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 during a Yellowstone winter snowshoe adventure. Photo: Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell: is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar.com. Having spent nearly 20 years as an ultrarunner and three decades as a trail runner, he's also written Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and co-wrote Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running. He calls Silverton, Colorado and Moab, Utah home.

View Comments (74)

  • I "embrace" winter by running indoors: [broken link to Buzz's Running Times blog removed]

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  • Move to VA where it obviously doesn't snow :) (knock on wood, right?).

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  • 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.

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  • 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

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  • Love the winter! Just back from YAU100 and can't wait until next time. [broken link removed]

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  • In Kyiv Ukraine you either run, buy a TM that may not work or do this, see the blog :). We are fighting -19 to -22 C everyday at the moment.

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  • after 2 meters of snow in 3 days, I get out and about in Tuscany by Backcountry skiing....though I have a feeling it may not be as regular as I am hoping.

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  • 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.

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  • I hope no one here would ruin freshly groomed nordic ski tracks by running on them.

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    • 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.

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      • 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.

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        • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • I break out the snowshoes when we get more than a foot of snow.

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  • 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!

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  • 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.

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  • 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...

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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    • He's generally the sacrificial lamb by default, particularly on Green. Not many people get up earlier or go faster.

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  • 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!

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    • Likewise Randall, good to hear from another splitter who runs... Good luck at RRR!

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  • Danni, I need to learn how to downhill ski first!

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    • Do it!

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  • 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!

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