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Snowshoeing

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Snowshoeing

The first time I tried snowshoeing, the sky was disgorging large, puffy snowflakes the size of popcorn. I grinned from ear to ear as I swooshed through half a metre of fresh powder, sticking my tongue out occasionally to taste the gently wafting snow.

The first time I tried snowshoeing, the sky was disgorging large, puffy snowflakes the size of popcorn. I grinned from ear to ear as I swooshed through half a metre of fresh powder, sticking my tongue out occasionally to taste the gently wafting snow.

The old clich?ays you should never try to walk and chew gum at the same time. I can add to that piece of advice: never walk briskly with snowshoes while trying to catch falling snowflakes in your mouth. One moment I was gazing at a perfect winter sky, the next instant I was a face-plant casualty.

Snowshoe essentials

Snowshoeing has come a long way since the days of classic wooden-framed models that woodsman Paul Bunyan used. Modern snowshoes are made of durable fabrics, and lightweight aluminum or plastic alloys make up the decks and frames. Recent models have a spring-loaded system that snaps the snowshoes back to your feet after each step.

There are a few things to keep in mind before renting or purchasing snowshoes for the first time. While modern versions are skinnier than classic models—and are less awkward to use—one rule still applies: the larger the deck (base) the more flotation you’ll have in the snow.

Most modern brands also come with prongs beneath the balls of the feet and heels, or along the edges. Heel prongs are useful for descending hills, while teeth along the edges are essential for traversing sideways up an incline.

Some fundamental techniques

One great aspect of snowshoeing is that it’s easy to learn. “It’s cheaper and much less technical than skiing,” says Dani Hansen, a snow-sports expert at Mountain Equipment Co-op in Vancouver.

Turning around and getting up after a fall are basic skills you’ll need to learn from the start. The easiest way to get up is to roll onto your front and push yourself into a kneeling position. From your knees you can then use your arms to push yourself back up to your feet. Ski or hiking poles can be useful in this situation.

To turn around, use what is called the step turn. Lift one shoe and place it at a 90-degree angle in front of the other (forming a T with your feet). Then shift your weight and bring the other snowshoe alongside. Do it again to make the full turn.

Ascending, descending, or traversing hills on snowshoes require more advanced techniques. On moderate hills keep your feet pointing straight ahead, and as you step up, transfer your weight onto the front of your uphill snowshoe to create traction.

When descending, weight the heel of your foot as you step down. On steeper inclines you may need to kick more aggressively into the slope and then stamp your feet a few times to create a solid platform before finishing the step.

Find more great tips on snowshoeing techniques at livestrong.com.

Health benefits

If you don’t like going to the gym during the cold season, it can be difficult getting enough exercise. Thankfully, Patrick Schneider of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse recently conducted a study of adult snowshoers. He found that breaking trail over flat and varied terrain at about 5 km per hour burns calories at a rate similar to people who run at 10 km per hour or cycle at 25 km per hour.

Exercising in the cold is also a great way to lose weight because our bodies burn more calories just staying warm. Studies have shown that participants burn twice as many calories while snowshoeing as they do walking at a similar speed.

Ultra-lightweight equipment has also increased the popularity of snowshoe running in recent years. This offers a great workout and is easier on the knees than running on hardtop surfaces.

Snowshoeing safety

The affordability and ease of learning snowshoeing can lure beginners into trouble. Beginners may venture into mountainous terrain where avalanche hazards pose a serious problem. If you’re planning to travel in the backcountry, you’ll need to attend an avalanche course, carry the proper rescue equipment, and know how to use it.

Daytime temperatures can plummet rapidly during the winter months. Always travel with a partner and make sure to leave enough time to return to your vehicle before dark.

Snowshoeing opens up countless options for getting outdoors during the winter months. Try it once and you might just get hooked. 

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