The snowshoe, that eternal symbol of the north, is growing more and more popular as people discover the sport and the timeless joy that comes with snowshoes and solitude. Now seen as a winter sport like skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing has a history that goes back thousands of years. However, for most people outside the snowshoeing community, the word conjures images of fur traders of old Canada and wood-frame and leather snowshoes on the walls of rustic cabins. Little do they know that these things, as useful as they are in getting around in deep snow, also offer something else. They offer the chance to enter a world of cold, stark and silent beauty.
There it is, virgin snow, mountains all around, the deep green of fir trees under their own white mantles. Best of all, it's just you and nature. What could be better? Out you go across the icy field. You hear the snow crunch beneath you as your snowshoes break that frozen top layer, the wind, your breath and your own thoughts. The farther you go, the more you see: Tracks in the snow, shining icicles hanging from a tree limb, the way the light hits a far away mountain peak. It is the essence of snowshoes and solitude, this connection with nature so rare in our lives today.
Your Kind of Snowshoeing
There are essentially three types of snowshoers and members of each type have their own reason for being out in the snow. Now considered a major winter sport, it is growing faster than snowboarding and race events are held all over the northern part of the country. These folks, however, are in it for speed and competition, not solitude. No, it is the casual snowshoer, the sort who hike trails for pleasure; and the trekkers, who explore the back country, that find meaning and peace in the quiet and the solitude.
The Hobbyist and the Trekker
The hobbyist, the casual snowshoer, hikes well-marked trails, defined open spaces and the like. He plays it safe and enjoys the amenities that many of the more commercialized trails offer. Sometimes, the hobbyist can catch some solitude and peace, but in general, his is a more social endeavor.
It is the trekker--and we don't mean the type that shows up at science fiction conventions--that seeks and finds solitude on his snowshoes. Leaving the more popular trails behind, he goes into open country where he can see and commune with nature. He knows the dangers of this, especially in areas where avalanches can occur. However, going where no one has gone before-at least as far as this particular fall of snow is concerned--is worth the risk.
Places to Find Snowshoes and Solitude
Some of the best places for snowshoeing are found in and around ski resorts, where you can find all sorts of amenities along the trails such as warming houses, restrooms and places to eat. Other great places include:
- Bed and breakfast inns
- Mountain lodges
- City parks
- County forest preserves
- State and National Parks
Before Hitting the Trail
Snowshoeing is strenuous, burning more than 600 calories an hour, according to the Snowsports Industries Association, and a good 45 percent more than walking or running. It's a great way to lose weight but before you start, you should consult your physician. That also means you'll be getting hot even if it is cold outside, so dress in layers and bring along plenty of water or a good camping water filter.Backcountry snowshoeing can be dangerous for a variety of reasons. Avalanches, wild animals, treacherous terrain and ease with which people can get lost in the wilderness all contribute to the dangers faced by the trekker. If this is something you are considering, get some education on the local terrain. A good global positioning system (GPS) device and a compass are recommended. If you are in the mountains, knowing about avalanche safety and purchasing an avalanche beacon are also important.
Of course, the most important piece of equipment will be your snowshoes. Buying used snowshoes is not recommended but new ones range in price from $100 to over $300. You can even get deals where the retailer throws in poles and a bag for snowshoes. These tend to be starter kits so you need to be mindful of the snowshoes that come with the deal. There are three types, each with its own specific uses:
- Recreational Hiking Snowshoes. A perfect choice for the first-timer, these snowshoes work best with simple, fairly level terrain. They are not built for steep climbing or descent.
- Aerobic/Fitness Snowshoes. This type of snowshoe, very sleek in design and tough, is for active, athletic snowshoers.
- Hiking/Backpacking Snowshoes. Offering strong frames, durable material for flotation and bindings for all sorts of boots, these are the snowshoes for the serious trekker.
A Final Word
Whether you are going deep in the backwoods, high in the mountains or just down the forest preserve trail, you can find the solitude you seek, the alone time with nature that is so important. That said, you might consider bringing along a friend to share the adventure. Doing so adds an element of safety to your trek and gives you a companion to share the wonder of snowshoes and solitude.