A man and woman cross country skiing on a snowy trail in the midwest U.S.
A man and woman cross country skiing on a snowy trail in the midwest U.S.

By Alicia Dziak

Are you looking for another way to enjoy the great outdoors this time of year? Downhill skiing and snowboarding aren’t the only ways to get your body in motion once the snow flies. If you prefer a different kind of challenge that doesn’t involve quite so much speed, snowshoeing and cross country skiing both offer the opportunity for a great winter workout.

Snowshoeing is a winter sport anyone can do. Snowshoes fit right over regular boots, and make hiking over the deep snow and through the winter woods a breeze. Snowshoes have an advantage over cross country skis in rougher terrain, as it’s easier to walk around obstacles, or to quickly change direction, and keep a tight grip on the ground.

Cross country skiing requires a little more equipment and know-how, but also offers the user more speed and the opportunity to cover several times more ground with a single step than snowshoeing.

While the two sports offer some similarities, trails for each are often not interchangeable, and it’s important to know the trails you’re on, pay attention to signs and follow trail etiquette. (For example, many groomed cross country ski trails do not allow snowshoers on them because they tear up the snow in a manner that makes them hard to ski on.)

The Enchanted Mountains region offers an abundance of opportunities for both sports.

The cross country trails along the top ridgeline of Holiday Valley and around the golf course at the bottom of the mountain are generally packed by snowmobile and if weather permits, the lower trails are trackset. The trails on top are open until 3 p.m. and are recommended for those with intermediate skills. For $15, you can purchase a 2-ride cross country ticket for the Mardi Gras, Cindy’s or Tannenbaum lift. Ride up, and you can either ride the Mardi Gras or Tannenbaum chair back down, or ski down one of the easier trails (Tannenbaum or Explorer/Day’s End are recommended). The easier trails along the golf course at the base of the mountain are open during daylight hours and feature solar lights for a nighttime ski on the golf course, just be sure to stay away from the ponds that are used for snowmaking.

Snowshoeing is also available on the lower slopes and on the golf course, but be sure to stay to the side of the cross country tracks.

Adventurous and experienced cross country skiers can make use of the miles and miles of mountain bike trails located in the state forest bordering Holiday Valley. These trails are not patrolled or maintained, so take all precautions of a responsible back country skier.

Both snowshoes and cross country skis are available to rent at Holiday Valley’s High Performance shop.

You can also rent snowshoes and/or cross country skis at area ski shops: Adventure Bound, 16 Washington Street, Ellicottville, (716) 217-4047; City Garage, 5 Monroe Street, Ellicottville, (716) 699-2054; Dekdebruns, 18 Washington Street, (716)2754; HoliMont Gear Up Shop, 6921 Route 242, Ellicottville, (716) 699-5582.

Once you have your snowshoes or skis in hand, you can head out of town and explore even more. Just a short drive south of Ellicottville, you’ll find Allegany State Park, New York’s largest state park sprawling 65,000 acres.

There you will find miles of trails, including Bear Paw, a dedicated snowshoeing trail. The park often hosts special snowshoeing events during the winter months. For more information, contact the Environmental Education/Recreation Department at (716) 354-9101 ext. 236 or like the park page on Facebook.

For skiers, the Art Roscoe Trail system features miles of groomed xc trails maintained by Allegany Nordic. Trail reports can be found at www.alleganynordic.org.

On Feb. 11, the Art Roscoe Loppet returns to the park for cross country skiing action. Competitors choose from three different course distances (6K, 13K and 22K) to experience the almost endless thrills and heart-pounding action of the Art Roscoe Trail System.  All of the action takes place at the Summit Ski Area in the Red House area of Allegany State Park, rounded out by amazing door prizes and awards for top finishers including skis, poles from Infinity and gear from Alpina Sports and the City Garage. For more info, visit www.heartrateup.com.

There are plenty of other places to try out both sports.

Check out Portville’s Pfeiffer Nature Center, where miles of open-access hiking trails, a historic American Chestnut log cabin, great birding areas, and more await. For info, visit www.pfeiffernaturecenter.org.

Head north up Route 240 to Glenwood’s Sprague Brook Park, an Erie County park that offers snowshoe trekking daily from 7 a.m. to dusk. Miles of trails on varying terrain offer something for all abilities. For info, call (716) 858-8513.

Need to satisfy your competitive side? Snowshoers can take part in several snowshoe races at Kissing Bridge’s North area this season during the Jackrabbit Race Series, under the lights around the base of Kissing Bridge’s North area (the North area is closed to skiing on Mondays). Participants can run it, walk it or mix it up as long as you’re on snowshoes. Races begin at 6:30 p.m. Registration opens at 5:30 p.m., with snowshoe rentals provided by Gear for Adventure of Hamburg on-site at each event for $10. Pre-register at www.heartrateup.com for the series or come down each night to sign-up at the North Lodge. Cost is $15 per event; these events help support HEART Animal Shelters of WNY. Upcoming races are scheduled, weather permitting, on Jan. 8, 15, 22, 29 and Feb. 5. For more info, visit www.heartrateup.com.

Snowshoeing and cross country skiing are both great alternatives or complements to downhill, and provide even more reasons to look forward to winter. Get out there and enjoy the snow!