You don’t have to ski or snowboard to look forward to the snow. Rather than complaining about it, why not give give snowshoeing a go?
“As long as you can walk, you can snowshoe,” says Hoodoo Adventures‘ Lyndie Hill in Penticton, B.C. “You don’t have to have any extra skills, and there’s no learning curve.”
Bonus: you can get all the benefits of après-ski without having to ski in the first place–or even be near a hill. Hoodoo’s most popular snowshoe tour, for example, has participants spend an hour and a half on the trails before settling in next to a roaring bonfire for a three-course meal prepared by a local chef.
Ready to get started with this popular winter sport? Here’s what you need to know:
The gear is simple
Today’s snowshoes are lighter and narrower than those of the past, meaning it’s easy to adjust to the slightly wider gait you’ll have to take when walking with them strapped to your feet. If you’re taking a tour, your guide will pick the right pair for your height and weight as well as the type of terrain you’re traversing. If you’re buying, the store clerk will do the same. It’s a good idea to rent before buying to see what you like. You can find rental snowshoes at outdoor gear retailers like MEC and at ski resorts with snowshoe trails.
If you’re less stable on your feet, you might want to use poles as well, but that’s more for preference than necessity. They do come in handy while going downhill, though, to help support the knees and back.
And that’s it! Some people will buy footwear specifically for snowshoeing in, but it’s not necessary. Hill suggests a pair of comfortable hiking boots or winter boots combined with gaiters to protect your legs from moisture when going through deep snow, and notes that many people wear their snowboarding boots, too. In some conditions, trail running shoes will work as well–especially if you’re the type who might break into a jog at any moment. Remember that the extra weight of the snowshoes might make your feet move differently in your shoes, so to prevent blisters, watch for any excess rubbing or sliding, especially at the backs of your ankles.
What to wear
When it comes to clothing, says Hill, layers are essential. “As soon as you start walking, you heat up really quickly, and as soon as you stop, your sweat makes you cold,” she says. You won’t need to dress as warm as downhill skiing, especially if you won’t be sitting on chairlifts. But, “always have that option to put something on when you stop.”
Sunglasses or goggles are key for comfort, too, even on overcast days.
“Lots of people forget how bright the snow can be,” Hill says. Similarly, don’t forget the sunscreen–especially come spring when the sun’s higher in the sky.
It’s as hard as you want it to be
Snowshoeing can be hard work, and if you keep up a good pace–and especially if you go uphill–it makes for an intense cardio workout. But just like running versus walking, you can choose trails, terrain and speed to suit your own fitness level. Better yet, it’s a fun way to get exercise during the winter while avoiding the treadmill.
You will sweat, so be sure to pack water and snacks in case you get hungry. On your first outing, don’t get too ambitious in terms of distance, especially if there’s a risk of night falling before you return. You’ll cover kilometres much more slowly on snowshoes than you would walking on dry ground.
Many winter trails are multi-use, meaning snowshoers might be sharing them with people riding fat bikes or cross-country skiing. Be aware of your surroundings and let people pass. And if the trail you’re on is groomed for cross-country skiing, it’s courteous to keep your snowshoes away from the grooved tracks, to leave them clear for the skiers.
You can snowshoe anywhere
The beauty of snowshoeing is it doesn’t need infrastructure. You can snowshoe across a frozen lake (do make sure it’s really frozen), on hiking trails, in parks and conservations areas, in the backcountry or on specialized routes. Just search online for facilities and clubs in your region.
Many ski hills, such as Sun Peaks in B.C., offer snowshoe trails for the non-skier that can be enjoyed on your own or as part of a guided tour. (Always check to see if trail passes are required.) In fact, a guided outing can be a great way for new snowshoers not just to get to know the sport, but to learn more about the surrounding environment, too.
“What makes a tour is learning about the history of the mountain that you’re on,” says Hill. “That’s why a lot of people end up happy they did it that way.”