Over the Snow on Big Feet
Snowshoes are the sports utility vehicles of winter. They can take you virtually anywhere there's snow. These big webbed feet that attach to your smaller ones provide hassle-free access to the white world, limited only by your level of fitness, your experience in the backcountry and your tastes in guided touring versus the quiet companionship of just a good friend or two. The learning curve is minimal.
Quite literally, if you can walk, you can snowshoe. Dress for winter in warm, breathable layers that you can don or shed as body heat and weather dictate. Put on warm socks (wool, silk/wool or fleece), waterproof footwear (Sorel-type boots, Gore-Tex hiking boots or a new generation of snowshoeing footwear) and a pair of gaiters. Snugly strap on a pair of lightweight snowshoes, grab ski poles for stability and balance, a day pack and a water bottle—and off you go. And, oh yes, do slather on some sunscreen, because the combination of sun and snow can bring more than just the rosy glow of the outdoors to your cheeks, and wear UV-filtering sunglasses or goggles.
Snowshoeing is winter's answer to walking and hiking, which are arguably America's most popular outdoor leisure activities. It crosses boundaries of age, fitness level, outdoor experience and personal ambition. Snowshoes are inexpensive ($5-$10 a day to rent; $100-$250 to purchase) and durable and virtually maintenance-free. Strap them on, grab a pair of cross-country ski poles for stability and balance, and off you go.
You can follow a well-marked trail at a cross-country or Alpine ski area, along a hiking trail or even a local park path dozing under a blanket of white, where it's impossible to get lost or confused. You can wander down a snow-covered country lane or even an unplowed logging road. You can join a guided naturalist tour to learn about the seemingly somnolent winter world or a guided night snowshoe walk under a full moon. If you simply want to get away from everyday pressures, snowshoes can take you into a tranquil and beautiful environment. On those cloudy days when cities and suburbs seem bleak, the countryside tuns into a gentle, nearly monochromatic world. You can make your way through it and absorb the feeling of softly melding with nature. Dare we way it? It's almost spiritual.
By contrast, on those priceless brilliant days when the sky is blue and the snow crystals sparkle like billions of diamonds, you'll feel energized and rejuvenated by the fresh air, sunshine and simply being part of it. Snowshoeing is also a low-key, low-cost sport the whole family can enjoy together. You can bundle up baby and stick him or her in a back carrier, put a toddler in a towable sled and find children's sizes for older youngsters.
Is a new way to enjoy a winter workout more your style? Investigate smaller running shoes, and translate trail running to the snowy season. To add a dynamite fitness element, you can snowshoe up a hill or a mountain. Many ski areas allow snowshoers on ski runs, and because it is an endurance activity, snowshoeing even up long, novice trails is really good exercise. And if you jog or run up, you've got yourself a gonzo workout. When you climb, you'll burn up to 450 to 550 calories per hour, which is 25 percent more than simply walking on firm ground, and up to 1,000 calories an hour during aggressive ascents up steep powder slopes.
You can give your lungs a workout, get your heart rate up—way up—improve your endurance and roast calories like you wouldn't believe. You can transition by stepping up your normal snowshoeing pace and adding uphills, using time not distance as your conditioning benchmark. And if you love running and have a competitive streak, you'll find a winter calendar full of snowshoe races, for fun and for serious.
Claire Walter is the author of Snowshoeing Colorado, the first trail guide and resource to snowshoeing in America's leading winter sport state.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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