Snowshoeing is the fastest growing winter sport in the world. Because it's so easy, and so much fun. Appropriate for any age and skill level, too.
If we are hikers who don't want to stop getting outdoors just because it's winter, this simple addition to our gear collection will let us hit those same trails in a new way. Whether our trail is packed down or brand-new, snowshoes let us actually hike on the snow instead of slipping on the icy spots or getting bogged down in the deep parts.
It's not just stubbornness which gets us outside, either. A day with little wind, when we are properly dressed, can be just as comfortable as the same path in the summer. This is the sunniest we'll see the forest, when so many trees have shed their leaves, making photographers happy. We also avoid rain, mud, or bugs.
There's also the special "hush" of the winter forest, when many animals are asleep or have seasonally migrated. But they leave their footprints behind very easily, making it fun to notice and identify them.
easy learning curve
It’s like wearing big shoes, right? Well, as any clown can tell us, there’s a bit more to it than that.
As seen in this recreation of the classic snowshoe, the base is much wider than a regular shoe. This is the advantage of any snowshoe. By distributing our weight across a much larger area, the snowshoe keeps us from sinking into the snow.
Modern snowshoes also have some kind of rugged surface on the sole to help with uneven snow that has frozen in place, and any ice patches we might encounter. Though they are smaller and lighter, they still have the essential surface area. The proper way of snowshoe walking accommodates the wider base. It's not hard to learn... it's just, the first time, hard to remember.
I discovered that my first time walking in snowshoes was easy... as long as I paid attention. If I started paying more attention to things that weren't "wearing snowshoes," I would fall into the same habits of regular shoe-wearing, step on my other snowshoe, and fall over.
Fortunately, I had rented snowshoes from Blue Line Sports. They made sure I had trekking poles, which I absolutely recommend, especially when we are starting out. By stepping with the poles we won't faceplant in the snow while we are getting the hang of things.
Children have it even easier. Their small size means their snowshoes can be smaller and narrower. Holding their hand while they get the hang of it is often all we need to do.
By the end of the first hour, or even sooner, we find our groove. Now, we can go anywhere.
sky the limit
Snowshoeing can be as simple as a stroll around one of our lovely trails that are so popular for hiking in the summer. One of our flat trails, like Bloomingdale Bog, offer plenty of winter interest with lots of sunshine, too. A forest trail, like some of the trails at the Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center, has the scenic touch of snow-shrouded evergreens.
Many of our seasonal bike routes, like Keese Mills-Blue Mountain Road, are closed during winter, but that makes them a great snowshoeing destination. There's also the many backcountry ski trails to explore.
Popular trails will be more packed down, while we can also share the trails in many groomed areas, like the trails at Dewey Mountain Recreation Area. They only ask that snowshoers stay near the edges and leave the groomed middle for the cross-country skiers.
If we are planning on being a Winter 6er, snowshoes are an essential part of our plan. Since so many of our mountains have long forest walks at the beginning, they become an essential tool for winter summiting.
As with any new footwear, we should get used to them in easy conditions before we tackle the more difficult ones.
Go fast in snow
Then, there's the ultimate in snowshoeing, which is racing in them. Runners agree that it's only a few changes in technique compared to regular running. There's a slightly wider stance, and the runner has to lift the knees higher than usual. Just like hiking in them, it doesn't take long to learn the new moves.
One thing about running that might come as a surprise is how the snowshoes can tend to throw snow onto our pants. A long jacket with a slick finish might be useful. Or, as many racers told me, they just don't mind; it's usually light and fluffy and they are wearing quick-drying layers, anyway.
Snowshoe races are a feature of the Empire State Winter Games. This glorious exploration of winter sport happens in early February and features young athletes. They perform in our most popular venues, all over Franklin and Essex Counties.
In late February, Saranac Lake will be hosting the 2017 World Snowshoe Championships. This celebration of the sport is open to a wide range of ages and abilities, from the 10K Open World Championship, the 5K Junior World Championship, and the 5K Shoe-Be-Doo Walking Party.
This is the first year, and the World Snowshoe Federation will be using known routes from previous kinds of events, with added brand new course routes, using Saranac Lake village streets and the trails on Dewey Mountain. Choose from three different snowshoe manufacturers who are providing racing snowshoes for participants. If that sounds like fun, registration is open!
While not challenging, snowshoeing is also a vigorous enough activity to keep us feeling toasty. Even if we are not racing. As seen below, dressing in light layers is a great idea. The key is to shed a layer as we warm up so we don't get sweaty, which can lead to us getting chilled.
I recommend a hat, too. It can be just the touch to keep us comfortable, no matter what else we are wearing.
Snowshoeing is the easiest, cheapest, and most accessible of all winter sports. Any trail and most kinds of conditions will work for us. Winter boots are a must to keep our feet warm, but if we get into situations where a snowshoe won't fit, we can take them off and wear microspikes instead.
Best of all, it is available to everyone. If we can take a walk, we can take a walk in the winter. I came late to snowshoeing, and now I wonder why I waited so long. It’s a wonderful way to get out into our winter wonderland.
Make it your resolution to try a new Adirondack activity in 2017!