I was talking with a Traverse City gentleman the other day and he was saying that his son wanted to go skiing with him, but the dad declined because he was too out of shape.
My instant recommendation was to get a pair of snowshoes and some poles. I’m a fan of snowshoes for people looking to get active in winter for a number of reasons.
1. Stability. With snowshoes and a set of poles even if you’re not used to getting around in snow you are not likely to fall. And even if you do fall, you’re not moving at any kind of rate that is likely to really cream you.
2. Nice dial-up, dial-down factor. With snowshoes you can pretty much go at a pace that works for you. If you are just getting started and want to take it slow, not a problem. Just find a nearby trail or head out into open space near your home and traipse around. If you want to ramp it up and really get your heart pumping, also not a problem. Just increase your pace and you’ll return drenched in sweat and feeling exhilarated.
3. Affordability. You don’t need the best snowshoes in the world to make it work. I have friends who have worn their $40 Sam’s Club snowshoes on trips into the Canadian backcountry with me with perfect results. A friend of mine scored some good shoes at a garage sale recently for $25. I’m not saying there’s not a reason to buy a good snowshoe at some point — I mean I’m as much a gear weirdo as the next guy (confession: my family has 9 pairs of snowshoes) — but there are inexpensive and good ways to get started.
4. Versatility. With snowshoes, the snow conditions don’t really matter, unlike XC skiing. So just get out and go regardless of ice, slop, whatever. Snowshoes are also versatile regarding terrain. You can go anywhere. Again, unlike XC skis, where you need either a trail or relatively open forest or land. (Not dogging XC ski here, because I love XC ski, just saying, for getting started, snowshoes give you more easy options).
5. Dogability. Your dog will love you if you take him/her on a snowshoe walk. And who doesn’t want their dog to love them?
And a couple of last important things to know…The thing about snowshoeing is all it is is taking a walk in the snow. I think a lot of people are somewhat disenchanted with snowshoeing when they try it because they’ve seen lots of advertisements showing people leaping off cliffs with snowshoes or somehow catching air. Sure, maybe somewhere thrill and adrenaline are part of the experience. But mostly you are just on a walk. That’s all. But that’s a great thing in the winter.
Also, I think a lot of people are surprised to see that unless there’s a nice crust on the snow, you still sink a good bit with snowshoes, especially in new snow. But you sink way less than if you were wearing only boots. And really important: you don’t get that annoying ankle bending thing when you walk in snow with snowshoes like you do when you walk in snow with just boots.
So, I’ll leave you with just a quick little replay of your basic snowshoe experience. A couple of nights ago I went out at about 10 p.m. with my dog. She’s half husky and half yellow lab, so she loves the snow. I put on some old snowshoes. There was a half moon and a clear sky. Starlight–so rare in a Michigan winter. The snow was really crusty but had a super thin layer of fresh snow on top–like one snowflake thick–and the new crystals caught the moonlight and sparkled like a million tiny lights on the ground as I walked. With the hard crust, I was walking pretty much on top of the snow, not sinking at all. I walked around for maybe 45 minutes. Just easy. At one point I kicked up four deer from a cornfield. You think of deer as so quiet, so it was surprising to hear how loud four of them could be crunching through the snow–like a frenzy of breaking Styrofoam–as they bounded across the field in the moonlight. So that was it. A nothing kind of experience; an everything kind of experience; easy on snowshoes.
Give it a try.
Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine and MyNorth.com.