Walking on (Frozen) Water:
Snowshoeing Your Way to Winter Fun and Fitness

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in The Schedule, November-December 1993 and TailWinds, January-February 1996 Cover Story.

Snowshoeing is the ultimate path to maximum fitness and enjoyment during the winter months. It's also a graceful and thrilling athletic endeavour that is taking over the outdoor sports world by storm. One might say that it is the 6,000 year old sport of the Nineties, in fact. Forget whatever you've heard about snowshoes before, though, as modern, hi-tech shoes have been a primary catalyst in this shoeing renaissance.

Shoeing is also affordable and immediately doable; it's not technique or equipment intensive. All you need is snow and snowshoes, plus a layered, tight, and comfortable clothing system. Avoid any exposed wool, for it attracts ice like a magnet. A water-proof shell will shed the rooster tail of snow that you'll kick up when running in powder.

Use running shoes in your snowshoes if you plan to run or at least walk briskly, otherwise use insulated hiking boots for strolling. Strap them on snugly but comfortably, then head into the snow. There are over 50 different types of snow, but initially you want to shoe in snow commonly known as "hard" or at least "crusty." 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.

Except on ice or rock-hard snow, shoeing is totaly low impact, so take the opportunity to run and stride out like you wouldn't dare do in the paved world. Note how your ankles and knees are naturally supported. And yes, with modern shoes, you needn't waddle like a duck; just run naturally and revel in the pleasure of running with little fear of pain or injury.

Shoeing tips: Avoid trails and people in general for true adventuring. Use the shoes to take you to places you'd never normally see, much like a mountain bike or scuba gear can do. Pack food and water along, plus a map, compass, sunblock, and spare socks. You can even avoid lift lines and tickets, plus get a major workout, by shoeing up downhill ski runs with your skis on your back, then skiing back down.

A few warnings: Snow can be unstable, so be wary of everything from collapsing creek bridges to avalanches. Use your ears as much or more than your eyes to evaluate the snowscape. Don't cross questionable areas immediately near your partner or you could go down together. And don't get lost, at least for too long.

An intrinsic reason that snowshoeing is so special is the fact that it involves water (in this case, snow). Interactions with water are uniquely satisfying because they remind us subconsciously of our own primordial origins beneath the waves. But enough of the philosophy. Get on out and shoe! And remember: "He who hesitates is wet."