by Janet Groene
Snowshoe trekking provides great exercise, nature-watching in the slow lane, and requires only a modest investment. You can often snowshoe right in your own backyard, or at a nearby golf course or nature trail.
This is one sport where weight comes first. If you’re purchasing or renting snowshoes, don’t fib about your flab. You want your snowshoes sized to distribute your weight so that you’re floating over the snow instead of sinking in.
Snowshoe sizes start at 20 to 22 inches for people weighing from 80 pounds or less to 140 pounds; 25 to 26 inches for people weighing 140 to 200 pounds; 30 inches for 200 to 240 pounds; and 35 to 36 inches for people weighing 240 to 300 pounds.
Basic snowshoe shapes start with a wide back for better coverage or a teardrop back for speed when the goal is exercise or racing. The balls of your feet should fall just above the shoe hinges, and the straps should be snug but not overly tight.
Backcountry snowshoes are designed for long treks, including backpacking. Women’s snowshoes are designed for a woman’s stride and slender foot. Appropriately sized children’s snowshoes are also available. Get professionally fitted and look for snowshoes that are easy-on, easy-off. You’ll also need snug, insulated boots, ski poles and winter clothing that you can wear in layers.
Get used to your snowshoes on safe dry ground before tackling deep snow. Until you get into deep snow, walk more or less normally. In deep snow, you’ll have to bring your knees up to place the shoes flatter on the snow. Here are the scenarios you could face:
• Snags just under the surface of the snow – Shrubs, vines or even barbed wire fences can do serious damage to your snowshoes. Stay alert to these possibilities.
• Thin ice – Ice isn’t any safer just because you’re wearing snowshoes. Don’t take a chance by walking on thin ice.
• Going uphill – Dig in with the shoe’s forward crampons first to get your footing and gain momentum.
• Going downhill – Keep your weight on the snowshoe’s center rather than the tail.
• Turning around – To turn around, stop and think about what you’re going to do first, or your body will pivot, your feet won’t, and you could fall or twist a knee. Lift your knees – one at a time – to bring the snowshoes completely out of the snow, then firmly stomp your way around.
Keep your first excursions with kids short and local. Later, if you’re trekking in unfamiliar territory, tell people where you're going, use hiking safety precautions and keep track of where you are. In a sudden snowstorm, your footprints or other trail markers could get covered quickly. Before heading out, ask for local advice about trails and potential area hazards.