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.

  28. Roger Soto

    Anyone can give a little explanation on all those types of skiing you are mentioning? I should know all of them but the names are just confusing me… (sorry, other side of the pond here, and more used to french names ;-) )


      1. Bryon Powell

        I'm no skier, but would the following also apply?
        Backcountry (general) – ski de randonnée
        I'm pretty sure that ski mountaineering is ski mountaineering with possible local variation on spelling. :-)

  29. JKal

    Roland, a well waxed classic ski is almost nearly as fast as a skate ski. The wax pocket is held up off the snow by the camber of the ski. Downhills on classic skis can be more of a rush than skating because you usually try to stay locked in those fast tracks!!!

    And, yes, the barrier is often waxing adn equipment. Skiing is very $$ and time intensive. Technique can make or break it being fun.

    A perfect day xc skiing beats a perfect day trail running any day in my book. BUT, those days only happen about 15-20 days all winter. Perfect running conditions can happen 7 days/week all year round in many locales!!

      1. Roger Soto



        – XC = Crosscountry = Nordic and then two styles, skating and classic (I suppose classic is when you can only move your feet forward and not to the sides)

        – Then skimo = ski mountaneering = rando

        I've learned vocabulary today!

        In andorra, in winter, I run in the snow, actually it's quite easy, snow here is very wet and it snows less, then it gets packed fast. when its too soft sometimes i run in the ski slopes with a pair of microspikes (that i bought online from the states, they are not yet here!)

  30. JKal

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMEN. thanks for staying out of that track. Now if we can get more people to be as polite as you and keep their DOGS out of those tracks we'll all be happy skiers.

  31. Sam Winebaum

    Totally Jkal. Nothing like a well waxed classic ski on firm but not icy tracks on what is called a hard wax day: blue or special blue conditions. That kind of waxing is easy. For dicer conditions have you tried the new Atomic Skintec no wax skis? Comes with 2 snap in skins. If fitted right supposed to have great grip and glide.

    1. JKal

      ahhhhhh yes Sam. Blue extra and -6C with sun…. PERFECT. Have not tried the new "skintec" skis. Too $$$, will stick with my klister skis with some of the fluoro based hard waxes like VR55/VR60. Had a GREAT, AMAZING ski on melted/refrozen slush in solid track yielding super fast glide with monster kick. Skintec skis only seem to work with new falling wet snow in solid tracks where its 29-31 degrees F. This is such a small niche type condition that i'm not spending $$ on one pair of skis to match it!! I'll run on a day like that!! Do you have a pair?

      1. Sam Winebaum

        Skintec are wildly expensive indeed and hard to find. Haven't tried but a sports shop has a demo pair in Park City. Now I am getting antsy to ski. Was planning on running the groomers with Bryon P Thursday but maybe I will ski 'em and try… to give him.. a lesson…

    2. Roland

      JKal – I have done and continue to do a lot of nordic ski testing at the highest levels (world and national). A properly waxed/proper flex classic ski for the conditions is no where near as fast as an equivalent skating ski. Now, perhaps we need to put a calibration on that: a 1-2% difference in gliding speed is huge in this very competitive sport. A skating ski done properly will typically be 2-3% faster than an equivalent classic ski. It does not sound like much but it can make all the difference and is why nordic ski teams have techs that travel with them. The Norwegian team has a staff of about 15-20 and a fully fitted mobile waxing facility (converted commercial euro-bus). Check out Zach Caldwell's wedsite (http://www.caldwellsport.com) for some interesting articles on ski speed and waxing.

      I am lucky to live in an area with over 200 km of daily groomed ski trails where we ski from mid-Nov until well into late April (and last year into May).

      Sam – I have tried the Atomic Skintec, they work but just like the Fischer zeros and the Salomon equivalents they are a bit slower than a waxed ski. However, on a "zero day" they are hard to beat and they come in handy when you just want to get out and not have to go through a 3 or 4 layer waxing procedure. I keep them in the quiver and use them about 6 or 7 times a year.

      1. Sam Winebaum

        Thanks for insights on Skintec Roland. For those not into the waxing it's not so bad most days. Kind of a mental puzzle on some days and sort of a comforting ritual. You do learn and can pick the right kick wax most days just by feeling the air and snow without a thermometer. Other days, wel,l Skintec or other no wax classics would be the solution. I guess skate has become more popular in part as it eliminates the kick wax calculation.

