Driving a carload of teenage girls somewhere the other day, I overheard their discussion on why parents are so lame.
One lamented, “So my dad says, ‘Let’s do this half marathon! It’ll be fun!’ And I’m like, really, Dad? Thirteen miles of running would be fun? How stupid is that?”
Scoffed another, “Yeah, my parents went snowshoeing … in the snow! And they were gone, like, eight hours. Outside. In the snow. They thought that was a good time.”
But what do kids know? Snowshoeing is a great way to get out in the fresh air, and when it’s a little too chilly or snowy to run, snowshoeing can be the perfect way to have fun and get a great workout, too. Depending where you venture, a trek through the woods — noises muffled by a blanket of white — can be an invigorating and refreshing respite from our busy world.
The adage, “If you can walk, you can snowshoe,” is actually fairly accurate. The key to beginner snowshoeing success is maintaining a normal walking gait, with feet just a bit wider apart than usual. Today’s snowshoes, even the less expensive ones, are smaller and more lightweight than ever, making the sport one that even little kids will find enjoyable.
#1 What You’ll Need
Snowshoeing equipment is relatively inexpensive. A pair of hiking or winter boots and a pair of snowshoes are the required gear, though some people like to use poles, too. Snowshoes can be rented (the Little Red School House in Naches and Yakima’s Sporthaus have rentals) or purchased. Sporthaus, Costco and other stores with sports equipment carry them this time of year. A decent pair can be had for around $50.
When purchasing or renting snowshoes, you’ll need to consider your weight and gender. Back in the day, when snowshoes looked like oversized tennis rackets, they came in mostly one size: big. And while they were effective — spreading the wearer’s weight over a large surface area — traditional snowshoes were cumbersome and difficult to maneuver in heavily wooded areas. Today, manufacturers of the lightweight aluminum shoes take into consideration not only the size and weight of the wearer, but also his or her gait, and the intended use of the snowshoes. The design for a “racing” snowshoe is different than that of a winter trapper or recreational user. For the traditionalists, “old school” style showshoes are still available, but even those now come in models that reflect the wearer’s weight, gender and use.
Flip through any REI or Patagonia catalog and find not only high-end snowshoes, but also high-tech outerwear that can set you back quite a bit. Fortunately, none of it is really needed for the recreational snowshoer. A good wicking base layer followed by a couple of removable top layers will allow you to stay comfortable. Beginners often make the mistake of really bundling up, not realizing that snowshoeing can be a real workout. But a 160-pound adult can burn upwards of 575 calories per hour. If you go for a couple miles, you’ll be sure to break a sweat and will want to cool off a bit. Layers are the way to go.
As with any outdoor sport, it’s always important to bring along water to stay hydrated, and trail food, such as energy bars, granola or dried fruit. The food can easily be stuffed into pockets or a small pack, and the carbs will help keep up your energy.
#2 Where to Go
Deciding where to snowshoe is easy for those of us living in the Yakima Valley. The most convenient areas are right here in town. When Mother Nature dumps over the Valley, the possibilities are endless, from backyards and city parks, to golf courses and school playgrounds.
When our streets are bare, snowshoeing is still less than an hour away. A favorite destination for many locals is Whistlin’ Jack Lodge on State Route 410. In fact, anywhere between Whistlin’ Jack and the gate closing off Chinook Pass is a door to snowshoeing paradise. Just find a place to park far off of the road, stow your keys in a safe pocket, and you’ll find yourself in an Ansel Adams painting, reveling at the beauty and tranquility of the snow-covered wilderness.
Parking near the Oak Creek Feeding Station on U.S. 12 on the way to White Pass offers a similar experience but in a different setting. Trees are more sparse, but the chances of viewing wildlife are great, including bald eagles, elk and even bighorn sheep.
Newbies to the sport often like to stick to more populated areas, and White Pass offers both rentals and trails on the north side of the resort. Treading over packed snow is easier than blazing a trail through fresh powder, but if you choose to go that route, remember to avoid groomed trails; etiquette dictates that they be reserved for cross-country skiers.
Now that the basics are covered, don’t wait for the new year to get on that “exercise more” resolution. Our foothills and mountains are filling up with snow, making the option of a fun winter workout a possibility right now.