1. Choose your snowshoes
Step number one for an enjoyable outing in the cold Colorado Rocky Mountain winter is the correct choice of equipment. Different types of snowshoes are available for the variety of conditions that are encountered in mountain back country. If you are going to be hitting the remote rugged trails found high on rocky ridges you will need a good set of back country snowshoes with both heel and toe claws. The snow has likely been melting and re-freezing for some time and there will be a lot of ice. The back claws are crucial to keeping your footing on the slippery slopes. Larger snowshoes are better to limit sinking into deep powder at high elevations. Running snowshoes are available for endurance training if the trail is going to be well traveled and packed. Racing snowshoes are light for moving fast and equipped with only a front claw.
2. Layer up
Conditions can change rapidly in the mountains and proper attire is paramount. An early morning start is going to be cold and until the heart is pumping, warm windproof clothing is worth it's weight in gold. As the day wears on and the sun begins to shine some layers may need to come off to avoid overheating. Start with a close fitting hi-tech moisture wicking thermal layer, including socks, glove liners and a hat. Various weights are available to suit the outdoor temperatures you may encounter. Follow with a wool sweater and windproof and waterproof pants. Wool is better than cotton because it continues to provide warmth when wet. Choose a good pair of waterproof boots. Gor-Tex light hikers are good for running and felt lined snow boots may be needed for sub-zero temperatures in the higher elevations.
3. Jacket with hood
Be sure to choose a jacket with a large hood that extends several inches away from the face. Winds in the high country can be fierce and the hood will protect your face. Snow is likely at any time in the high country so make sure your jacket is waterproof. Staying dry is the best way to avoid hypothermia. Lastly, don't forget warm waterproof gloves. Frostbitten fingers are the quickest path to misery on a snowshoe hike
4. Sunscreen and lip balm
The sun and wind in the high country can be brutal so be sure to wear a good SPF30 sunscreen and UV resistant lip balm. Chapped lips and a severe sunburn can ruin your day just as easily as frostbite.
5. Wear a backpack
A good water resistant backpack can be a life saver. Carry extra clothing, food, matches, flashlights, liquids and cell phones. Professional backpacks found at the mountaineering stores are equipped with extra waist and chest straps to reduce bouncing and distribute weight for greater comfort. Packs are also handy for toting the clothing that you will be removing as your body heat increases during the day.
6. Don't use external water holders
Don't use the external bottle holders if your backpack comes equipped with them. Water and ERG will freeze out there so put the water bottles inside the pack against your body. Your body heat will keep them from freezing. Use the bottle holders for dry snacks or something else you need to keep handy.
7. Fog proof your sunglasses
Sunglasses are essential in the high country. With little atmosphere to filter the sun, serious eye damage can occur from the bright sunlight reflecting from the snow. During a hard workout sunglasses will be sure to fog up so visit your nearest mountaineering store and purchase an anti fogging spray or liquid that will keep your vision clear all day. If you have plastic lenses make sure the substance does not contain ammonia that will cause deterioration.
8. Cooking spray on your boots and snowshoes
Nothing is worse while snowshoeing than a big ball of ice stuck in your claws and on the heels of your boots. Spray your boots and snowshoes with a cooking spray like Pam before you get started and keep some in your pack if you need to re-apply later. The slick spray will keep the ice balls from forming.
9. Use cross country ski poles
Ski poles can be a lifesaver in the high country. They can help you keep your balance on treacherous ice covered trails and take some of the strain off of your legs on steep climbs.
10. Bring tire chains
The weather in the high country is unpredictable. What can start out as a beautiful sunny day can turn into a serious winter storm without warning. Tire chains can make the difference between an enjoyable day trip and a life threatening overnight camping ordeal.