If you're looking for an outdoor sport to take on this winter, you can certainly try your hand at skiing, mountaineering, or ice climbing. One of the most popular snow activities, though, is snowshoeing.
Where there's snow, there's snowshoeing, and unlike other winter sports that have a large learning curve and require days—if not weeks and months—of practice, snowshoeing can be mastered quickly. But it also offers the same views, exercise, and experiences of more aggressive winter sports. Once you master snowshoe basics, such as simple steps, turns, and pole use, you'll soon be traversing hills and varying terrain through snow-covered mountains and quiet woods.
Here are a few tips for getting you started this season.
Once you've selected a pair of snowshoes, checked the weather, and layered up accordingly, your first task should be simple: feeling comfortable in snowshoes. If you've never worn them before, strap them on and wear them around in your backyard or another flat, snow-covered surface. This is a great chance to practice turning around, too. While simply walking in a half circle is the easiest way to switch direction, once you're on a trail, you may not have the luxury of space for this.
Instead, try performing a step turn, in which you lift one foot and place it perpendicular to your other shoe, making a T. Then, lift your other foot and place it so that both feet are parallel. Do this action one more time and voila—you've turned 180 degrees in minimal space.
Your First Steps
Once you're comfortable with the width of your snowshoes, have taken a few steps, and have mastered turning, you'll be ready to suit up in your cold-weather clothing and hit your first trail. Going into stride, or walking on snowshoes with a smooth gait, is accomplished by walking as you would normally, but taking into account the width of the snowshoe. You may have to walk a little wider to avoid clipping your other shoe or shin. If you're traveling through untouched snow or breaking trail, remember that you'll have to exert a little more force if the snow is deep. Be sure to take slower, higher, and more deliberate steps if this is the case.
If you're comfortable walking, try tackling a small hill. Here's where your poles will really come in handy. If it’s only a slight incline, try a technique called stepping up, in which you face the hill, drive your toes into the snow, and apply weight to create a sort of stair-step. Use your poles to take the load off, sparing your knees.
You can also use the herringbone technique to climb moderate hills. For this style, imagine a duck walk, in which your feet are turned out at a 45-degree angle as your face uphill. Keep the weight on your outside edges, which will give you even better traction.
On steeper terrain, you may need to use a technique called sidestepping. For this, turn your body perpendicular to the mountain, and lift your uphill foot first, bringing it down to create a stable shelf in the snow, then moving your downhill foot to where your first foot was.
If the hill is too steep, you can also head toward the summit at an angle, called traversing, or make a series of zigzag maneuvers to avoid going straight up, called switchbacking.
Any of these techniques can also be used when going downhill, but make sure to put more weight on your heel than you would on a flat surface.
With the right outdoor gear and a little knowledge, you'll be able to snowshoe through beautiful snow country all winter long.
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