Taking Snowshoeing to the Next Level
Getting started snowshoeing is just as easy as it looks: Strap the snowshoes on your feet and take a walk! But once you're feeling steady on your feet, the sky's the limit -- check out these six ways you can take your snowshoeing to the next level.
Going Off Trail
That deep blanket of snow makes snowshoeing a great way to explore places that you can't get at during the summer, whether because of thick underbrush or mud. So don't be afraid to check out the woodsy or open spaces between well-established trails -- that's usually where the best discoveries await!
Once an obstacle is completely buried under the snow, you can snowshoe right over the top of it and never know it's there. But half-buried obstacles like fallen tree trunks require a little extra work on your part. Trekking poles are a great help for stabilizing yourself as you lift one foot over the obstacle, plant it securely, then bring the other foot along.
Getting Up in Deep Snow
Once you're confident on your snowshoes, you can take them out into deep powder. But if you fall down, that powder doesn't give you much leverage for getting back up! Having trekking poles along can keep you from becoming your very own "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up!" infomercial. Arrange the poles in a cross or plus sign, and lay them on the snow to your uphill side. Place your hand where the trekking poles cross and press down, using that for leverage to get your body centered over your feet again.
Hauling a Sled
If you have the time, snowshoes can take you far into the backcountry -- and when you do that, you might need to haul extra gear along. Enter the pulk, a runnerless sled with lashing points along the sides so you can tie your gear down. You can rig something similar with a plastic toboggan; then scavenge a hip belt from a backpacking pack to use as a waist harness. Thread some webbing or cordage through two lengths of PVC pipe and place those between your harness and the sled; that keeps the sled from running you over when it gets going on downhills.
Climbing Serious Terrain
If you're comfortable exploring the flats and rolling terrains, try tackling bigger hills. For this, you'll need snowshoes with cleats on the bottom of the foot platform. You don't have to do anything special when walking uphill in soft snow, but in hard snow you can get more out of the cleats by adding a little stomp to each step, punching the cleats into the snow.
On downhills in soft snow, you can ride the snowshoes down like mini sleds for your feet. If you don't want to toboggan down on your snowshoes, choose a less steep way down or walk down at an angle, so you're less likely to end up skiing on the tails of your snowshoes. In either case, trekking poles are a great help for stability -- and make sure you scope out the consequences of any potential falls. Never take on more risk than you're comfortable handling!
Watch Out for Avalanches
Snowshoes really will take you almost anywhere -- unfortunately, that includes avalanche terrain! It's not always the big slopes that will get you -- small slopes and terrain traps can be equally deadly.
The good news is that avalanches aren't random -- if you educate yourself on how terrain, weather and snowpack combine to cause snow slides, you can avoid them. I recommend "Snow Sense" by Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler as a quick, easy and potentially life-saving primer on avalanche hazard.
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Article written by Lisa Maloney
Lisa Maloney is the Hiking Expert at About.com