Snowshoeing is the fastest growing winter sport and it’s easy to see why. It’s a great way to get outdoors in the coldest months, to keep up with your exercise regimen (with an emphasis on cardio) and to explore a natural world transformed by snow and ice.
Snowshoes are surprisingly versatile; they’re good for flat and hilly terrain, you can race in them and they can get you to areas inaccessible from snowmobiles- the dream of backcountry skiers. The sport requires minimal equipment and is practically free compared to what you pay for a day on the slopes.
Whether you’re a beginner or have been snowshoeing for years, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your winter excursions.
There are three types of snowshoes: recreational hiking, aerobic/fitness, and hiking/backpacking. Snowshoe Magazine recommends recreational hiking shoes for first-timers; they’re easy to put on and use and are great for easy, flat terrain. Shoe size is related to your weight- the heavier you are, the more shoe you need to disperse the weight. Poles are great for keeping your balance; hiking or ski poles, with slight modifications, will do the trick.
In terms of gear, be logical. On top of a hat and gloves, wear layers; you’re likely to sweat and don’t want your clothes to turn to ice when you stop for a rest. Make sure your shoes are waterproof, leather hiking boots are a safe bet.
Especially if you’re a beginner, start slow. Snowshoeing is surprisingly exhausting, and you don’t want to find yourself far from home without the energy for the return trip.
Golf courses and flat terrain are fine for beginners, but once you get the hang of snowshoeing, you’ll want to get into the wild. Make sure you’ve got everything you would take on a day-long hiking trip. Have water, high-energy food and a compass or GPS. Consider upgrading to snowshoes that are made for deeper snow and are tougher than recreational models.
Going with a partner is a good idea. Though injuries are rare, it’s better to have someone there for backup, and to take turns breaking trail. Walking in untouched snow is significantly more tiring than following in someone’s footsteps. For afternoon or day-long trips, turn back sooner rather than later, navigation gets tricky in the dark.
Now that you’re going up and down hills, it’s time to learn some new techniques. When facing a hill, zig-zag back and forth to go up rather than taking it straight on. If the trail is narrow and steep, kick your shoes forward into the snow and press down, making small stairs.
If your competitive spirit doesn’t disappear when the mercury drops, consider snowshoe racing. You will need fitness snowshoes, which are made to withstand the impact of running and are sleeker than other models. Swap out heavy hiking boots for waterproof sneakers. Running in snowshoes will take some getting used to, you’ll have to adjust your stride to accommodate your newly wide feet.
Always be ready and willing to adjust your pace. The state of the snow has a huge impact on how much energy you expend, so don’t expect to have the same mile time every time you hit the trail. Study the rules for sprint and distance competitions as set down by the United States Snowshoe Association.
Most of all, whatever your level, enjoy yourself. See new sights and push your limits, and don’t let winter get you down or keep you indoors.
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