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 January 1, 1998

First-time snowshoe trip a thrill

NEDERLAND — Whomp, whomp, whomp …

It’s a baby-blue sky kind of day, and the wind is whipping white feathers of snow on my exposed face. A few seconds after strapping into some Sherpa snowshoe bindings, I leave behind my virgin tracks on a road heading toward the Fourth of July Campground outside of Nederland.

“Nice,” I think to myself, “I’m going to get toned, while stomping freshies with my trail host Dave BIGfoot’ Felkley.”

And by the time we gear up and slog about 50 feet, Felkley has told me his own personal transforming and inspiring life story.

He quite smoking 20 years ago, lost 40 pounds, and is proud of the fact he hasn’t owned a car in more than seven years. Ironically enough, Felkley has worked as a district manager for both the Nissan Motor Corp. from 1969-71 and Mercedes Benz of North America from 1973-78. In between, he served as general manager at Boulevard Datsun in Boulder from 1971-73.

Nonetheless, this 58-year-old now looks like a quintessential mountain man, whose hearty voice and healthy outlook on life are enough to impress me from the outset. Felkley says he literally could survive for several days in the snowy wild, if need be, living off rosehips and a little water. I know he means business when he goes snowshoeing, because he shows me his small daypack, inside of which are crammed a space blanket, a variety of hand-held heaters, and other survival essentials.

A proven snowshoe guru, Felkley’s 15 or more years of trekking through hidden niches in Boulder County’s backcountry seem to have tempered him with a naturalist’s instinct. His reputation as a renowned snowshoer is also evident from his having updated (edited and rewritten) the fourth edition of former snowshoeing legend Gene Prater’s book “Snowshoeing” (Mountaineers Books, $16.95 paperback), which is considered by many enthusiasts to be the snowshoer’s bible.

Being a rookie snowshoer myself, I can’t avoid the temptation to keep looking down at my feet. And, if that isn’t bad enough, about 100 yards up the trail I sense I’m already getting winded.

Not to worry, however, because like clockwork Felkley pulls back on the trek reigns, saying, “Don’t watch your feet — just go!”

But before mooshing onward, as if reading my mind, Felkley delivers another meditative maxim: “I don’t do any macho tours. If you can walk, you can go (snowshoeing); if you’re a hiker, you can go farther; if you run, you can go faster.” That, as I learn farther down the spinning white tunnel, is the first of many of Felkley’s doses of philosophy on the art of snow-walking.

Feeling more at ease and respectful of my guide, I confess to him that for many years I’ve had a secret passion to be an avid snow-walker.

Born and bred a Coloradoan, I’ve seen plenty of action in the mogul fields and in countless icy half-pipes, so I know there’s more to winter activities than losing an edge and coming to with a concussion and realizing I’ve just thrown a yard sale with my lost stock.

“The mountains only allow you passage,” Felkley says. “And snow is just like business — all of it’s good, but some of it’s better.”

Moments later, we stop to take in a grand view of Diamond Peak and the new Indian Peaks terrain at Eldora Mountain Resort. On the other side of the trail, Felkley calls me over to a flat rock.

“It’s roughly 22 degrees outside, yet the snow is melting on the rock,” he says. Next, he explains how it happens: the rock is directly facing the sun and is absorbing its heat and generating it back. “You’ll see a lot of that as we go along,” he says.

The next big moment occurs when a white squall kicks up and millions of fresh crystals leave the earth.

“It looks like a forest fire on that ridge with the sun behind it,” he shouts. Like a master artist, Felkley paints each new discovery with words on an ever-changing canvas.

About one mile up the Fourth of July trail, after growing accustomed to my new feet, Felkley takes us off the beaten trail into the backcountry, where he points out some frosted ponderosa and lodgepole pines atop a steep ridge. “Those are my Christmas trees,” he says solemnly.

We then surge ahead through a stand of aspen trees and out onto the clearing of a hill, where Felkley marvels at the intricate design the wind has carved into the convex tabletop. “These are like scallops in the snow,” he says, in a kind of foreign language tongue to me. Next, he points to a place where a groove has formed around a small tree. As a thin sheath of snow blows into the groove, he says, “Watch the way it burbles out and forms a tail … It’s a picture, and it all changes as it gets going.”

By the time we begin to make a loop back homeward, I’ve begun noticing abstract things myself — like a hollowed-out knot in a tree; probably the home of some bird. And further up on a ridge I spot an ice fall.

Getting up and down from the ice fall poses a small challenge, but Felkley is quick to says we need to pack the snow down in front of us, lest we start a mini-avalanche.

Felkley gives me lots of invaluable snow-walking and watching tips the rest of that day, like how to tell which way a snowshoe hare and squirrel run in the snow by looking at the shape of their deceptive tracks.

At the end of our two-hour tour, while I’m driving home I muse over something he said to me when I asked him about his single favorite tour of all time.

“Hell, today ain’t so bad,” he told me.

NEDERLAND — Whomp, whomp, whomp …

It’s a baby-blue sky kind of day, and the wind is whipping white feathers of snow on my exposed face. A few seconds after strapping into some Sherpa snowshoe bindings, I leave behind my virgin tracks on a road heading toward the Fourth of July Campground outside of Nederland.

“Nice,” I think to myself, “I’m going to get toned, while stomping freshies with my trail host Dave BIGfoot’ Felkley.”

And by the time we gear up and slog about 50…

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