Snowshoeing in Winter Wonderland

October 28, 2008
Filed under Feature Stories, Sporting Goods

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If you don’t camp during winter but still want to enjoy an outdoor activity, a great alternative is snowshoeing. Though snowshoeing dates back to more than 6000 years ago, the act of walking across the top of deep snow boomed as a recreational phenomenon in the 1990s, and has made it the snow sport that it is today.

Like hiking, snowshoeing is a great low-impact exercise, and kids and grandparents alike can enjoy it while mentally connecting with the outdoors. It is also a good alternative for those who aren’t comfortable participating in other winter sports, and is less expensive than other winter sports. Snowshoeing can also be a high-impact activity depending on the terrain’s level of difficulty and your stride, which is why many athletes have taken to the sport for exercise as well as for competition.

Yet, regardless of your physical ability, the true beauty of snowshoeing is roaming through winter wonderland landscapes you wouldn’t normally be able to cross with standard footwear. Here, we’ll help you take the first step.

Snowshoeing Is Easy and Accessible

Other than putting on a pair of snowshoes, snowshoeing has no learning curve. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. Just make sure you’re walking with a wider stance to allow room for the snowshoes, regardless of style and brand. Ski poles are a good addition. They help with your balance and force you to move your arms, helping you burn more calories.

Snowshoeing is also easily accessible. Numerous ski resorts, golf courses, state parks, national parks, nature centers and community centers located within one to two hours of major population centers offer snowshoeing with other winter activities such as skiing. And don’t forget the most accessible location that requires zero driving and zero money: your backyard.

One great way to learn more about snowshoeing is at Winter Trails. This annual, nationwide demo event, set for January, welcomes newcomers into snow sports. Attendees can try snowshoeing for free on a specific day at nearly 100 locations in the United States and Canada. Since its launch in 1995, the program has attracted more than 100,000 children and adults. For more information, visit /wintertrails.org/.

Choosing the Right Snowshoe

Snowshoes come in different sizes with different bindings depending on your snowshoeing activity and your foot size, and generally cost anywhere from $100 to $300. The first step to buying snowshoes is determining the type of snowshoeing you will do. Snowshoes fall into three main categories: hiking/all terrain/backcountry, day hiking/trail walking, and running fitness and cross training.

Regardless of brand, four key elements of snowshoe design further help determine what’s right for you. Just remember FACT: Flotation, Articulation, Control and Traction.

Flotation—The size of the snowshoe’s surface area. More surface area equals more flotation. Choose a size based on your body weight plus the weight of your pack and other gear. For example, a heavier person usually needs more flotation and a lighter person needs less. More flotation is recommended for powder snow conditions and less flotation is needed for packed snow.

Articulation—How the binding and the snowshoe work together. A well-designed pair will have binding that rotates three ways (step rotation, lateral flex and heel alignment) to optimize stability, control and comfort. The binding should rotate on a pivot point right under the ball of your foot.

Control—A combination of snowshoe weight, shape, pivot point and binding for overall comfort and enjoyment. Aluminum snowshoes are the lightest, and many snowshoes are ergonomically shaped for the right balance of flotation and maneuverability. The pivot point helps center the body over the natural balance point of the snowshoe, and comfortable, easy-to-use bindings should provide proper support and directional control.

Traction—How deep the snowshoes’ crampons or “teeth” penetrate in the snow when going uphill, sidehill and downhill slopes, and in variable snow conditions. Crampons should be ergonomically designed and placed directly under the ball of your foot and heel for maximum grip through your entire stride.

Snowshoeing and Footwear Factors

The type of snow you’ll be snowshoeing in is also a factor. Smaller snowshoes with crampons typically work best in heavy (wet) or icy snow conditions, mostly seen in the northeastern and northwestern United States. They also work in steep conditions because they are more maneuverable. A larger snowshoe with more flotation works in lighter, drier snow or fresh powder, as well as on unpacked trails and unbroken terrain.

Finally, consider what you’ll be wearing when slipping on the snowshoes. Waterproof hiking boots with gaiters is ideal for an extended hike in variable steep terrain. Insulated pack-style boots, rubber boots, or hiking footwear will work for more casual hikes. Also wear good-quality socks with a sock liner to absorb moisture and prevent chill, and layer up clothing-wise as you would for any outdoor winter activity.

