People who don’t love running are baffled by the thought of winter running; it’s combining multiple negatives. “You mean you run … on hilly trails … when it’s below 30 degrees?”
Yes, yes, and yes.
But if you’re reading this article, you’re probably a kindred spirit who gets it. (Or maybe you’re just intrigued by the perceived insanity of it. That’s cool too.) Winter trail running is not only possible; it’s glorious. You get an extra sense of accomplishment from conquering a trail in tricky conditions. A rush of icy air into your lungs wakes you up, revitalizes you and calls attention to your breathing technique. You’re more alert to your surroundings and the terrain beneath you, paying keen attention to every foot placement. When ice comes along, you slow to a daintier trot. When snow comes along, you slush through it and get an added resistance workout. It's not only rewarding, but interesting too.
Having the right clothing and gear makes the undertaking much easier. Winter-specific trail shoes are a glorious invention. They’re warmer, better insulated and have the right tread to bite into icy and snowy surfaces. Some even have taller uppers to keep the slush out. Winter running gaiters can also bestow better weatherproofing for trail shoes too.
You’ll also want a good pair of running tights, preferably insulated with a fleece interior. (I’m a dork who wears my cross-country ski tights for winter running. It works.) Layer your desired combo of fleece, vest, and softshell tailored to the temperatures. Top it all off with a light beanie, and ta-da! You're ready for winter trail domination.
If you’re really covering some ground, a light running pack is another thoughtful extra. You can stash a small Thermos of hot tea or lemon water inside (a Thermos may sound like unnecessary weight, but sometimes such creature comforts make running much more pleasant while adding a little training weight you suddenly get to ditch when it gets warmer out).
Fortunately, for we Salt Lake folk, we’re surrounded by trails prime for the picking in the dry spells between storms—and even a few trails that are fun to run when they’re snow-covered. Here are a few favorites.
Oh, how we love the pipeline trail. It’s quick, it’s easy, it comes with options. Just inside the entrance of Millcreek Canyon, park at the Rattlesnake Gulch trailhead . The gulch trail winds uphill a tad steeply for just under a mile, ending at the Pipeline trail, which traverses the canyon to the left and right. If you hang a left onto the Pipeline, you can only run a short distance (about a mile) and ends at a scenic overlook into Salt Lake Valley. If you go right onto the Pipeline, you can continue on another four miles of gently rolling ups and downs before the trail ends at Elbow Fork.
While we’re on the subject of Millcreek, its snow-covered road beyond the winter closure gate is prime for not only cross-country skiers and snowshoers, but intrepid winter runners too. Just drive up the canyon road to the closure gate, lace up and start tromping uphill. Yes, it’s harder to run in the snow, even when it’s hard-packed. But it’s amazing resistance training, much like soft sand. Who’s going to dominate the springtime races? Oh, yes: you.
The shoreline is everyone’s favorite go-to in the colder months, but fortunately, there’s plenty of breathing room to share the trail with others. Its southwest-facing slopes get ample sunshine to keep the trails relatively snow-free, and the trail system’s multitude of turnoffs and tangents give you options to play. Head up to the Living Room , a famous perch above the Utah Museum of Natural History , zig-zag above the Red Butte Gardens or explore Dry Creek gulch above the Jewish Community Center.
Mount Olympus is the granddaddy of training runs—and lucky for us, the trail is on a west-facing slope that doesn’t retain snow for long. If you can keep a brisk pace on Olympus, you can pretty much do anything. The trail departs from Wasatch Boulevard and ascends nearly 5,000 feet over just three miles, almost all of which is steep, with only brief flat sections to give your pounding heart and lungs a rest. If it sounds hard, that's because it is. But you can start slow and work yourself up to trotting for longer and longer sections, and you’ll see an amazing improvement in endurance and strength.
City Creek’s easy access from downtown makes it a favorite for office workers who need a midday, mind-clearing workout. The mouth of the canyon is easily accessed from Memory Grove Park; most folks run or bike the paved canyon road, but a dirt path parallels it most of the way. Once you pass the canyon road’s intersection with Bonneville Boulevard, the trail options widen and you can either parallel the canyon road on the left (which eventually hooks over to Ensign Peak), or the one on the right, which winds uphill above the Avenues and continues on for miles.
While it’s not a true mountain trail, the 1.5-mile dirt trail loop encircling Liberty Park is convenient, quick and perfect for people-watching. Right in the middle of town, it’s flat and relatively free of protruding roots and rocks, so you can really dig in and work on your pacing, breathing and technique without focusing too much on the terrain. Bonus: A drinking fountain along the way means there’s no need to carry water, and you have the Tracy Aviary birds cheering you on.
Many people don’t know about this low-lying gem at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, but those who do know about it make good use of it. Just inside the mouth of the Canyon, before you even get to the UTA park and ride lot, you can turn right onto UT-210 and then an immediate left into the Temple Granite Quarry Historical Monument parking lot . From here, head uphill alongside the canyon stream. The trail continues onward for miles, gradually ascending in elevation (and eventually becoming snow-covered if it wasn’t already at the bottom). The Quarry Trail is a special gem, complete with a babbling canyon stream and stunning mountain scenery.
Feeling a little more willing (and excited) when it comes to slightly soggy running socks and a cold nose? Good. That makes two of us. Your lungs will thank you, your legs will get stronger and your endurance will hit fancy heights.