we would have made it to the Thunder Mountain Trail connection and we could have gone to Lake Agnes, which tends to be pretty prone to avalanches around the bowl.
When we got back to my truck, we were both worn out and completely blissed out. It was incredible. After a burger and beer at the Mish on the way back down, I don’t think we could have had a better day in the mountains. I really can’t wait to go snowshoeing again!
Cameron Connection Trail, Upper Poudre Canyon
One Way Length: 3 miles
Beginning Elevation: 10,249 ft
Peak Elevation: 10, 249 ft
Rating: Easy difficulty
Michigan Ditch Trail, Upper Poudre Canyon
One Way Length: 5.5 miles
Beginning Elevation: 10,249 ft
Peak Elevation: 11, 189 ft
Rating: Easy difficulty