Winter Trail Escapes

You’ve probably heard someone moaning about winter recently. People complaining about winter is nothing new… it probably dates back to when the first humans made their way up from Africa into more temperate climes. (Coincidentally, I’d imagine the first barefoot running skeptics appeared about the same time.) That said, I don’t mind winter. Actually, I kind of enjoy running in it and some of my favorite runs are peaceful, solo night runs in falling snow. That tranquility is hard to beat. Sure, I do bitch when it’s -5F and windy or when I’m heading out to run on slushy sidewalks for the umpteenth day in a row. What’s worse is that while I live in the trail running paradise that is Park City, Utah, it’s been two and a half months since the trails have been snow free and it’ll be about that long until they’re snow free again.

Park City winter trail running

Winter trail running fun in Park City.

While I don’t mind logging winter road miles, I’m craving some sweet singletrack…. so, so long Park City, hello Death Valley! Yup, I’m off enjoying for some real honest-to-dirtness trail running for a couple days. (It’s also time for a vacation after two months of working on the biggest project of my life… but that’s a story for another article.)

Call for Comments
Have you or will you be getting away for any warm trail running this winter? Fortunate enough to have snow-free or packed snow trails close to home? Counting down the days until your favorite trails are once again runnable? Let us know.

There are 26 comments

  1. Andy

    Do love running in the snow. Unfortunately in NoVA we really just have icy trails or icy/snow hard trails which is just tough to run on. Would love some dry and/or hard packed snow!

    1. Run To Win

      Andy – icy snowy trails are the most fun! Just make some screw shoes and you'll be fine. Or, if you want even better traction, buy some ice spikes, which are basically just screw shoes on steroids at a much higher price. (They definitely work better than regular sheet metal screws…whether they work enough better to justify the cost can vary.)

      1. Matt P

        Hey, I'm in the DC area and did a trail run a couple weeks ago on our heavy wet packed snow. The YakTrax Pro on Inov Talon shoes gave me plenty of traction. Felt like I was flying.

  2. Brendan Trimboli

    I'm in south Boulder. The trails are best on a frigid morning after new snowfall — twice this week I've been out for a 2+ hour stroll through the flatirons and had the trails almost entirely to myself.

    I think the key to enjoyment has been assembling some screw-shoes and investing in MicroSpikes so that I'm prepared for the trail conditions on any given day.

    1. Rob

      Though morbidly fascinated, I have never understood the insanity that is winter running. This thread at least begins to explain it to us outsiders – serenity, solitude, quiet. But I think Brendan has indeed identified the key, one I had not heretofore seen: preparation, mostly in the form of spikes. Spikes – not the taking of the snowy path less traveled – could make all the difference. Thanks

  3. Matt Smith

    I prefer cool/cold running, so I won't be venturing south to warmer climates in search on running bliss.

    Most of the mountain trails in NY and MA are best run in snowshoes at this point, but some are packed enough to use microspikes or screw-shoes.

    Even though I generally hate snowmobiles (snow machines if you're from Alaska…) I do love the packed trails they leave behind. There are great networks of snowmobile trails on Mt Greylock in MA and at Partridge Run Wildlife Area in NY that have smooth surfaces and allow for great winter trail running, particularly at night or early in the morning when traffic if nil and the snow is hard and crunchy.

  4. patrick

    went for a lovely, silent, peaceful run around midnight last week, woke up with frost bite on my face.

    running day after day in sub-freezing (and sub-zero) temps has given me a persistent cough that has endured for about two months. the doc: "stop running outside" me: "no."

    post-run "cool down" involves desperately trying to get blood back into my blue toes (i don't worry about getting feeling back into them anymore, i just don't want them to fall off).

    all of my joints hurt (and i'm 27) during the winter, despite running fewer miles.

    i'm all for positivity and general upbeat-ness, but…

    winter can eat it. summer's my gal.

  5. Ben

    Ah Bryon, like I mentioned on the Facebook survey, the Denver area is a trail runner's paradise. It will be in the 60s again this weekend. This winter has been especially mild, but front range trails get so much traffic, they're almost always runnable. And there are SO MANY to choose from.

  6. Jason

    I don't mind running in the winter cold, but what is starting to wear on me is the pattern we have been in of light snow, cold nights and sunny above freezing days in the valley. This ensures that everything is consistently muddy and slick when I get out for a lunchtime run. I wish my work/commute schedule would allow more morning runs when the ground and snow are cold and firm. Still, skating over muddy trails beats pounding the pavement just about any day.

  7. Craig Redfearn

    Ran an ultra event in the snow on January 29th – Windburn Six in the Stix – 6 Hour! Faired pretty well since I'm used to running in the stuff, but I'm with you Bryon, I'll take dirt singletrack any day of the week. Nothng like it. Get away while you can, I say. However, most of my quality workouts this winter have been on the road/ice(thank you screwed shoes). Like last night's 6 Miler in -6F windchill. Never easy!

  8. bob

    Here in Michigan we have an annual trail/gravel road race, in January, at night: the Winter Wolf run, in tiny Omer, on the north shore of Saginaw bay. It's 15 miles, starting at 6:30 PM. About 100 people ran it on Jan. 22 this year, nearly half doing it as two-person relay teams. Personally, I'm a warm-weather guy, but I do the Winter Wolf every year just because it's crazy and it's fun.

  9. Scott

    Fat bikes (Surly Pugsley and its ilk) have exploded in popularity in Anchorage. It turns out the bikes do a really good job of packing down the trails, and have made for some great running on snowy single track. No mud, no bugs, no slippery roots.

