“The days are short; The sun a spark; Hung thin between; The dark and dark.” —John Updike
Winter is my favorite season of the year: playtime. As a kid it was all about sledding, tubing, skating, snowball forts and fights. As an adult it’s about skiing, snowshoeing and hiking on snow-covered trails.
There’s nothing I enjoy more than layering up and getting outdoors in the winter, especially if there is a freshly fallen layer of snow. The sound of snow cracking under your boots on a frigid morning is music to my ears. More, I love making first tracks. On a morning after a new snow, I’m up and out early to make fresh tracks in my skis, snowshoes or hiking boots.
Morning light on a recent snowshoe trip near Fort Collins, Colorado. All images: Rich Van Antwerp
The up an out early started with me as a child. Growing up in New Jersey we spent most of our winter vacations and weekends either in Lake Placid, NY or Manchester, VT. Each morning my parents would make it a race to the lodge to get a front row parking spot and make sure we were one of the first to be waiting in line for the lifts to open. By mid afternoon we were off the mountain and off to another outdoor activity.
Now in my 50’s, I still rush out early like a kid on a winter morning and if it’s not to get in a lift line, it’s to get out on the trail.
Fortunately I have access to some great trails close to home. From my house I can walk to a city park that has miles of trails that traverse heavily wooded ravines and moderate hills. Within a short drive I can get to several county parks and nature preserves that offer some great multi-use and hiking only trail loops. All these trails are great for snowshoeing as well, but I tend to do most of my snowshoeing right out my front door and across the street to a golf course that allows me the opportunity to really make fresh tracks every time I head out.
Shorter days with less daylight don’t hinder my outdoor activities. You’ll quite often find me out on a trek with my headlamp during the evening especially if it’s snowing. Hiking or snowshoeing at night is spectacular. It’s so quiet you can hear the flakes hitting the ground and I just love seeing the glow of the reflection from the eyes of our local deer from my headlamp. They are so active at night and since they feel safer they are in much closer proximity to the trail.
Dogs Love Snow
Bode the dog and Rich on the trail.
On my daily hikes I take along my trusted sidekick Bode. Bode is an American Eskimo we got from a rescue and he just loves hitting the trail with me and as I found out his first winter he just loves the snow. He’s not off leash yet, but as he continues to learn I’m looking forward to letting him make his own fresh tracks.
Hiking in the winter offers a new set of challenges. With heavily used trails, the snow gets packed down and as warmer afternoons turn to below freezing nights the trails around me turn pretty slick by morning. And, instead of a fairly flat trail, boot and snowshoe indentations produce a rather uneven and tricky path.
As I often do, I routinely choose my footwear based on the expected trail conditions. For slick but even footing I my Switchbacks with the grip of their Granite Peak outsoles. For uneven footing I want good ankle support and choose my Yellowstones or Wind Rivers that give me the peace of mind of sturdy ankle support and full traction from sidewall lugs.
For many, winter means abandoning outdoor activities and fighting for more time with the crowds on your favorite machine at the gym. For others it’s a season of hibernation and spending more time on the couch. Don’t let the temperatures get the best of you. Layer up and get outdoors and play. You might just feel like a kid again.