How To Snowshoe

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in Oui, October 1996, Fitness Plus, January 1997, and Ultra Cycling, Vol. 4, No. 6, December 1995

If you can walk, then you can snowshoe. It's that simple. Plus, strolling, hiking, jogging, running, and most any other form of bipedal locomotion can be done on snowshoes. (I am still trying to perfect my skipping technique in snowshoes, however.)

The beauty of shoeing is its simplicity. Just strap a pair of modern snowshoes onto your favorite running shoes (for running or dry snow) or hiking boots (for strolling or slushy snow) and hit the trail with a completely natural stride. (Yes, modern shoes do not necessitate a bow-legged gait.) Just enjoy the low-impact workout that the shoes and snow beneath them provide. (Finally there's a way to train without nearly the long-term deleterious wear and tear and risk of injury that pavement pounding necessitates!)

Equipment-wise, you won't need much: Choose the smallest and lightest snowshoes that will support you over the snow; 8X22 inches is the norm for sport and racing, while 10X33 inches are de rigeur for deep powder or when wearing a heavy pack. Wear a good layered clothing system that you can vary according to the weather and your level of exertion. Gore-Tex gaiters will keep the snow out of your footwear and protect your ankles from the occasional shoe slam. Running in slush or powder will kick up a rooster tail, so wear a waterproof shell to keep your backside dry. Snug clothes are best, so sport some lycra tights, with polypro underwear beneath them if it's cold enough. Some shoers like to use ski poles to spread out the weight and to get a little upper body workout, especially for the backcountry. Butt-packs for food and spare clothes come in handy, as are CamelBaks or something comparable for carrying liquid. Spare socks, sunblock, map, and a compass are always good ideas.

In terms of technique, walk or run with a light step, and lead with your heel down. A rolling motion from heel to toe is the most efficient, comfortable, and traction-grabbing. Be forewarned that snow can be unstable, so be wary of everything from collapsing creek bridges to avalanches. Use your ears as much as or more than your eyes to evaluate the snowscape. Don't cross questionable areas immediately near your partner or you could go down together. Don't get lost, at least not for too long. And finally, remember: "He who hesitates is wet."