Embracing Winter: How Do You Do It?

Last week I foolishly opened my mouth about the Winter That Never Was here in the Wasatch. Fittingly, I woke up yesterday to half a foot of snow with the white stuff falling fast. Fast forward a couple hours and a foot of fresh festooned the foothills of the Wasatch Back. With more snow on the way in the coming days, my trail running (at least from home) is done for the next month or two. What to do?

No, seriously, what do you do when winter intrudes up your trail running turf?

If you keep running, do you live in an area where you can keep the trails open by running through the snow or do you rely on machine grooming, whether for Nordic skiing tracks or by snowmobiles? How about giving in and heading onto *gasp* the roads for your runs for a couple months?

Do you add in or switch over to another outdoor endurance sport? If so, what’s your pick: Nordic skiing (classic or skate?), snowshoeing (trekking or running?), backcountry skiing/skimo, snowbiking, or maybe something else entirely?

Perhaps you end up spending time indoors on the dreadmill, some other exercise equipment, or indoor track? Do tell.

In just the past few weeks, us trail and ultra running folks have seen our kind show how it’s done in winter. For example, Kilian Jornet just won the European Skimo Championships while Mike Wolfe won the US Winter Triathlon National Championship. A bit further back, Luke Nelson won the US Skimo National Championships. That’s getting it done in the off season!

If you’ve been out and about in wintry conditions this season, please share your tales and pics. As much as I’ll miss running the trails, I’ve had some fabulous wintertime adventures (i.e., TransYellowstone Snowshoe, Yosemite Hut-to-Hut Snowshoe, and failed TransYosemite Snowshoe) and look forward to many more!

Bison and Electric Peak in a Yellowstone winter.

Bison and Electric Peak during a Yellowstone winter snowshoe adventure. Photo: Bryon Powell

There are 74 comments

  1. Andy Rhine

    Here in KS the windchill gets dangerous for a month or two and it is hard to get a run that is not exposed to 20-30 mph winds on single digit days. Not fun.

    Sad to say I rely on the TM more than I like.

  2. Trailrutger

    I life in the Netherlands, and in the winter i mix trail running with road running.

    Because we are not allowed to run in the forests after dark.

    So after work i run 10 to 15 km on the road.

    In the weekend i run my trails 20+ km.

    It isn't a problem to run snowy trails here because it is mostly no more than a few inches.

    I ran 20 km of snowy trails just yesterday with temperatures around freezing point and loved every minute of it.

    I also go to the gym once a week in the winter to strengthen my abs and legs.

    So that is how i do it over here in the Netherlands

  3. KenZ

    In a "normal" winter I'm in the Bay Area, so I can still run during the week. The weekend is a combo of XC skate skiing and downhill skiing: wake up, skate ski 45min- an hour, then breakfast, downhill ski for 6-7 hours, then skate for 1-2 hours. Repeat the next day. Love it. And, if you have tons of energy left over, night time snowshoeing with headlamps.

    Brian, embrace it like "cross training." You'll work complimentary muscles in great ways; it's probably good for injury prevention. I'd HIGHLY recommend getting a set of skate ski lessons; I'll bet you of all people could trade them for running lessons in the spring so that you don't have to pay. Must XC skiers are runners, but not necessarily ultra hounds.

    The one thing you won't like about skate skiing is the break in the workout on the downhills; with running you get worked going up AND down. With skate skiing, if you get worked on the way down, it's probably something broken.

    1. Bryon Powell

      I do run on freshly groomed Nordic track as we have two public areas in Park City that are groomed for multiple uses. If there's a classic track, I stay outside of it. If there's no classic track, I respectfully run in a way that won't leave postholes in the skate track. There's one Nordic area in town that doesn't allow other users and I would never consider running on it… heck, it took over two months for people to convince me last winter that it was acceptable to run in the multiuse area.

      1. Tait

        Thanks Bryon, all the nordic skiers out there appreciate your respect for the sport and your caution! I wasn't trying to burn you our make you feel defensive though. I merely intended it as a playful rib. Regardless, no hard feelings.

        1. Bryon Powell

          Phew! :-D I guess I was trying to point out that sometimes respectful compromises can be had.

          I can certainly understand the skate skiers' plight. Just a week ago I was annoyed when skate skiing in Grand Teton National Park. There were two full-width tracks. One was labeled for classic and skate skiing while the other had a long list of permitted uses. How frustrating that so many people STILL chose to walk or let their dogs walk in the skiing only lane… I'm just glad I didn't see any of them as it wouldn't ruined both our days.

  4. Jamie Falk

    We're blessed in Boulder that there are enough trail runners around to keep the trails passable (with screw shoes or microspikes) even after a foot or two of snow. You might sometimes be the sacrificial lamb breaking trail and putting in 25 min miles, but for the most part the trails are passable.

