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Winter Sports: Snow Hiking and Snow Shoes

Winter Sports: Snow Hiking and Snow Shoes
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Why Fight Winter? Let’s look at a sport many people overlook in the winter months: hiking. To add even more fun (and exercise), I’ll share some information on snowshoeing.  But first, a disclaimer: Winter hiking can be dangerous, especially in the backcountry, so pay attention to the safety precautions I’ve listed:

–First things first—never hike in the winter alone. Go with a partner or a group and make sure someone back home has your itinerary and permission to call for help if you don’t show up when you say you will.

–You don’t want to be out there alone. Search the net for companies who conduct group winter hikes (here in the New York area, check out Wild Earth Adventures.)

–Try some short practice hikes close to home, if you are an inexperienced winter hiker. This is particularly important if you are trying snowshoes for the first time.

–Layers are the ticket to keeping warm and cotton is to be avoided. It’s gets wet and that gets you cold (never a good thing.) Take extra dry clothing in your (waterproof) backpack.

–Check out trails (and especially the location of avalanche areas) online before you choose where you are headed. by Rails-To-Trails Conservancy is a good resource (you can get a mobile app too.) <a

–Take plenty of lithium batteries (they hold up better in the cold), and a couple of headlamps, even though you should always start hiking early in the morning, as the daylight hours are short in the winter.

–Carry an old-fashioned compass and topographical maps of the area (GPS may not work where you are headed). Ditto about relying on a cell phone. Consider carrying a satellite phone and some wands (bamboo sticks with flags to mark the trail, so you can get back out the way you came in) and everybody in the party should carry a portable snow shovel.  Also don’t forget an avalanche beacon and some flares in case of emergency.

–It is a good idea to carry in your backpack a weatherproof tent and Vapor Barrier Bag like those sold on Western Mountaineering’s site keep warm in an emergency.

–Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia and how to treat them (check or take a Wilderness First Aid class.

–Eat and drink hearty! Dehydration helps bring on hypothermia and winter backpacking can burn up to 5,000 calories a day!


This is not as tough as you think and snowshoes have the advantage of going places cross country skies and snowmobiles can’t go, getting you through deep snow without exhaustion, and snowshoeing is also a great workout (burning 600 calories an hour!)

–Bring along a telescoping snow pole (you need a cross country one with oversized snow baskets—ski poles get too easily stuck in the snow), an ice ax (to pull you up over bug humps) and duct tape for emergency repairs to your snowshoes.

–As for the shoes themselves, buying good ones is important. They should cost around $200-300 and size is important. You need the traction afforded by a smaller shoe for heavy snow and you need a big shoe, so you don’t sink down, for fluffy snow (or if you are hefty yourself.) The outdoor outfitter will be able to help you pick the size or check out the detailed size descriptions if you are buying online. Get a pair with toggle lacing, as they are easier to tighten and loosen with cold fingers.

–Once on the snow, take turns with your partner(s) in who goes first. Breaking trail takes a lot out of you. (This is one thing you may want to leave to the youngsters in your group.)

–Follow in the footsteps of your leader. It saves effort and makes a nicer trail for others.

–Remember to take breaks to drink and eat. And know that, even though it is tough to tell when you are sweating with all those layers, you are, and can get dehydrated before you know it.


Uphill: Try kick-stepping, pushing the toe of the snowshoe vertically into the snow and pressing down till it supports your weight. Repeat with the other foot. Or go for the herringbone: instead of pushing the shoe right into the snow, step sideways at an angle.

Along a slope, edge your snowshoes into the side of the snow, keeping the shoe level, switching feet as you go. Use your pole or ice ax for balance.

Downhill: Put your weight on the back part of the shoe, using your heel crampons to avoid sliding.

Reverse: Take baby steps until both shoes are pointed in the same direction.

You’ll get the hang of it.

Be careful and enjoy yourself out there in Winter’s Majesty and as a bonus for all your effort, you are guaranteed to have great legs to show off in that bathing suit come Summer.


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