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Originally published Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 12:06 AM

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Serious snowshoeing a real workout

We're a large tribe, I'm confident.

Coeur d'Alene Press

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FOURTH OF JULY PASS, Idaho —

We're a large tribe, I'm confident.

That is, the outdoor fitness addicts who feel giddy with cabin fever once winter falls.

The problem is, some of us are also reluctant to drop wads of cash on skis and snowboards. Some of us dread suffering through a steep learning curve.

I discovered a solution, this past weekend. Snowshoeing.

"Just don't go off by yourself," my boyfriend pleaded when I borrowed some sleek-looking snowshoes from him a couple weeks back.

Fortunately, I had the perfect introduction for my first time out. A group of local Ironmen had been organizing weekly snowshoeing escapades around the area, with any acquaintances or friends of friends welcome to attend.

I met up with the group, about 20 strong, at the Fourth of July Pass.

The goal, I was informed by organizer and brawny Ironman veteran Shawn Burke, was to keep their bodies good and challenged with cross-training.

"Why snowshoeing?" I asked. My mental image of the activity was stuck in the frontier days, with hoary-bearded men sloughing through powder on mammoth shoes, occasionally squabbling over the price of raccoon pelts.

But that's not what Burke described. It's about serious fitness these days, he said.

"Snowshoeing works your upper extremities, your lower extremities, your core," he said, demonstrating the movement of his snowshoe poles. "Plus it's endurance training."

There's balance and coordination, too, that's needed for slogging over hills, he said.

But that isn't the only point, added Tom Aylward, who has attempted two Ironmen and will be doing so again this year.

"It exercises the muscles in your smile, no matter what," the Spirit Lake man said with a grin.

The hard part

Once we were strapped into our snowshoes - most of them short and slender for deft maneuvering - we stomped to the base of a hill to kick off with an ascent.

The steep grade yawned up toward the sky. I could feel the blood draining my face as I craned my neck up.

"We're starting with this?" I thought, a little pathetically.

I imagined myself scrambling on ice, my feet dancing out of my control and my body plummeting down, down, down.

But once I attempted a step, my fears disappeared. My feet munched into the slope easily. The toe picks stuck like Velcro on the mix of powder and ice.

The climb was still arduous. I was grateful for the poles in my hands that prevented many a hard fall as other shoers called out, "don't look down!" or "don't look up!"

Once we reached the crest, the real work began.

We broke into smaller groups, the more impatient of us plunging ahead.

Treading the terrain of rolling hills was immediately a test of endurance. My butt, biceps and core were screaming as we plodded up steep hills.

My calves and quads were tight with work as my feet found purchase downhill.

It helped that I was trudging with an energetic group. We had Aylward, personal trainer Julie Larrison and fitness buff Sue Walker.

We also had 15-year-old twins Hunter and Hayden Price, who occasionally dashed off on their own to find more challenging treks.

"We're 15 and 15, that's 30 years," the Hayden boys explained if we questioned their abilities.

We chatted some; about careers, training, family. For the most part, we huffed in silence, saving our energy.

Snowshoeing is about focus, I learned. About faithfully lifting and lowering limbs even when they start to complain. About breathing the crisp air and feeling every step.

Breath steamed from our mouths. Fog hugging the mountainside, we were cut off from the trees and skies, like snowshoeing inside a snowglobe.

There was little to taint the silence, but the distant croons of snowmobiles.

"Here's a big hill! Get ready," Larrison would yell to prepare us.

The way down

Three hours can slip by when you're chugging through snow in a sweaty line.

Suddenly we were back at that monstrous first slope.

All that blood was draining from my face again, as I imagined new ways my body could crumble heading the other direction.

"Just follow me, so if you fall, you fall on me," Aylward said kindly.

I was happy to oblige.

But once again, the technology of a teardrop-shaped shoe proved all I needed. I trundled down the hill confidently. Others still chose other methods. The twins kicked off their snowshoes and jogged down, at one point sliding down on their stomachs.

Well, I'm not there yet. But once I made it to the base and indulged one more look up at the mountain we had conquered, I felt a swell of pride.

"Think you'll come back?" asked Connie, the twins' mother.

"You bet," I said.

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The original story can be found on the Coeur d'Alene Press website: http://bit.ly/12Pb6e2

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Information from: Coeur d'Alene Press, http://www.cdapress.com

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