Elaine Sturges, a naturalist with Yampatika, points out lichen to a group of snowshoers on the Uranium Mine trail near Fish Creek Canyon. Group tours are an ideal way for beginners to safely learn snowshoeing basics while learning about their natural surroundings.

Tamera Manzanares

Elaine Sturges, a naturalist with Yampatika, points out lichen to a group of snowshoers on the Uranium Mine trail near Fish Creek Canyon. Group tours are an ideal way for beginners to safely learn snowshoeing basics while learning about their natural surroundings.

Aging Well: Snowshoeing gets heart, spirit pumping

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Snowshoe tours and trails

• Yampatika: Snowshoe tours and excursions, call 871-9151 or visit www.yampatika.org...>

• Steamboat Ski Touring Center: Snowshoe trails, call 879-8180 or visit www.nordicski.net...>

• Steamboat Resort: Snowshoe tours on Mt. Werner call 800-922-2722 or visit www.steamboat.com...>

• Rocky Mountain Ventures: Snowshoe tours, call 870-8440 or visit www.rmclimbing.co...>

• Colorado State Parks: Snowshoe trails, visit parks.state.co.us.

• U.S. Forest Service: Maps and trail information, stop by 925 Weiss Dr. in Steamboat Springs or call 879-1870.

• The Over the Hill Gang is a local club of active adults 50 and older who enjoy winter and summer activities together. For membership information, visit yampavalley.info.

The sun is shining, and the snow is fresh. It's the perfect day to snowshoe up the Uranium Mine trail near Fish Creek Falls.

Yampatika naturalist Elaine Sturges is leading a group of mostly out-of-town visitors on a snowshoe tour where, in between steady tromps up the lightly packed trail, they learn about birds, weasels, rabbits and watersheds.

It's not an easy hike, but hikers from sea-level climes in Texas, Florida and Hawaii are taking it slow, peeling off layers and enjoying pristine views of the Flattops during frequent breaks.

Snowshoeing is easy to learn, great exercise, affordable and easily adapted to many fitness levels, making it a popular sport among people of all ages but particularly older adults, who may be looking for a safer alternative to skiing or just a new way to experience the outdoors.

"If you really like seeing animals and tracks and identifying trees : snowshoeing offers a little slower pace," Sturges said, noting the numerous birds and animals she's seen, including a dusky shrew, which scuttled right across her snowshoes.

These rewarding experiences are as easy as strapping on a pair of snowshoes, which can be purchased or rented, and heading to one of many nearby trails.

"It's amazing to me how quickly people pick it up : it's just walking with oversized shoes on - it's really pretty easy," Sturges said.

In addition to the joys of getting outside, snowshoeing offers low-impact cardiovascular and endurance training, which meets many fitness goals depending on the steepness of terrain, condition of snow, as well as a person's pace and body size.

Based on these factors, a person can burn about 400 to 1,000 calories per hour of snowshoeing, according to varying estimates.

Pamela Turner, a physical therapist in Steamboat Springs, notes that snow cushions the snowshoes, making the activity easier on the joints and a good cross-training activity for runners or hikers.

Meme Mastoras, 70, a longtime Alpine skier, has been snowshoeing for about eight years.

She takes to the slopes during the week, then heads to the backcountry on weekends to snowshoe a four-mile loop with friends in the Over the Hill Gang. The endurance challenge helps round out her winter activities.

"I find it very invigorating," said Mastoras, who also accompanies snowshoe tours as a volunteer with Yampatika.

In addition to cardio benefits, snowshoeing is a weight-bearing activity, helping strengthen bones to prevent or improve osteoporosis. Better balance and flexibility are other benefits that can result from regular snowshoeing, Turner said.

"Even though it's a wider base of support, it's wonderful for balance, especially when you use poles," she said. "Your range of motion continues to improve by utilizing that forward motion."

Although snowshoeing is an easy activity to learn, there are precautions and tips to make the sport safe for both beginners and seasoned snowshoers.

Turner recommends that older adults, particularly those with heart or lung conditions, check with their doctor before starting the activity.

"It can be really great for them, but they need to know their limits and how to take their pulse to know their target heart rate," she said.

There are different types and sizes of snowshoes depending the conditions, terrain and pace a person plans to snowshoe. It's best to purchase a pair of snowshoes, which generally cost between $100 and $300, from a sales person familiar with the sport. Joining one of the many snowshoe tours offered locally can be a good introduction to the activity. Tour guides usually are trained in first aid and CPR and can tailor the trip to the participants' fitness levels.

"Give it a shot, especially on a sunny warm day," Sturges said. "Start out easy on a relatively flat trail with a little incline and with someone who knows the area."

Staying hydrated, dressing in layers and not pushing fitness limits are important tips. Snowshoers heading into the backcountry also should check weather conditions, share their plans with someone and carry survival gear - including first aid supplies, extra food and water, fire starting kit, map and space blanket - in case of emergency.

Finally, it's good to get off on the right foot by following winter trail etiquette and not snowshoeing on top of classic cross country ski trails in the backcountry. On groomed trails, its best to snowshoe on the far edge of the skate ski lane, on the opposite side of the classic tracks.

The article contains information from www.livestrong.com.

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