The sport of snowshoeing has been around for thousands of years. While the origin and age of snowshoes are not precisely known, historians believe they were invented 4,000-6,000 years ago and they probably originated in Central Asia. The art of snowshoeing has become more sophisticated as it has evolved. It’s now considered a winter sport! From the very early wood-frame models to the modern aluminum-frame models, snowshoeing has garnered quite a following throughout the world. Today people who snowshoe do so for pleasure and for sport. Whether you strap on your snowshoes and trek through the glorious winter backcountry or compete in races, you’re getting an amazing workout! It burns more calories than walking, running, or cross-country skiing at the same pace. So grab your snowshoes and head out for some wintertime fun!
Types of Snowshoes
While snowshoe styles are pretty versatile, manufacturers divide them into three categories based on how you plan to use them.
•Flat terrain: These are designed for easy walking on flat to rolling terrain. They are ideal for families and include entry-level models at a great price.
•Rolling terrain: These are best for hiking on rolling to steep hills. Great for hiking off the beaten path, they are suitable for everything but very steep or icy conditions.
•Mountain terrain: These are built for icy, steep terrain. They are perfect for people who blaze their own trails or head out into the backcountry for a remote trek.
Your footwear choice should match your snowshoeing style, whether it’s walking, backpacking, climbing, or running.
•Insulated, waterproof boots are your best bet. They feature thick soles, rubber/leather uppers, and insulation.
•Leather hiking boots work well. Look for ones that are waterproof for added protection.
•Wool or synthetic socks promote warm, dry feet.
•Gaiters keep snow out of your boots. For deep powder, consider a knee-high style with waterproof/breathable lowers.
To stay comfortable, layer your clothing so it can be adjusted to your activity level and the weather.
•Base layer: Synthetics and wool retain warmth even when they get wet. Wear long underwear that wicks away moisture, insulates well, and dries quickly.
•Insulating layer: Polyester fleece makes a good insulating mid-layer since it retains heat when wet and breathes as you exercise.
•Outer layer: A waterproof, breathable shell jacket and pants is a great idea for keeping you dry and fending off the winter wind.
Hat, Gloves, and Accessories
Keep your head and hands covered to prevent loss of body heat and to protect yourself from a winter sunburn.
•A wool or synthetic hat, headband, or balaclava retains heat. Wear a wide-brimmed hat or a baseball hat for shade for your eyes.
•Waterproof ski gloves or mittens will keep your hands dry and warm. On bitterly cold days, combine shells with fleece mittens or gloves. In milder conditions, glove liners may be all you need.
•Sunglasses and sunscreen will protect you from the intense UV rays, which are especially bad when reflected off the snow.
When you walk in snowshoes, make sure your stance is wider than normal for balance. This could result in aches and pains in your groin and leg area after the first few times of snowshoeing, but stick with it! Start out on flat or rolling ground your first time. Most snowshoes have simple “strap-and-go” bindings that fit a wide range of boot styles and sizes.
If you venture onto an established trail, you’ll most likely be sharing it with cross-country skiers. Out of courtesy, try to walk next to their trail so you don’t mess up one they’ve worked so hard to make. Remember: Skiers have the right-of-way on trail systems. If you encounter skiers, step aside and let them through (if you’re on their trail).
An Uphill Climb
As you go up the hills, use your toe or instep crampons for traction. Always place your feet firmly in the snow with your poles in front of you.
A Downhill Slide
On the way down, make sure your poles are planted in front of you. Keep your knees bent and relaxed and lean your body weight back slightly.
When you encounter overly steep or really difficult terrain, use a method called Traversing, or “side-hilling.” This allows you to make your way down the hill sideways instead of going straight down.
Some snowshoers choose to use poles, while others forgo them. Poles serve the most purpose on steep terrain as opposed to flat terrain. They provide balance and they also give you a great upper-body workout.
Even though snowshoeing provides a great workout on its own, you can take it up a notch by running in them for an intense workout. Just make sure you wear running-specific snowshoes which are narrower and lighter than traditional snowshoes.
Where Can You Snowshoe?
There are many great places to try out snowshoeing. Head out to your city, state, or national park to try it out. Once you feel comfortable, you might want to try hiking trails or areas devoted solely to snowshoeing like these listed here:
Northeast: Lake Placid and the Adirondack Mountains of New York; The Green Mountain Range and Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Southeast: The Appalachian Trail and Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia
Midwest: The Northwoods Region of Minnesota/Wisconsin; the Duluth, Minnesota area; and Lakewoods Resort on Lake Namakagon in Cable, Wisconsin
Rocky Mountains: Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, Colorado; Snowbasin Resort in Ogden, Utah; and Salt Lake City/Park City areas of Utah
Northwest: Mount Hood in Oregon; and the Lake Tahoe and Mt. Shasta regions in California
Southwest: Flagstaff, Arizona.