Snowshoeing for the First Time
It’s that time of year when thousands of locals and visitors alike flock to Utah’s mountains to experience “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” But if the thought of expensive lift tickets, crowded slopes and potential injuries is leaving you cold, you can still get outdoors and enjoy the season. Snowshoeing—one of the most ancient winter sports around—is more popular than ever, and Utah is the perfect place to give it a try.
About 6,000 years ago, peoples of the chilly Central Asian highlands began tying simple planks of wood to their feet to allow them to travel over snow without sinking in. Their descendants, the Native American tribes of what is today the northern U.S. and southern Canada, soon improved on this original design. They built wooden frames covered with flexible, durable rawhide lacing, and they developed sizes and shapes to suit a huge variety of snowy conditions.
Today’s snowshoes owe a design debt to these original models—but that’s where the resemblance ends. Crafted of lightweight plastics and metals, they won’t weigh you down on multi-mile hikes. Rather than open webbing, they feature solid decking with traction bars that help prevent slipping on icy trails. And their modern bindings let you slip them on and off quickly, even with frosty fingers.
Why should you try snowshoeing this winter? Here are just a few reasons:
- Feel the (calorie) burn! Depending on how fast you travel, snowshoeing burns 400 to 800 calories an hour—far more than simply walking or running at the same speed. There’s also evidence that exercising outdoors in winter helps burn deep internal fat, the layer of fat around internal organs that’s most closely linked to heart disease.
- Fight the sickies. Researchers have learned that regularly training outdoors in cold weather can help reduce the activity of suppressor-macrophages, a type of white blood cell that dampens immune system response. Getting outdoors and breathing fresh, cold air may be one of the best ways to fight winter’s persistent cold and flu attacks.
- Reconnect with nature… The average ski slope is about as “natural” as a city park. Carefully designed and painstakingly groomed, there’s not a tree branch out of place. Strap on a pair of snowshoes though, and you’ll find a whole new side of nature opening up to you. Dedicated snowshoe trails wind through undisturbed forests and over pristine hillsides, far from the crowds and noise of typical ski resorts. You’ll see animal tracks (and possibly even animals) you’d never catch sight of closer to civilization.
- … and with your family. Simple to learn and inexpensive to try, snowshoeing is a perfect family sport. From grandparents to preschoolers, anyone who can walk can snowshoe. Why not invite your family and friends to meet up for a day of snowshoeing this winter? You might find you’ve created a healthy new holiday tradition.
Get In Gear
Snowshoeing is a much less equipment-intensive pastime than most other winter sports. You’ll need just a few pieces of gear to get started, and most items can be rented inexpensively at ski resorts or other winter recreation areas.
Snowshoes: Available in different styles for different uses, though you’ll probably use a basic “recreational” model for your first few trips. For longer adventures, check out “hiking” models, or blaze your own trail with a high-traction “backcountry” shoe. Want to amp up your cardiovascular workout? Strap on a pair of super-lightweight “running” snowshoes and get ready to pick up speed.
Flotation tails: Hiking soon after a snowfall? Detachable flotation tails help keep you from sinking into powdery snow. Typically, they add about six inches of length to a snowshoe and are easy to attach or remove in seconds.
Trekking poles: While they’re not mandatory equipment, trekking poles can help you keep your balance and increase safety when snowshoeing on icy or rocky terrain. Look for removable baskets that snap on and off poles to improve flotation in light, powdery snow.
Compressible Jacket: Pick a jacket that stuffs down small for snowshoeing. Wear it until you’ve warmed up then stash it until you cool off again, minimizing what you have to carry. Outdoor Research’s ultralight Aria Down Hoody™ ( outdoorresearch.com) is filled with 650+ down insulation, but compresses to fit in the included stuff sack. Though lightweight, this jacket will keep you incredibly warm when temperatures drop.
Ready to head out and try snowshoeing for yourself? Check out one of these well-reviewed spots. Or, for a complete rundown of Utah’s snowshoeing meccas, see SnowshoeUtah.com, where you’ll find an exhaustive e-book listing dozens of trails.
McLeod Creek: Trail Accessible from four trailheads located right inside Park City, the McLeod Creek Trail is a favorite among local residents. Its steady elevation and gentle, well-marked route make it ideal for first-time snowshoers.
Solitude Nordic Center Part of the extensive Solitude Mountain Resort complex, the Nordic Center includes ten kilometers of snowshoe-only trails. Check out the “Adventure Package,” which includes equipment rental, trail pass and a guided tour with a knowledgeable naturalist.
Sundance Resort: Ready for a challenge? Strike out along Sundance’s intermediate-level dedicated snowshoeing trails. Ramble through the woods and explore a side of the resort most visitors never see. For a romantic adventure, check out the Full Moon Snowshoe hikes, which include equipment rental and a guided tour over the moonlit snow.
Snowbasin Resort: The home of the 2008 U.S. Snowshoeing Association National Championships, this Ogden-area resort offers 26 kilometers of Nordic ski trails, which snowshoers are welcome—but not required—to use. Pick up a map at the Grizzly Center and plan a day exploring this extensive, largely unspoiled area.