Above: Snap on a pair of snowshoes and you can hike all winter. Photograph by Ryan Heffernan.
“It’s just like walking. Don’t make it weird,” a friend advises as I buckle into snowshoes for a maiden journey. With my first steps, I feel the urge to widen my stance and amble like a newbie cowgirl bow-legged from her first day in the saddle. I mistakenly follow my impulse to step higher than usual, which only sends the snowshoes flapping at my heels. As I turn to ask my friend a question, I stumble over my newly Sasquatch-size feet when the snowshoes cross in the back and tangle.
Just walk, I tell myself. So I do, in a rented pair of shoes on the Crest Trail, which skims along Albuquerque's Sandía Peak. Later, I’ll get my own snowshoes and amble along trails near Ski Santa Fe, then across the hills of Angel Fire Resort, and later still through the vast bowl of the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
One year, friends and I booked a backcountry yurt outside Chama through the Southwest Nordic Center. Reaching the Asian-style tent, complete with cozy bunk beds and a cookstove, required a three-mile snowshoe. The night before our hike, Mother Nature dropped three feet of fresh powder and turned our hike into an eight-hour march. With every step, we sunk nearly to our hips, then hoisted a snow-laden, heavy snowshoe out and did it all over again, gradually cutting the path, mile after mile. Our humble abode never looked so grand as it rose into sight between the trees.
Snowshoe outings are rarely so harrowing. My snowshoes have become my all-weather reason to not hang up my hiking shoes for the winter. They carry me into pine-scented mountain air; lead me to spot hare, foxes, and mice as they cut their own tracks through the snow; and earn me pink cheeks as I huff up hills to the next outlook.