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Travels in wonderland: Snowshoers can find plenty of winter delight around the state

Some snow, a mountain trail, a little bit of desire and all the ingredients for a winter snowshoeing adventure are afoot.

What’s more, enjoying the sport is relatively easy and certainly less expensive than activities like skiing, snowboarding or snowmobiling.

“The cool thing about snowshoeing is if you can walk, you can pretty much snowshoe,” says Steele LaVail of Albuquerque’s REI store. “There are some technologies you can basically learn quickly. Aggressive cleats and good decking and appropriate size are what is important.”

It’s a wonderful family activity, says Geoff Goins, co-owner of Enchanted Forest XC Ski and Snowshoe Area near Red River.

“The nice thing about snowshoeing, it’s like going for a hike, but it’s in the snow,” he says. “With the modern snowshoes, you can use your natural gait. You don’t have to waddle or slide like with cross country skis. Most people do pretty well.”

Fitness is also an important qualifier, LaVail says, but there are areas that can match pretty much any fitness level.

And there are plenty of places across New Mexico to take that first step or find new areas to investigate.

Not surprisingly, the northern part of the state is loaded with potential snowshoeing sites.

There are places like Enchanted Forest, where the snowshoe area provides about 25 percent of the business, Goins says.

There are some (18 kilometers) of dedicated snowshoe trails throughout the area, he says, with trails climbing to heights as much as 10,400 feet.

Looking north

If elevation is the goal, Taos is the place.

Although the state’s highest point, 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, is certainly an option for the incredibly optimistic, there’s a saner option in Taos Ski Valley’s northside; a 1,300-acre playground of trails through meadows, quaking aspen trees and frozen streams.

Snowshoeing the popular Williams Lake Trail leads to the pristine lake surrounded by high peaks, including Wheeler.

Just outside Chama, groomed trails abound in the Edward Sargent Wildlife Area, a 20,209-square-foot backcountry area that abounds with wildlife.

Around Santa Fe, there’s a plethora of snowshoeing opportunities all across the Pecos Wilderness stretching all the way to Las Vegas.

For LaVail, a favorite spot is Aspen Vista, which has a picnic area at its trailhead.

“It’s great because it’s more of an open area,” he says of the site near Hyde Park by the ski area.

A good single or multi-day trip is traipsing along the Winsor Trail until it hits the Skyline Trail, then following that into the high country and heading out from the Iron Gate trailhead in the Pecos also offers marvelous day trips past Hamilton Mesa and Round Mountain.

And the Rio Medio Trail in the Pecos Wilderness leads to a sparkling waterfall and deep into the back country.

The Jemez Mountains offer the added incentive of hot springs. A popular one is a several mile stroll behind Battleship Rock, because it encompasses a good hike along with a soothing turnaround point.

And the 5,000-acre Valle Grande within the Valles Caldera National Preserve, is an excellent grassy meadow of three miles with rolling terrain, says Terry McDermott, Preserve spokesman.

“You can also choose to traverse the Valle Grande and enter quiet mountain forests to more remote areas,” he says. “Ski or snowshoe onward to the History Grove or Jaramillo Meadow for a grand tour of some of the most scenic areas of the Preserve.”

Day-use permits are available at the Valle Grande Information Center and Gift Shop at the Valle Grande Staging Area located two miles down the main Preserve road off Highway 4. For information, go to vallescaldera.gov.

Closer to home

Around Albuquerque much of the snowshoeing activity occurs off NM 536, the road to Sandia Peak, LaVail says. “There are some good spots once we get snow,” he says.

A popular choice is 10K trail because it offers an out and back and can also be combined with other area trails to form loops.

Out west, Mount Taylor, which is the annual host in February to the Mount Taylor Quadrathlon, has numerous opportunities along its flanks, he says.

Heading south, however, it gets more speculative, says Chris Schlabach, one of the owners of the Gila Hike & Bike in Silver City.

“We rent snowshoes, but for the last three years, they’ve been packed away upstairs,” he says. “We just haven’t had enough snow.”

When enough powder does fall, however, the best spot is along Signal Peak Road, about 15 miles north of Silver City.

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