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— Strapping on snowshoes at the bottom of Fish Creek Falls and beginning the ascent up the popular trail is an exercise in fun or is it fun exercise?

Climbing the switchbacks and tracking up a fresh layer of snow at the popular spot is as easy as hiking. You're just carrying your body up the hill on big, flat shoes. You get to enjoy the surrounding beauty and the brief escape from life, while the winter air bites at your cheeks and your body warms itself from the aerobic workout.

For the more adventurous, snowshoeing opens up new options for winter fun.

After climbing for a while, traverse into the thicker woods and then make a descent. Jump off rocks and land in the deep, white fluff (get to know up close how much snow really is on the ground). Then run and slide down to a creek, alternately floating on top of and driving through the snow. On the steeps, it feels like flying, or a controlled fall.

Snowshoeing is the most affordable, enjoyable and easy winter activity for someone who is interested in getting in the white stuff without depending on a chairlift. Snowshoes also are tools for anyone who wants to explore the backcountry.

Whether it's hiking on one of the many of trail systems in the Routt National Forest, or just going to the local park, all you need to snowshoe is, well, snow and snowshoes.

The most attractive thing about snowshoeing is that it is easy. There are no uncomfortable boots to wear, no cumbersome skis to manage and no technique to master.

It's also relatively inexpensive to do. Renting shoes for a day costs between $10 and $15 at local shops. If you want to buy your own, expect to spend between $120 and $260 for quality gear. High-end snowshoes have more sophisticated bindings and are more sturdy, making them more manageable and longer lasting.

You have snowshoes, warm clothes and the urge for a hike. So, where to go? Most popular trailheads in the summer, if accessible, are good for winter hiking. Here's a list of a few spots not too far away that are good places to strap on some shoes and go. Rabbit Ears Pass All trails on the west side of the pass have suggested motorized restrictions on them, so snowshoers probably won't encounter snowmobilers. There are nine trails in this area that include a short loop in the woods, longer loops and trails that will take you deep into the forest. Maps are available at the Forest Service office, 825 Weiss Drive in Steamboat Springs. Fish Creek Falls Just as in the summer, the falls are one of the most popular places to hike. At times, the trail is steep and the farther you go the less packed down it will be. Information is available about the area at the Forest Service office in Steamboat Springs. Buffalo Pass Trails here start at the Dry Lake campground. This is a great place to get into untracked portions of the woods and go on a snowshoe adventure. Be prepared to see some snowmobiles on the road and in open spaces. North Routt Pearl Lake, the backside of Hahn's Peak, Steamboat Lake and Columbine are all places reached from County Road 129 where you'll find trails to snowshoe on. Trails range from easy to difficult. The best thing about north Routt County is it's not crowded, like some other spots near Steamboat Springs. Stop into the Mountain Recreation Co. in Hahn's Peak Village for information on the area or try the Steamboat Lake State Park visitor center. South Routt Stagecoach Reservoir has open trails with great views that usually aren't that busy. Stop by the Stagecoach State Park visitor center for information. Also, national forest land in south Routt is wild, uninhabited and accessible. Stop by the U.S. Forest Service office in Yampa for information.

The first thing Ian Armstrong, a salesman at Ski Haus, asks someone interested in buying snowshoes is, "What are you going to do in them?"

For someone who wants to follow packed trails, like up at Fish Creek Falls, a smaller shoe is better. Someone who wants to cut his or her own tracks or plans to go on longer hikes should get a wider shoe for more support on the snow.

"You don't have to spend a lot of money when you buy," Armstrong said. "But as an investment, it is worth it. A good solid shoe will last forever."

Once you have the snowshoes, just put on your hiking or snow boots and go. Usually your favorite summer hiking trails are perfect places for snowshoeing.

As far as etiquette, snowshoers need to think about their tracks.

At the trails on Rabbit Ears Pass, for example, snowshoers should avoid the two-track trails made by cross-country skis. Karen Vail, of Yampatika, said snowshoes put holes in the snow, which make it difficult for cross-country skis to grip going uphill.

Ideally, a trail should have a snowshoe track and a cross-country ski track.

As usual for going into the woods in the winter, dress in warm layers and stay away from cotton. Waterproof pants and a ski coat are good, and pack an extra sweater or fleece vest just in case. Bring plenty of water, an energy bar or a piece of fruit and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from what can be blinding snow glare. Tell someone where you're going and take a friend with you, especially if it's going to be a long hike or an overnight trip.

Once you've got the gear, the directions and the know-how, all that's left is an exercise in fun.

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