HIT THE TRAILS THIS WINTER

According to Snowlink, snowshoeing has grown by 60% over the last decade, and for good reason – if you know how to walk, you know how to snowshoe – there’s literally no learning curve! Snowshoeing is also incredible, low-impact exercise that enhances cardiovascular endurance while burning calories at a rate 45% higher than walking or jogging at the same pace.

While the cost of entry can be steep – up to $300 for a pair of snowshoes – that doesn’t mean you can’t test drive the sport for next to nothing. Check out our tips for beginner snowshoers and head outside to get hiking!

1. Rent or borrow snowshoes

Don’t lay out big bucks for a set of snowshoes before you even know if you’ll like the sport. Ask friends if you can borrow a pair, or head to a nearby ski lodge or specialty ski shop to rent a set for the day.

Brian Lawson, who works for Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville, Michigan, suggests renting the first few times out, getting fitted for shoes at a ski shop first. You can then test drive a few different styles and brands to see which version you like most.

2. Choose the right snowshoes

Not all snowshoes are built for the same conditions. Lorna Campbell, a Nordic Instructor at Big White Ski Resort in British Columbia, Canada, points out that “The smaller snowshoes are intended for use as training snowshoes, but will not hold you up in the deepest powder.

Knowing what type of snowshoeing you want to do is important to choosing the equipment.” Campbell also notes that “A good snowshoe will have a crampon under foot for gripping when going down and uphill.”

It’s also important to note that snowshoe fittings are based on weight. Lawson says that this is especially important if you plan on carrying a backpack or other supplies with you as you hike. A heavy bag could affect the type of snowshoe you should use.

3. Try on snowshoes with your boots

Before buying a pair of snowshoes, make sure they fit with your boots and are easy to take on and off. Wear your boots to the ski shop to check the harnesses and see how easily they adjust.

4. Don’t forget your poles

While you might be able to go snowshoeing without poles in some conditions, poles provide stability and traction through snow drifts and on unkempt trails.

Campbell has a few tips for determining when and how to choose the right poles, “Deep snow requires a large basket on the pole, but once snowshoe tracks are established, they become hard packed so shoes can be smaller and poles don’t need a large basket.”

Since poles are designed for people of different heights, you should look for poles that “reach under the armpit when you are standing straight.” Telescoping poles that are height-adjustable are particularly handy.

5. Dress appropriately

All of the experts we tapped for this article emphasized that layering is extremely important for snowshoeing. Unlike downhill skiing or snowboarding, where you have periods of rest between runs, with snowshoeing you’re always moving.

This means you’re likely to sweat more and stay warmer than you would when hitting the slopes.

The Nordic Director at Snow Mountain Ranch suggests dressing for the weather, wearing layers, packing additional layers in a backpack, and avoiding cotton fabrics. Cotton absorbs and holds moisture, so if you get cold, the cotton fabric will just make you colder. Stick to sweat-wicking materials designed for cold weather activity.

6. Pack water and snacks

Trudging through snow in cold weather temperatures is exhausting. After about an hour you’ll be itching to restock your water and energy reserves. Pack your bag with a few protein bars, a peanut butter sandwich, or a cheese stick and a boiled egg for easy snacking access.

Most importantly, make sure you have water on hand.

Sharon Palermo, a snowshoeing enthusiast, says, “Even a camel pack can work, but make sure if it’s below freezing you wear it inside your jacket so the water doesn’t freeze in the hose.”

Even if you only plan to snowshoe for an hour or two, it’s a good idea to pack more water and snacks than you think you need. That way if you get lost or stranded you have extra food and water to sustain you.

7. Protect your skin and lips

Even if it’s cloudy, and even if it’s cold, you still need to consider the effect of the sun and the wind on your skin and lips.

Cover all exposed skin with sunscreen and take an extra SPF lip balm with you to keep your lips from getting chapped.

If the wind is really blowing, don’t hesitate to slather some balm on your cheeks and nose – the petroleum can help prevent wind burn and soothe your skin if it’s already chapped.

8. Use a well-traveled trail

When you’re a beginner, your best bet is to stick to well-traveled, well-marked trails. If you have your own snowshoes, stick to running paths or hiking trails in your area.

If you’re renting shoes, take advantage of the Nordic trails maintained by the ski resort you’re visiting. Ask in the Nordic Center about the best paths to follow, and consider signing up for a guided tour. For instance, Crystal Mountain Resort offers moonlight tours and tours through Michigan Legacy Art Park.

9. Take your phone

Exercising in the elements always opens you up to a measure of risk, and risk is amplified when exercising in extreme heat or cold.

Take your cell phone with you on snowshoeing adventures so you can call or text for help if you get hurt or lost. Even if your phone gets poor cell reception, texts might still go through, so it’s never a bad idea to have it on hand.

As an extra precaution, tell a friend where you’re going and when you’ll be back. That way if something does happen, you know someone will come looking for you if you don’t turn up.

10. Watch the weather

Even if it’s 30 degrees and sunny when you head out the door, a quick weather change could put you in trouble.

Check the current and incoming weather patterns before you take a hike. This way you can pack extra layers if colder weather is blowing through, or you’ll know to postpone your excursion if a winter storm is imminent.

Have you tried snowshoeing? What tips do you have for beginners?