    I also add in a bit of nordic skiing, which is what we tend to do in Minnesota, where I'm originally from.

  5. Roland

    Classic nordic skiing. It is the most "run-like" of the skiing activities both cardiovascularly and tempo-wise. I align the skating technique more with mountain biking as the uphills are more of a push and the downhills are much faster, whereas in classic technique the uphills are more paced and the downhills can be slower. If I gauge a classic nordic ski workout in terms of HR/pace/training effect against a trail run, they are very similar based on both the output of my Garmin and the way it feels. Here in the Rocky Mountains, I add some running on the snow-packed snowshoe and foot trails using SpikeCross (or similar) shoes starting in February and build from there. But the base is nordic skiing.

    The barrier is the equipment, wax knowledge, and technique. The equipment issue is monetary. The wax knowledge can be mastered in a few weeks of experience. The technique will probably require lessons but the balance development that you gain will pay dividends on downhill running. Not to mention how much fun the skiing itself is!

  6. Ethan

    I live in MN and the past couple of winters its been a grab-bag. XC skiing of whatever style when there's time – but with driving and equipment-prep requirements you need 2 – 3 hours to get a decent workout in. Gym machines, treadmill, roads, trails if they're well-packed or snow-free, even indoor track if you can find one thats 200+ meters. Strength training is also easier to make time for in the winter. For the die-hard trail snob this may not seem like the best routine, but rotating activities frequently keeps you from getting bored. Plus it's easy to log back-to-back 5+ hour days on winter weekends by skiing with minimal impact on the body.

  7. Doug (aka Snurfer)

    I love running in the snow and try to keep a couple of high routes open for trail running throughout the winter. When there is a lot of snow I get my vertical fix backcountry snowboarding…

    BTW many central Wasatch summer trails are compacted and run-able in winter due to the large crowds of backcountry users…

  8. Danni

    Bryon, if you gave it a try I reckon you would LOVE LOVE LOVE skimo racing. It is HARD and FUN. Sometimes scary but mostly fun. And hard.

  9. Randy

    You Boulder people should all get together and mandate Anton to be the sacrificial lamb(goat?),think he would still be doing 10 to 15 min. miles though.

  10. Randall

    I live in Steamboat Springs, CO, affectionately (if not presumptiously) known as "Ski Town U.S.A." where, in a "normal" winter we will get from 350" to 450+" of snow. This year we will be lucky to break 225" which has been good news for me as I'm training for my first hundo, Run Rabbit Run, so I've been able to log some miles this winter. Mostly in the form of road runs but occasionally, the beloved deep snow trudge. In the past 6 years I've lived here, even road running has been just a memory from late November until May and the higher alpine trails may not open up until late June or July. I've been a snowboarder and runner for more than 20 years now. A few years ago, I started splitboarding to access more untracked powder and immediately fell in love with the touring portion of the activity which, I think, caters to my trail runner side. A simple, good, long vertical hike also serves the need to "earn my turns." The downhill ride that follows is simply icing on the cake.

    Doug (aka Snurfer), glad to see I'm not the only "knuckle dragger" who loves to run!

  11. Andy

    With the East's heavy snow last year I invested in a pair of Dion Snowshoes, and took them for a few good runs in the deep stuff. Hard work but good fun – and not like skiing but you do get a bit of float on the downhills. This year they collect dust as it's been more about whether or not one needs a hat or gloves to go with the shorts. Would love to try skate skiing. Maybe next year!

  12. MikeC

    Backcountry skiing gets you fit fast, especially if you live in a place with steep mountains and powder. It's hard work getting up hill, and its so fun pushing beyond exhaustion is easy.

  13. Nick

    I force myself to get out and take part in local races (even when it's 12 degrees and snowing like it was this past weekend). [broken link removed]

  14. ChrisG

    Colorado Springs is like Boulder – our local trails have enough traffic to keep them passable with traction.

    This year, I'm mixing it up more than the past. Weekdays I run roads and greenway trails. Saturday is the usual medium-long trail/mountain run/hike. Sunday is snowshoeing. By March, I should be ready for some all day back country snowshoe adventures. Woot!

  15. A. Pace

    In Denali Park, AK, we have a good community of mushers around us. Usually we take turns putting in trail with snowmachines so we can run dog teams throughout the winter. I just follow along afterward & hope the trail sets up well. Layering & doing regular tight loops for gear changes (frozen balaclavas & iced-over mittens when it's -40 for sure) let me get in plenty of running (as does running behind a team of dogs). I will readily admit that no matter how remote my location, the catalog of expletives bursting from me when post-holing for miles on end is pretty impressive. Lately it's been incredibly warm (up to 30 above), so I've just been living the good life & luxuriating in it. There were a few -60 days when I would just run in place though. Damn, the more I think about it, the more I find myself longing for dirt.

