Beginner’s Guide to Snowshoeing
As far as winter activities go, nothing gives you the chance to appreciate winter’s frosty scenery quite like snowshoeing. However, the sport can be intimidating for first-timers. Enter our beginner’s guide to snowshoeing: we talked to Michael Bucek of the United States Snowshoe Association, who told us that learning how to snowshoe might be simpler than you think. “The learning curve for snowshoeing is lightning-fast,” Bucek explains. “You may have to adjust your gait, but you’re essentially walking.”
So you don’t need to be an athlete to snowshoe, and it has less of a learning curve than its sportier cousin, skiing. But that doesn’t mean a little advice won’t help you out along the way. We broke the cold-weather sport down into easy-to-follow snowshoe tips for beginners that will have you stomping through the snow in no time.
How to Snowshoe
Learning how to snowshoe starts with a single step. So pick up your feet and get moving—just remember to start with slow, small steps. Snowshoes obviously weigh more than your everyday shoes, so the extra weight will take some adjusting.
Walk in a Wider Stance Than You’re Used To
Even though snowshoeing is very similar to walking, you still need to adjust your gait. “The shape of the snowshoe affects how you walk,” Bucek explains. “They’re wider than your normal shoes, so you’ll have to adjust your legs out slightly wider.” If you don’t, you’ll end up stepping on your own snowshoe, which is the surest path to a faceplant.
When Walking Uphill, Dig In
Most snowshoes have pointed crampons to give you a better grip in the snow. “When you’re going up a moderate hill,” Bucek explains, these crampons “give you a couple of inches of bite so you don’t backslide into the snow.” Make sure your crampons are planted deep in the snow, and you should have no problem staying upright.
Don’t Look Back
Snowshoeing backward can be a particularly tricky maneuver when you’re learning how to snowshoe. So remember: forward motion only. If you need to move backward, simply turn around in a circle instead of backing up, and you’ll greatly decrease your chances of falling over.
Don’t Be Ashamed to Use Poles
Getting used to balancing on your snowshoes is going to be tricky. Poles will keep you upright, help you brake, and they’ll come in handy getting back up if you take a tumble or two. Already a skier? You’re in luck—ski poles can easily double as snowshoe poles.
Your First Snowshoe Trip
Choose a Well-Traveled Trail
For your first snowshoe outing, you’re going to want to pick a trail that’s seen some use—it’s more difficult to walk on fresh, unpacked snow. Make it easier on yourself by choosing a spot where the snow’s been packed down. Consider nearby public parks, forest preserves, and local ski areas.
Wear a Good Pair of Boots
Ideally, you’ll want to lace up some hiking shoes or waterproof winter boots before strapping into your snowshoes. Avoid sneakers, as snow will likely soak through those and leave you uncomfortable. A good pair of wool socks doesn’t hurt, either.
Choose the Right Snowshoes
Snowshoes come in various sizes, and those with larger footprints can support heavier people with more supplies. But even if you’re a lightweight, you might want to consider larger shoes when trudging through fresh snowfall. How to choose? Consider the conditions where you’ll be snowshoeing: packed-down snow will require a smaller snowshoe, whereas deep powder requires a larger footprint that disperses weight over a wider area and prevents sinking.
Share the Trail with Skiers
Most parks have a trail that snowshoers share with cross-country skiers. Practice common courtesy and don’t crush the skiers’ parallel tracks. “When [skiers] are going fast and they come to a missing track, it’s not as bad as when a train goes off a track, but it can make them tumble,” Bucek says.
Bring Some Snacks and an Extra Layer of Clothing
Because snowshoeing is less strenuous than some other winter sports, such as skiing, your metabolism—and thus your body heat—will probably be quite a bit lower. Bucek advises wearing more clothes than you would to ski, as well as packing some small, lightweight snacks. After all, “what you’re doing is a hike. It just happens to be on snowshoes.”