So what are you waiting for? Hurry on out, because winter is already half over, and you surely don’t want to miss the rest of the season while it’s still around. Okay, I have to admit that not “everyone” amplifies the enthusiasm that some winter activists share! Most likely the winter of 2014 will go on record as being too long, bitterly cold, and has tested the patience of most Canadians who say, “Enough, already!”
But not so quick…there’s still a bunch of us out here who are rooting for more cold, more snow, and more winter days ahead! It’s been an amazing season thus far from an incredibly early start at the end of November up until now. Usually we don’t see our first hike until late December or even early January – we’ve been spoiled this year with an extended five weeks of winter fun! It’s a wonder not everyone is fed up!
Just maybe you are one of the many whom I have heard say, “I’ve always wanted to try snow shoeing.” If this is you, then I encourage you to read on, as I will share some experiences that might get you out on the trails before the season ends. I also would like to invite you to join us this Sunday, February 2nd , at the Summerstown Snow Shoe trails departing at 9:00 am. We will lead two walks – basic for 1 hour, and intermediate for 2 hour. Visit their website for directions and snow shoe rentals. www.friendsofthesummerstowntrails.com This will be an opportunity to meet members of local area snow shoe clubs.
I was introduced to the sport six winters ago, and have been out on the trails just about every weekend ever since. Over the years I’ve met hundreds of like-minded snow shoe buffs who have prepared me for the many hikes I’ve been on by offering me guidance on how to prepare for, and brave the elements, safely. Although many of our sorties have been one hour fitness jaunts, some of our trips have been full day adventures deep into the forest, miles from civilization, way up on the side of a mountain in harsh sub-zero temperatures. If you are prepared properly it’s fun and easy to do, and can become a very addictive habit.
Compared to the many winter activities, snow shoeing is a relatively affordable sport that appeals to almost anyone at any age who wants to condition themselves through winter outdoor activities. In fact, it’s quite common to have elderly persons who are in their late seventies with us on our hikes. I’ve always admired at how they have built their stamina over the years to be able to keep up with the fast pace we encourage. Snow shoeing, I can assure you, appeals to everyone, and these ambassadors truly remind us that our health is our own commitment, and snow shoeing is a sport that can provide fitness and fun – safely.
If you had to choose one winter sport then I would argue that snow showing is the best choice, as it uses the full season which pretty much outlasts all the others. Other winter outdoor sports require specific conditions in order to be able to do them, where snow shoeing can be done almost anytime, in any weather conditions, day or night.
Not to “offend” cross country skiing enthusiasts, but as we trek alongside their trails we often find ourselves alone as conditions have limited them to a shorter winter. The cost to maintain ski trails is excessive compared to the little we require to travel the same terrain. Maybe that’s why we find many cross country skiers joining us when their conditions have failed!!!
You might say on a frigid weekend morning that, who in their right mind would bother to get up at 6:00 AM with a bone chilling temperature of – 25 Celsius before the wind chill factor, and head out for a morning workout? Snow shoers would! Believe it or not, there are many groups in our area who do just that. The two groups I usually venture out with are The Ramblers Association, (www.lesrara.ca), or the Cornwall Outdoor Club, (www.cornwalloutdoorclub.ca). Both clubs offer many interesting excursions either locally or to the Laurentiens, and the Adirondacks. Within their clubs, many members with refined skills are ready to lead groups or share their knowledge to help you along the way.
What’s the cost of snow shoeing? I guess this would depend on how serious you are about getting involved. If you just want to try it out, you can rent the basic gear for short hikes at both The Upper Canada Bird Sanctuary and the Summerstown Trails. Both have great beginner trails and lend to get you started in the sport. However, if you are more committed, then you can expect to spend around a thousand dollars to equip yourself properly for more lengthy trips in mountainous terrain for adventures that take up a full day.
After half a dozen years under my belt, I have determined what gear are smart choices, and although this is only my opinion it may help decide on your best buy, as there are endless suppliers out there who offer all levels of snow shoeing equipment.
Snow Shoes: $200 – $350
I own four pairs of different styles and lengths, but to my surprise I found a good used pair on Kijiji that I finally like the best all around. These are made by MSR that sell for around $200 – $300 and have an aggressive platform with many teeth to support you on hikes especially on icy inclines. There is nothing more nerving on the hills when you can’t get a grip going down a steep slope, where the risk of tumbling down and crashing into rocks and trees is very real. For peace of mind, I am suggesting this brand of snow shoe.
Poles: $50 – $75
Although poles are not always necessary for your walk, the stability they provide while you trek along, are worth the purchase. If you are a Nordic enthusiast, like me, then you’ve learned the health benefits of walking with poles, and you can use these techniques to provide an upper body work at the same time.
Boots: $140 – $200
The most important aspect when buying boots is that they are Gortex. This is a treated system that provides your boot to be waterproof, while letting the boot breath, which keeps your feet dry. Wet feet mean friction while you walk, which will cause blisters and cold feet. This is not good, especially if you are 2 hours deep in the bush with many kilometers to walk back to the car – don’t scrimp on your boots!
Socks: $20 – $40
Look for Marina wool, designed for hiking and your feet will stay toasty and dry all day long.
Layered Clothing – 3 layers required – Wicking, Thermal, Shell $200 – $500
1st layer – The inner wicking layer or base layer is designed to keep you dry by drawing the sweat away from you
skin to the next layer, making you feel warmer.
2nd layer – The middle thermal layer or insulating layer provides warmth
3rd layer – The outer shell layer protects from wind and water and is designed with vents to adjust to your body
Hat & Gloves: $50 – $100
Most outdoor stores offer a wide variety of products to guide you to warmth and comfort. Look for Gortex breathable yet waterproof, and consider a balaclava face mask for temperatures below – 10 Celsius. It’s important to breath the warm air from your lungs to avoid irritating your lungs.
Gaiters: $30 – $60
These are used to protect you from getting snow in your boots.
Finally, a few common sense tips when snow shoeing.
Don’t hike alone-
Always hike with a buddy. You never know if you are going to get into trouble! Even a simple local hike could leave you stranded for hours out in the cold where there is a real risk of frost bite or hypothermia. Consider how long it would take for someone to go for help and return to you. The deeper the trek into the bush, the more you must consider a pack sack with extra clothing and emergency blanket and safety gear.
Stay on the trail-
Remain as much as possible on the marked trails, where if you wonder off course you could put yourself over creeks or bodies of water without realizing it. In higher mountain areas, you could actually be walking on the tops of spruce trees, and tumble down into them (known as a spruce trap). Not an easy feat to get out of once you’ve dropped into a ten foot hole. Also marked trails keep you on property that you are allowed to pass on – let’s respect private property.
Hydrate and snacks-
Don’t forget you will be sweating and you will need to stay hydrated. Carry enough water for your hike, and keep it in a thermal pack so it does not freeze. Carry snacks that can readily give you energy and may be needed if you get lost or disoriented.
I hope some of these tips help you understand the sport of snow shoeing, and maybe we will see you on the trails this season.