Snowshoes are the great winter equalizer

By The Idaho Statesman, Special to the BDN
Posted Dec. 05, 2013, at 4:20 p.m.

One of the easiest ways to explore snow country is on shoes built for the job.

You don’t have to learn how to kick and glide or Telemark turn on skis. On snowshoes, you just walk.

You won’t go speeding down a steep slope like you do on skis, but you will get stability in snow. And what’s really neat is that you don’t need groomed trails. You can take off on any snow-covered logging road.

Here are some tips:

Getting started

You can rent snowshoes for $10 and up per day at sporting goods stores. If you prefer to buy a pair, expect to pay about $40 for a basic children’s pair and $100 to $300 for an adult pair.

Snowshoes are extremely durable and basically will last forever. Designs don’t change that much, but you may decide to upgrade as you get more experience.

Poles are a good addition. They improve your balance and make it easier to walk in steep terrain and through deep snow. You can get adjustable poles designed specifically for snowshoeing, or you can use ski poles.

Make sure ski poles have baskets for powder, and they should be longer than ones you would use for downhill skiing.

Poles aren’t as necessary on packed trails, but they are rarely a hindrance, either.

Choosing snowshoes

Snowshoes are designed to keep you floating on top of the snow.

The size you need depends on your total weight, including any clothes and equipment you will be carrying.

Snow condition will also be a factor. Smaller shoes work fine for packed trails, but if you’re going in light, fluffy powder, you’ll need larger snowshoes.

Most snowshoes are designed for all-around use.

Some snowshoes are designed for special activities, such as running or climbing steep terrain, but most will work reasonably well for all activities.

Pick bindings that are easy to use. They should be rugged and easily adjustable, even when your hands are cold and when you’re wearing gloves.

Dressing for snowshoeing

The first thing to consider is your shoes. Any weatherproof hiking boots or snow pac boots will work for snowshoeing.

Leather hiking boots will work if properly insulated with good socks. Make sure your boots will fit into the snowshoe bindings tight enough to keep them snug on your feet.

If you have smaller feet, you will probably want to invest in a good pair of snow boots. They tend to be a little bulkier and fit the snowshoe bindings better. Make sure leather boots are waterproofed.

Dress in layers and don’t wear cotton. Remember, you will be exercising and generating heat.

Always wear gloves and a hat.

If you’re in powder or running, you will be kicking up snow, so water-resistant fabrics are best for outer layers. Wear snow pants or gaiters to keep snow out of your boots.

If you’re planning on a long hike, put extra clothing in your backpack, such as a vest or synthetic fleece or wool sweater.

Plan on adding and shedding layers throughout your outing. Don’t let yourself overheat or you will get sweaty, which will make you feel clammy when you stop to rest.

Snowshoe safety

Snowshoeing is a safe activity, but use common sense. You will be outdoors during winter when days are short, temperatures can drop quickly and storms are common.

Choose your terrain carefully. Avoid steep, open slopes that could slide and beware of valleys, canyons and gullies below open, steep slopes.

Snowshoe etiquette

If you’re snowshoeing on groomed ski trails, don’t walk on the grooved tracks set for skiers.

Always yield the right-of-way to skiers. Snowshoers have much more control than skiers and can easily step off a groomed trail.

Know the rules of the area where you’re snowshoeing. If you’re on groomed trails, there may be restrictions.

Fun with your dog

Snowshoeing is a great way to exercise your dog during winter, but do a little homework before heading out. Dogs are not allowed on some groomed trails.

Remember that smaller dogs can flounder in deep snow, and old, overweight or out-of-shape dogs can tire out quickly.

Keep your dogs under control at all times. Avoid areas where you might encounter wildlife, especially deer and moose.

Where to go

You can snowshoe anywhere there is a couple feet of snow. The limiting factor in snowshoeing is not terrain, but finding a place to park your car.

Many state parks provide parking areas and snowshoe trails.

©2013 The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/12/05/outdoors/snowshoes-are-the-great-winter-equalizer/ printed on July 25, 2014