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Walk This Way

If you go this winter, chances are you'll find Vince Fox or Scott Boring behind the counter at the Nordic Center. The first day we are there, Vince helps us choose our shoes and attach them to our regular snowboots.

He enjoys his job because he can hike on his days off. "Snowshoeing is a natural thing for me," he says.


A snowshoer hikes through the backcountry of Snowshoe Mountain, W. Va. (Courtesy Of Snowshoe Mountain Resort)

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He also likes the solitude. Occasionally he plays guitar in the center while Boring strums a banjo.

The snow has really started to fall and the flake-whirling wind is picking up, so right now we're more interested in moving along than singing along.

There are many nearby trails to choose from. Some are crafted for cross-country skiers; all are snowshoer-friendly -- but not necessarily level.

"Many of our trails are more suited for snowshoeing than for cross-country skiing," Fox says. He gives us a map and a hearty farewell, and we're off into the wilds.

By the time we reach the lake, the world around us has become a snow globe. In the blizzardic blur, the map is unreadable.

But we don't get lost. We tramp along the edge of the lake, sometimes on the ice. Now and then we duck back into the woods where there is an intermittently discernible path. We see a few birds braving the snowstorm and we see the tracks of other creatures who have scurried for shelter.

Along the white-spangled way we make out a few wildlife markers. One sign tells us that the snowshoe hare is nocturnal and lives a very short life, usually about three years.

We can see why, if it has to hop around in snow this deep. After a couple of hours, we are sweating. There is a pleasant warmth and worry-free tempo to the walking.

As long as the straps are cinched, walking in snowshoes is, well, a cinch. There is not really any kind of technique to straightforward, level-earth snowshoeing. You have to walk with your legs slightly further apart than usual, as snowshoes are larger than your everyday brogans. Your heel naturally comes down first and, in the newfangled snowshoes, your toes swing somewhat freely. I recommend poles, at least for first-timers. You never know when the terrain will get strange.

But before you know it, you develop a sense of rhythm and you're stepping through the snow like a pro. Call it Inuition.

We stop for a drink at the Boathouse, a rustic cabin on the lake. It's at the bottom of one of the slopes. Rock-and-roll streams from overhead speakers. Snowboarders call for colas. Hard-core skiers knock back plastic shot cups of Crown Royal.

Then we put on our snowshoes once more and leave the sounds of the slopes far behind. We stay together, Jan and I, enjoying the wordlessness and the wonder. We finish our circle around the lake by crossing the dam and climbing a ridge. Going uphill and downhill requires some energy and careful stepping.

Back in our condo we talk of snowshoeing in other places. After all, it's easy, inexpensive, healthy and restorative. It is simply walking.

Unless, of course, you trip on your own shoes, as I did on our way back to the car. I was a little tired, okay? And the hill was steep. I slipped with one foot and fell to one knee. It didn't hurt, in the physical sense.

But it sure-as-sleet shattered Jan's image of me as Omar Sharif.


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