      2. JKal

        roland, that's why i used the word "nearly" as fast. 1-3% slower sounds about right to me. Was out skiing with a friend last week – me on classic skis (green kick for less drag on a cold day) and my buddy on skate skis. I outglided him on downhills. Yes, I totally agree with all your numbers at the world cup level though. The world cup guys live and die by glide – 1% difference making or breaking a podium finish with 30th place. Definitely. As for Zach Caldwell's site I know it well – he's top notch. For the average guy though, a properly waxed classic ski can be REAL fast. I feel sorry for the newbie skier on CHEAP low grade waxless skis with no glide. That's just plain old no fun.

        Roland, where are you? Who are you waxing/testing for? Boulder Nordic? Do you know Chris Miller?

        1. JKal

          and I forgot to add, this is precisely why i am more into running than skiing as i age. I don't have the time/energy/$$ to XC ski race and train like I used to. Back in the day it was 5 pair of skate skis, 4 pair of classic skis, new boots, new poles ($280 alone) … travel every weekend to a ski race, entry fees, travel to other states to race (Birkie) etc. These days I'm content to just go out the door and ski … or if its not nice conditions, run.

          I simply like putting on the running shoes and heading out the door. Wish I didnt live where we get 150 inches of snow a year … Flagstaff …. here i come.

  32. JKal

    that's exactly how i got started too Sam. XC runner converted to XC skiing by the skiers on the running team. Until i learned the technique they could all absolutely destroy me. But, once technique is mastered it correlates very well with your running ability. Interesting that some who are not "elite" runners can be so at running. My college room-mate was a state champ 800m and 1600m runner – also an elite level XC skier, winning and ncaa relay championship.

    1. Sam Winebaum

      Great example of a 3 sport college athlete now all running: Ben True who went to Dartmouth. He was an all American in XC run, nordic ski, and track. Just running now and US Road 10K and I think 15K champ in 2011. Another recent Dartmouth grad who excels on the run and on skis: Glenn Randall recent winner of Pike's Peak ascent. For me still prefer the classic over skate any day especially those blue wax days. This winter having a hard time shifting to skiing. Been running the multi use "groomers" in Park City now that the snow is finally here.

  33. Jay

    HAHA. I was going to make the same comment to Bryon: Move to Boulder. :)

    And indeed Anton does usually get first tracks, though he's taken to some unorthodox routes, so I don't think his tracks benefit as many of us anymore.

  34. Cody Hanson

    Backcountry Skiing!

    Snow Mountain Biking!

    Snow Angel Making!


    Snow Ball Throwing! (intervals)

    The possibilities are endless!

  35. zeke

    I live near aspen co and do a fair bit of training running up the ski mountains. Not sure if park city allows that, but it feels just like trail running only softer on the way down. Running the cat trails down is a little lower angle for the decent. Snow mobile tracks are also good.

  36. StephenJ

    I live in the mountains outside Park City. The San Rafael swell is 4 hours away, which makes it suitable for a day trip. Yesterday was shorts and tee shirt weather and absolutely gorgeous. Today I went telemark skiing at the resort, hoping for a powder day. Later today I will go search for some freshies around the neighborhood or run on the snow packed roads.

    I telemark ski at the resort with my kids. I spend enough time away for them running in the summer. It's not a real workout, but at least telemarking works the legs kind of the same way as running downhill does.

    Bryon – You live in Park City. The backcountry touring Wasatch mountains is the winter is a whole other experience. There's nothing like a nice 6 hour ski tour to the top of something special like Box Elder peak or the Coalpit Headwall, followed by the trill of ripping down the best snow in the world.

  37. JKal


    from 1:20 to 1:40 you can watch them going up a hill with skis obscured by something. Looks just like running. Also the first 30 seconds of the video is a hill so steep they are just running up it on skis without glide. Bryon you should really give classic skiing a try in the winter – your area has some amazing trails and snow for classic.

  38. dave

    I'm in Calgary, where the variation can be pretty extreme – -30C and two feet of snow, followed by a chinook that takes us up to +10C and melts almost everything into a shiny sheet of ice, followed by another plunge into the deep freeze. If it stays cold there's lots of x-country skiing, on the local golf courses or in Kannanaskis or Banff. This year it hasn't stayed cold; my run yesterday was at +1C on four inches of new snow that was mostly gone at the end.

    So for running, there's the road and multiple layers. And before you scoff, consider that the side of the road is rutted, partly-packed snow on ice, covered with a mix of slush, gravel and chunks of ice. Its slippery, very uneven and wet: a lot like running on a wet trail covered with sand, with roots thrown in for fun, all on top of a teflon skillet, with very large hunks of steel racing by. It makes me miss trail running, but typically because trail running is both less work and less scary.

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