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Snowshoeing and Hiking in Santa Fe’s Winter Wonderland

“Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood.” Andy Goldsworthy.

I love this quote! It embodies how I feel when I am getting ready to head up to the mountain after a fresh powder of snow. My energy level rises and I am a bit euphoric at the mere thought of getting my snow boots and mittens on. Do you remember when you were a little kid and you would get all bundled up to go outside and just couldn’t wait for the final scarf and hat to be pulled on? The anticipation was just too much. Well, I am thrust back to that very special time when I get ready for snowshoeing in the Santa Fe National Forest.

Snow shoeing and “hiking in the snow” are one of the easiest and most fun activities that can be done in our very own backyard. If you are visiting and need to rent a pair of snowshoes, Aspen Sports is nearby and is where I rented my first pair. The Santa Fe National Forest offers many trails that are easily accessible by car and just a short swoosh through the snow brings you to a quietude that makes you feel extremely present in the moment.

Before I start to share these blissful moments with you, please remember that anytime we venture into the wilderness we must be prepared. Be sure to have adequate clothing, water and snacks, a first aid kit and if at all possible; hike with a buddy.

Big Tesuque campground was where I parked my car for my first time out. This was the weekend with the most snow and I had my trusty snowshoes, my ski poles and my backpack full of goodies. It’s fun to start from this area and hike towards Aspen Vista because you get to see all the children sledding down the hill. Safety note: “Stay out of the line of sledders!” It’s hard to move quickly when there’s a sled full of little ones heading your way. This trail follows along the river as it gradually moves up the mountain. As I breathed in that fresh, cold air I realized it was the most alive I had felt all week. In about 40 minutes I had intersected with Aspen Vista and paused to take in the beauty of the moment. I was alone and it was breathtaking. From here I turned onto Aspen Vista and started heading up the trail. After about two more hours of snowshoeing I paused where the aspen trees had given way to the fir and spruce trees and enjoyed the change in the mountain flora at 11,000 feet. Because it was late afternoon, I decided to turn around here and I headed back down before dusk descended upon me. I paused for another moment and took in the various shadows as they shape shifted over the slopes. There was a chill in the air and it was time for me to make it back to my car. Once I was back in my car with my hot tea and goodies, I watched three fathers taking their children’s sleds down for one last run. They were falling, laughing at each other and having the best of time. I have to share that this all happened while their wives and children waited patiently in the car for them and I would say that they, too had been transported back to their childhood. What fun!

My second trip out was the following weekend and we had not had any snow in the past week. The weather had warmed up slightly, too so there was no need for my snowshoes. I did have my warm snow boots with a good tread on for the icy places though. I started at the base of Aspen Vista and headed up the trail again. This trail is 11.5 miles round trip and you can make it all the way to the microwave relay station at the peak and back down again in a wonderful day hike. I think I saw eight people in my four hour, round trip, snow hike. We greeted each other with a smile and the shared knowledge of the beauty of the day. Half way up the trail there was an outcropping of rocks that has a stunning view of Santa Fe. It is my favorite area to pause, have some tea and eat a few carbs. Just remember that when you pause, the cold seems to settle in and I find it is best to get moving again to stay warm.

There are numerous trails, with varying difficulty, for hiking in the snow, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing in Santa Fe. When you visit the Inn of the Governors, we have the Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area books at our front desk that you are welcome to borrow. I am always available for questions on hiking in Santa Fe and look forward to meeting you on your next visit and sharing my favorite spots. I’ll be continuing to share my winter adventure next week with a full description of my post winter’s day hiking at 10,000 waves and their new restaurant Izanami. Stay Tuned! Travel safely, Deb Swanson

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