  16. Guy

    Microspikes grab well enough for me to run year-round (in the Appalachians), and after a few outings things get packed pretty well. I did pick up snowshoes this year to get in some variety, though they've not seen a single day of use yet.

  17. swampy

    No snow here yet in VA. I was checking out the Yosemite snow-shoe links in the article and was stoked to find so many great pictures in there. Almost makes me want snow.

    1. Bryon Powell

      Thanks, Carter. Snowshoeing in Yosemite was amazing. I need to plan for an amazing snowshoe adventure for next winter. Stomping around the Wasatch just doesn't cut it after cutting my winter teeth in Yellowstone and Yosemite NPs. :-)

  18. Phillip

    Wore my blue jeans and north face fleece over my running shorts and shirts and drove out to the trail head this morning. Stepped out of car and decided to just run as I was and glad I did. The extra weight was kind of uncomfortable but I was warm and toasty throughout the run.

  19. Van Horn

    I will still run the trails if they are not too icey and muddy, run the paved bike path, and I get up into the Wasatch peaks for some mountaineering. Climbed Lone Peak last week, woo hoo!

  20. Rob Youngren

    What's snow? ;) Solution is easy, just live somewhere that doesn't regularly get buried in several feet of snow over the winter and just plan visits to those places on regular occasions if possible. Works for me! Granted I wish I lived in the mountains and had the chance to run on such awesome trails. But you got to roll with what you got and I'm loving living in the south east U.S.A.

  21. Sam Winebaum

    Will run the "groomers" in Round Valley and elsewhere Park City when they are corduroy which is most of the time now that there is cover. Split workouts with half run, half nordic ski on the same trails. Nice!

    Snowshoe run when the powder is deep and soft.

    Yes, and some indoor track intervals and runs when it's to ugly out. Speed is good! Back in NH it's mostly the roads for me come winter or drive to snowmobile trails.

  22. dogrunner

    snowshoe running if enough snow (not this year :( ).

    Skijoring !!!

    Any run I can do with one of our dogs is a good run. Winter is the best time for them, so I look forward to winter, actually.

    I have increased my minimum temperature / windchill over the years though. 0°F with sun and no wind is quite comfortable. Too cold or too windy and I'm on the dreadmill or inside track (wuss).

  23. JKal

    XC skiing!!! 50k races all around the country!! A good "classic" ski is VERY close to running, lots of the same muscles with ZERO pounding impact. "Skate" skiing is FAST, fun and very very aerobic too. I usually run from April to November. Ski from Nov to late March. Perfect mix for me. When i'm tired of skiing, its running time and vice versa. Longest XC ski race I've done? 90k in 6.5 hours. "Ultraskiing" at its finest!! American Birkebeiner just around the corner – 50k with skaters usually down right near 2 hours flat for time. FAAAAST stuff.

    1. Sam Winebaum

      I with you jkal! Classic nordic is very close to running, much closer than skate IMO. I was a college XC runner with no nordic experience and got "converted" by ski team buddies. Didn't make the top level (team won the NCAA's year before I started) in the 2 years I raced but close. In those days the late 70's classic was very close to running. Courses were steeper, narrower than today's sno cat specials. Never could quite tame the technical downhills though.. I lived in Switzerland for 3 years and combined trail, mountain, road, and XC in an orgy of races all over 10K including ski marathons, Sierre Zinal, road marathons, and mountain races. Over 30 races in the year and my last a 5 miler on the flat was the fastest. Mixing it up is good!

  24. Patrick Cawley

    Of course you have to exercise indoors to maintain certain types of serious training, but I have gone running in big heavy boots just for the sheer joy of being out there in the elements. Trail running appeals to the kid in us, and what better way to celebrate that during winter than to tromp through deep snow like a kid on a snow day. My dog really seems to enjoy those runs, too.

  25. Curt Krieger

    I used to claim that I bought snowshoes for running in winter to stay in shape to race in summer. That was 1996. Now I claim that I train in summer so I can race snowshoes in winter. This winter has been most frustrating!

  26. Ty

    I too am a "one trick pony" living in frosty western Wyoming. Every year around this time I question my decision to live where I do. Usually I bide my time running roads, snowshoeing, and racing the fast stuff indoors. Once I even did 50k on a treadmill. This year I'm shaking things up with some fat biking and trying to learn to ski…we'll see how it translates once the sweet, sweet single track reveals itself this summer. Oh yeah, that's why I live where I do…

  27. Mats from Sweden

    Given the right amount of snow, maybe up to 15-20 inches depending on type, running in the snow can be great fun (not snowshoes). You can run anywhere if the ground is frozen. And if it gets dark a quite simple and weak headlamp will be enough to guide you as the snow reflects the light. This is a time for exploring. Some of the most fun running I have done is in the winter.

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