There’s a lot to love about snowshoeing. Think of it as the winter version of hiking, except there are no mosquitoes! Hiking paths, familiar to you in summer, are new and different after the first heavy snowfall. You can enjoy the sparkle of the snow, the graceful silhouettes of the trees and the tracks of birds and animals, all while burning 500 to 600 calories per hour.
Snowshoeing is a great low-impact workout with cardiovascular fitness benefits. The snow cushions any impact, so this type of activity is gentle on the feet, ankles and knee joints. Unlike downhill skiing or snowboarding, there is little risk of injury and it is an easy sport to learn. If you can walk, you can snowshoe!
Snowshoes work by distributing your weight over an area much larger than your foot, so that you don’t sink deeply into the snow. You do have to pick your feet up slightly higher than usual and tread with your feet in a slightly wider stance.
Recreational snowshoes can often be purchased for under $100. In general, the larger the person, the larger the snowshoe, but it is best to get some advice from a salesperson or experienced snowshoer when choosing a pair.
There are different types and styles of snowshoes, designed for recreation, backcountry trekking or racing. Traditional snowshoes, whose design is attributed to the North American First Nations people, have a hardwood frame with rawhide latticework and lacings. Modern snowshoes are made of lightweight metal, such as aluminium, with neoprene decking and nylon straps. My snowshoes, which require no maintenance whatsoever, also have metal teeth or cleats, known as “crampons,” to provide extra traction. Although not strictly necessary, ski poles are handy for balance, especially when climbing over deadfall or to assist in braking when descending a hill.
You may want to try before you buy. At Fort Whyte Centre located on McCreary Road in Winnipeg, once you pay your regular admission of $6 per adult, $5 per senior or $4 per child, you can rent snowshoes for just $2. The Elkhorn Resort, on the south side of Riding Mountain National Park, offers a four-hour rental for $12, and an eight-hour rental for $20, tax included.
The only other requirement is warm, comfortable winter-wear. A pair of gaiters is handy if you are breaking trail in deep snow. For longer excursions you should bring a small pack, with something warm to drink, snacks, and a small first aid kit that includes some moleskin to protect against blisters or chaffing. If you like to snowshoe alone, as I often do, make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to be back.
Snowshoeing can be done anywhere there is sufficient snow, but it is considered poor manners to snowshoe on a groomed cross-country ski trail. Also, if you decide to venture onto private property, ask the landowner’s permission first.
Along with the many benefits of snowshoeing, an additional one is that it is not harmful to the environment. Snowshoeing has little, if any, ecological impact.