Snowshoe Calories Away

Whether you think you’ll be a casual or hardcore snowshoer, this sport is a high-energy cardiovascular workout that also helps tone your entire body, so be sure you do some warm up exercises and a lot of stretching before heading out. Snowshoeing strengthens your legs by building up your quadriceps, and increases endurance. Climbing in snowshoes works the hip flexors and extensors, and adding ski poles works your shoulders, chest and triceps muscles.

This activity is also a calorie burner. At moderate speeds, the average person can burn up to 500 calories per hour. During steep ascents in deep powder, a snowshoer can burn as much as 1000 calories per hour. Not a bad way to burn off the holiday cookies and other goodies tempting us during this time.

Like hiking, it’s best to snowshoe with a partner. If it’s your first time, join a guided group for tips and to learn of different trails. And keep yourself hydrated at all times, as snowshoeing causes you to loose a lot of fluids. You want to have enough energy to enjoy the winter outdoors for the long haul.

Snowshoeing’s Golden Era

Winter Trails is a byproduct of snowshoeing’s popularity in the 1990s. It was when people were refocusing on the environment and were looking for an outdoor connection. Many folks were also moving away from traditional winter sports, looking for a winter activity of a different pace. Additionally, families were looking for an agelessness activity that could be affordable. With consumer demand came product innovation.

By the late 1980s, snowshoes had already come a long way in their construction. In 1991, Tubbs Snowshoes of Stowe, Vermont, one of the oldest snowshoe manufacturers in the United States, introduced the Katahdin and Sierra models that feature the modern, step-in binding system still found on most modern snowshoes today. The new binding system aided in controlling and stabilizing the heel, increasing the snowshoe’s efficiency of navigating through snow, while reducing the amount of energy a person had to exert.

Tubbs’ binding system transformed the snowshoe as well as the market, and with its popularity boom snowshoeing became a legitimate snow sport activity. As a result of this growth, the market continues to expand with its product offerings. Aside from unisex models, now there are women-specific and kids snowshoes.


By the Numbers: Snowshoe Sales, Participation

— In 1994 about 440,000 snowshoes were purchased in the United States, according to the National Sporting Equipment Association.

— In 1996, for the first time ever, more than one million pairs were purchased.

— In 2007, more than 5.5 million people over the age of 16 snowshoe, according to the Outdoor Industry Association’s Leisure Trak findings.

— In 2008, snowshoeing continues to gain newcomers across all demographics, though not at the pace in the 1990s.

— Participation of men is about 55 percent and women approximately 45 percent, but the number of women snowshoeing is still growing.

— Participation of youngsters is also significant. According to the Outdoor Industry Associations’s Leisure Trak findings, about 34 percent of snowshoers are between 16 and 24 years of age, and 42 percent of all snowshoers have children under the age of 18.


The Shoes That Bind

Remember, snowshoes fall under three main categories: Backcountry (all terrain hiking), day hiking/trail walking, and running fitness/cross training. Styles come in men’s or unisex, women’s specific and youth. Here’s a sampling of snowshoes currently available.

Atlas Youth Series

This aluminum-V frame trail walking snowshoe is for boys and girls ages eight to 12 and can hold up to 120 pounds. The EVA tongue of the new Grom binding reduces the hassles of straps and eliminates pressure points. A fixed toe cord keeps the snowshoe underfoot and allows for easy maneuvering. A solid tempered steel toe and heel traction offer good hiking performance. $79.95. Atlas Snow-Shoe Co.: 888/482-8527; /atlassnowshoe.com/

Crescent Moon Gold Series 9

Ideal for hiking and recreation, this top-selling unisex snowshoe’s single-pull-loop binding is highly adjustable with one quick pull. A stainless steel three-claw traction system and a unique toe claw provide control and performance in all conditions and terrains. Lighter decking material allow hikers up to 190 pounds to experience maximum maneuverability and flotation with this PVC-free snowshoe. $239.95. Crescent Moon: 800/587-7655; /crescentmoonsnowshoes.com/.

Tubbs Men’s Wilderness Series

Also available for women, the Wilderness is great for day hiking on rolling terrain, deep powder and/or packed snow. Features include an ergonomically tapered Fit Step frame with rockered tail to reduce discomfort on hips, knees and ankles, step-in-like binding, and stainless steel underfoot crampons. The women’s version has binding to fit sizes 5 to 11, and offers a uniquely streamlined frame shape. $199.99. Tubbs Snowshoes: 800/426-1617; /tubbssnowshoes.com/.

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