  10. Ben Nephew

    I don't know how people in New England manage to run on the roads all winter. There are definitely better options than treadmills, and if you have the right gear, you can not only run, but enjoy the trails all year round. For a few years I was frustrated by the common situation where there is too much snow for shoes, but not enough snow to avoid destroying your snowshoes. Yaktrax work, but I would go through 2 pair a winter, the traction isn't great if there is any loose snow, and they would often break during the middle of a run. Microspikes are the perfect solution to in-between trail conditions, but I really only use them when the snow coverage gets thin, or there is a lot of ice. Even if you don't need the flotation of snowshoes, the increased stability makes runs much more enjoyable. You can settle into a steady pace without worrying about slipping or stumbling at all. There are a lot of great running snowshoe options, but many in NE like our Dions. While most shoes have a single cleat that does OK in deep or firm snow, you can get interchangeable deep and shallow cleats for Dion shoes. With microspikes, my Dions with both cleats, and my trusty Inov-8 318's, I have a real hard time getting on the roads. With the snow this year, the roads are ridiculously bad.

    Here are my top reasons for running on the trails in the winter:

    1. It's much warmer in the trees. It's amazing how little clothing you can get by with while snowshoeing in the woods. A slightly windy winter day on the roads is one definition of hell.

    2. Snowshoeing is much easier on the legs. Even though I run most of my miles on the trails in the warmer months, it is still hard on the legs at times. The winter offers a significant decrease in impact if you stay on the snow. You can easily do several snowshoe workouts in one week, and not get injured.

    3. It's a great way to build leg strength in an area with almost no hills. Running on flat terrain in deep snow feels very similar to doing a hill workout, and actual hills get 2-3 times longer with loose snow.

    4. I can still go running with my son Gavin. The stroller on the roads is not an option over the winter, but I can slap skis on it and chase my wife Steph as she XC skis. You get a lot of amusing comments from skiers, and it makes running in deep snow seem easy. We also go snowshoeing with him in the pack.

    5. No traffic stress. It's nice not worrying about which car is going to hit you.

    6. Running new trails. The woods open up in the winter, and I can often take routes that would be difficult to run in the summer due to fallen trees, excessive rocks, and heavy brush.

    7. Running down steep slopes in deep snow. This is probably my absolute favorite thing to do in any season. A steep snowy downhill through trees and over boulders in snowshoes is pure joy. We've had a lot of snow this winter; I've been very happy.

  11. Sam Winebaum

    Out in Park City from NH for work. Still winter in PC but glad to leave the cold hard roads behind. Haven't been able to get in the car in NH to drive to snowmobile trails which are often groomed and a good alternative to roads especially mid day mid week when the traffic is light.

    Ran 18 miles, 85% on incredible snow cat groomed Park City trails today: Willow Creek to Rail Trail to Round Valley which is among the finest running areas anywhere any season.

    Conditions prime. Mid 20's and very sunny. Got a sunburn on my arms as I rolled up my sleeves. Snow settled, a bit of sun then cold at night to harden. Mint. Groomers are easy on the legs, consistent surface, and loads of fun. Regular road shoes would work fine but I ran in North Face Single Track No traction devices required.

    While running tested and then reviewed the incredible Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin Pack… There's a picture in the post of the groomer in action.

    Not to say some warm weather wouldn't be great. Death Valley in February sounds like fun.

  12. Gabe

    I agree with Ben Nephew about the general awesomeness of winter trail running. I'm not big on snowshoes, but sure am glad that plenty of other people use them, because popular hiking trails get nicely packed out every weekend. I like both the increased challenge and more joint-friendly nature of a smushy, moderately packed trail surface. In fact, some rocky trails (such as my beloved Kearsage North) get much faster and safer once the snow piles up.

    Key accoutrements: A neck gaiter and wind-front briefs… Penile frostbite lurks!

  13. PaulMR79

    Up here in Rochester, NY we've had a decent amount of snow this winter. I've been running the roads during the week because that's what out my front door, and trails weekends. Using the sheet metal screw method for thin snow and ice and microspikes for packed and deep snow. Haven't looked into snowshoes – I just adjust may pace and distance expectations according to the conditions.

    Definitely enjoy the solitude during the winter. I tend to stick to the lesser used trails on my weekend outings and rarely see more than 2 people. Although it also means that I'm running through a foot or two of snow at times; not enough traffic where I run to get consistently packed trails. I think the worst winter run conditions are when you have a semi-solid surface that you stay on top of most of the time, then randomly punch through usually during toe off, sometimes on landing.

    We have had a recent "thaw" if you can call it that and the roads are now mostly clear. But my legs just don't feel right these first few days on a solid surface. Anyone else had this experience after running soft/slippery surfaces for a few months straight? And if so, how long until it resolves?

    Heading to Phoenix on business later this week and planning to escape to some dirt Friday afternoon. Hoping legs feel "normal" by then.

  14. MikeV

    Running in Vermont this winter has been a challenge. I have made good use of screw shoes. In Rutland, VT we are fortunate to have Pine Hill Park, with 20 miles of single track. Enough people use the trails that they stay well packed. If truth be told though I am ready to see the dirt again. I'm training for my first 50k which will be in early June. The weather in VT has made training difficult. I am hoping that all the snow running will actually make me stronger. We will see.

  15. Steini

    Hi I am living in Iceland so "warm trail running is not a option. On the other hand it is pure joy to run on my spiked shoes in the mountains in winter. All the trails are covered in snow , but when the snow has melted and frosted together it makes a perfect platform to run on as you can just head for any direction an run your lungs out. We do not have that many trees up here so the whole mountain is our trail.

    1. Bryon Powell

      I'm anxiously waiting for there to have been enough freeze/thaw cycles in my mountains that I can run wherever I want. I tried it today and it's not there yet. Soon!

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